“Warlock” (1959) starring Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn, Dorothy Malone, & Dolores Michaels

In the frontier mining community of Warlock, rancher Abe McQuown’s (Tom Drake) San Pablo gang terrorizes the inhabitants, humiliating the town’s Deputy Sheriff and running him out of town. One of the cowboys in the gang is Curley Burne (DeForest Kelley); the actor would find fame as Dr. McCoy on the original Star Trek TV series. In desperate need of protection, the town’s leaders hire an (unofficial) Marshall, Clay Blaisedell (Henry Fonda), to bring law and order. Clay arrives w/ his close friend, Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn), who is a businessman. These two men stand up to the gang and the town gets quieter (for a time). Johnny Gannon (Richard Widmark), a former member of the gang, reforms and decides to become the (official) Deputy Sheriff. Frank Gorshin (uncredited) plays Billy, Johnny’s brother; he later appeared in the famous TOS ep- Let that Be Your Last Battlefield. IMDb notes that this was the 1st movie for Gary Lockwood (the main guest star on the TOS ep- Where No Man Has Gone Before). I didn’t notice him as one of the gang; look for the tall man w/ a black hat, blue bandana, and dark mustache. Lockwood started his Hollywood career as a stuntman; he’d go on to star in 20001: A Space Odyssey.

Jessie: The men you posted are coming into town.

Clay: I thank you for warning me, but I’ve already heard.

Jessie: Why does it have to happen? Why do these things always have to end in bloodshed?

Clay: Ah, that’s how things are, Miss Jessie. That’s why I was hired… why you hired me.

Jessie: And so they’ll come into town, and you’ll shoot them all down dog-dead in the street, is that it?

Clay: Or them me.

Jessie: Or them you…

Someone once said, there are ONLY 2 types of movies: the hero goes looking for adventure or a stranger comes to town. In this case, we find 2 strangers (w/ money, shiny guns, and fancy clothes) primarily concerned w/ making more money, then moving on to another town. This is a complex/mature Western, as it subverts some of the tropes of the genre. Some viewers thought Clay and Tom are a BIT too close (more than pals), though director Edward Dmytryk (known for his work in film noir) said the homoerotic undercurrents were unintentional. There are 2 supporting roles for women; BOTH are blonde, pretty (of course), yet also independent-minded. Lily Dollar (Dorothy Malone- tall/curvy/glam) tracks Clay and Tom down, looking to get revenge. Lily invites Johnny over for a home-cooked meal at her house. Jessie Marlow (Dolores Michaels) is one of Warlock’s leaders; her father left her a successful mine. Jessie does NOT approve of violence, though she feels drawn to Clay.

The acting is strong here, as we’d expect from the main cast. Widmark can play the angst and action well; he still looks youthful. Fonda (in a rare “shady” role) conveys depth to a gunslinger. Quinn (using a slight limp) is playing against type; he was often cast as a “macho” man. The running time is a BIT long (and feels like it); there is much going on w/ backstories of several characters. The action takes place mostly in the town (20th C. Studios in Culver City, CA); I wanted to see more of the (Moab, Utah) locations. There is the use of matte paintings for some backdrops (commonplace long into the 1990s).

[1] Complex psychological western. I like another reviewer’s point about the conflict between law and order in the film. Only Widmark’s Gannon appears concerned with enforcing law in addition to order, while the rest of the town is more concerned with simply order. Fonda’s Clay Blaisdell stands as the pivotal character, a morally ambiguous gunslinger with a dubious past. The mutual attachment between him and sidekick Morgan (Quinn) is highly unusual for a macho western. As hired gunslingers, they’re a formidable team.

[2] Here all central characters are multi-layered, there is a plenty going on that begs the utmost attention, where tragedy hangs heavy with its looming presence, and Dmytryk threads all the story strands together with thoughtfully potent results.

Adapted by Robert Alan Aurthur from Oakley Hall’s novel, Warlock boasts three excellent male lead performances and a firing on all cylinders supporting cast.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

2 thoughts on ““Warlock” (1959) starring Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn, Dorothy Malone, & Dolores Michaels

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