Set in 1893, with Jimmy Cagney as the good guy title character, who is actually not really a good guy, but a bad guy on a redemptive mission. Bad guy Humphrey Bogart and his gang have wronged The Kid (the black sheep of his family) in the past, something only slowly revealed. Donald Crisp plays the local judge, one of the few willing to stand up to Bogart and his men, who are otherwise pretty much running the town. Rosemary Lane turns up as Crisp’s daughter, whilst Ward Bond is one of Bogart’s gang.
Although Jimmy Cagney is somewhat goofy casting as the title character and it peters out after about an hour, this 1939 western from director Lloyd Bacon (“42nd Street”, “Larceny Inc.”) isn’t bad and picks up the pace again towards the end. It’d be even better if veteran gangster actors Cagney and Bogey were in more city slicker surrounds. Having said that, Cagney and Bogey (who apparently didn’t much like one another off-screen, either) still make for interesting forces on opposing sides here and the film is fairly watchable.
Even if he doesn’t sound remotely close to Oklahoma, Cagney sure does put his own stamp on the western hero. He’s not Jimmy Stewart, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Randolph Scott, or Yul Brynner. He’s his own man. He starts out as somewhat of a pugnacious little shit-stirrer, but after a while you realise this guy has a legit beef. Many actors would fail to make both halves of the character work, but Cagney gets it. The awfully petite Cagney may look like the Milky Bar Kid (or at worst, an extra from “The Terror of Tiny Town”), but his unpredictable nature and slightly unhinged persona offer up something different for this kind of character. Dressed in black, even in 1939 Bogey was looking shockingly thin and a bit sickly. He’s certainly not the most physically intimidating villain of all-time. Dude has no muscles whatsoever, though with Duke regular Ward Bond as your number two, perhaps he can take care of the physical threat factor well enough. What I really liked about Bogey in this one is that he’s the kind of bad guy who doesn’t have to shout or get all demonstratively moustache-twirlingly evil to intimidate. He’s almost relaxed. This guy’s entirely in control. It’s called power, I believe, and the scene in which he effortlessly whips a mob into frenzy almost makes the lynch mob in “The Ox-Bow Incident” look like total non-conformists. Scary stuff. Long-serving Scottish-born character actor Donald Crisp gives us an early essay of the genteel Englishman who somehow always seemed to turn up out west in these sorts of things. He’s like the template for this kind of character, rock-solid work from Crisp. However, for all the talking leading lady Rosemary Lane does from behind her teeth, you’d swear she was in a toothpaste commercial. Hers is a goofy and wooden performance that unfortunately distracts.
Oh, if only this were set in 30s Chicago instead…it’d be a winner. As is, it’s an interesting curio with several familiar actors keeping one awake for the duration. It’s a diverting B-movie made before Bogey had really hit his stride, and hell Cagney hadn’t even made “White Heat” yet. Not remotely convincing as a western, but the climactic knockdown, drag out barroom brawl between Bogey and Cagney sure is a doozy. Miscast or not, Noo Yawkers Bogey and Cagney are hard to keep your eyes off in this one. Exciting Max Steiner (“King Kong”, “Johnny Belinda”, “The Caine Mutiny”) score, too. The screenplay is by Warren Duff (“Angels With Dirty Faces”), Robert Buckner (“Jezebel”, “Dodge City”, “Yankee Doodle Dandy”), and Edward E. Paramore (“Three Godfathers”, “Three Comrades”), from a story by the latter and Wally Klein (“They Died With Their Boots On”).