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Showdown at Boot Hill(1958)
No synopsis for Showdown at Boot Hill.
For more about Showdown at Boot Hill and the Showdown at Boot Hill Blu-ray release, see Showdown at Boot Hill Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on June 26, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Charles Bronson, Robert Hutton, John Carradine, Thomas Browne Henry, Carole Mathews, Fintan Meyler
Director: Gene Fowler Jr.
» See full cast & crew
Showdown at Boot Hill Blu-ray Review
The Victim With No Name.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, June 26, 2013
By the late fifties Americans' penchant for watching westerns had matriculated largely to the "home theaters" of tiny flickering television screens. While there certainly continued to be a glut of westerns produced for film audiences, somehow it was the smaller scale exploits on tv that really seemed to capture the public's imagination. The 1957-58 television season, for example, had no fewer than thirteen westerns on the air (and that doesn't include shows with a kind of quasi-western ambience like The Real McCoys). The following year saw even more westerns enter the fray, and for the first time the top three shows of the year were all westerns. Showdown at Boot Hill, which bears a 1957 copyright date but which was evidently released in 1958, therefore found itself competing with "free" fare, which is perhaps why its tone and setting often seems at least a little reminiscent of many of the Warner Brothers outings that overran television during this era. On another level, though, Showdown at Boot Hill gazes back at one of the most iconic western films of all time, namely High Noon, in its depiction of a stalwart, lonely lawman dealing with a recalcitrant town that isn't exactly reacting well to his attempts to bring justice. Showdown at Boot Hill is a rather odd entry in the western canon, especially for this era, playing much more on character rather than the typical rootin', tootin' cowboy ethos. Written by Louis Vittes, a journeyman scenarist in both western films (1959's The Oregon Trail) and television (lots of episodes of shows like Rawhide and The Virginian), Showdown at Boot Hill focuses on Deputy U.S. Marshal and bounty hunter Luke Welsh (Charles Bronson), a taciturn, no nonsense guy who, like the Mounties, always gets his man. In fact the first scene of the film is all about Welsh getting his man, but the results are completely unexpected, which sets Showdown at Boot Hill out on its rather unusual course.
Showdown at Boot Hill begins with a rather startling image—an apparently dead body hanging from a noose. That turns to to (hopefully) be only a dummy at the local livery where Welsh is "parking" his horse while on a yet to be identified mission. The stable owner starts to tell Welsh why there's a "man" hanging from the structure, but Welsh evidently isn't one to make small talk, and cuts the guy off without so much as a second thought. Welsh then begins walking through the dusty environs of this small town, which gives director Gene Fowler, Jr. the chance to introduce a couple of supporting characters, including some roughnecks who are dreaming of "rotgut and something in skirts" to spice up their evening as well as the obligatory ethnic type, in this case the local general store owner, sweet Mrs. Bonaventura (Argentina Brunetti).
Welsh peeks in the saloon, but keeps on moving, finally ending up at the local hotel and eating establishment. He checks the sign in register and discovers a name he's evidently been looking for—Con Maynor (Thomas B. Henry)—and then notices the man getting a bit too friendly with Jill (Carole Mathews), the waitress. Welsh walks in and confronts Maynor with a wanted poster and a warrant. Rather incredibly, Maynor doesn't bat an eye and in fact tells Welsh he'd be better off scurrying back to St. Louis, which is evidently the jurisdiction that wants Maynor, who has killed several people there. Welsh tells the apparently well named Con that he's worth two hundred smackers dead or alive, and that Welsh doesn't much care which it is. Maynor can therefore either agree to be arrested or draw—the choice is his. Maynor goes for his gun, but he's no match for the insanely fast Welsh. Maynor lies dead on the floor of the restaurant.
And it's here that the first of several unexpected developments occurs. Instead of being greeted with cheers by an adoring public thankful that a murderer has been brought to justice, Welsh suddenly finds himself facing another gunman who springs up in the restaurant. That guy is also no match for Welsh's marksmanship, but Welsh proves his inherent decency by only shooting the gun out of the guy's hands, just slightly wounding him. What's up? Why would a townsman, who obviously saw the wanted poster and warrant, and who also heard Maynor's grudging admission that the documents were in fact accurate, choose to argue, let alone pull a gun on, a Deputy U.S. Marshal?
Well, in a kind of bizarre twist on "frontier justice", it turns out Maynor was a rather well liked guy in the town. When Welsh wonders aloud to the local barber, doctor and undertaker Doc Weber (John Carradine) about why anyone would defend a killer, Doc wisely intones, "Well, he never killed anyone here". And that, in a nutshell, is the major conflict in Showdown at Boot Hill. Welsh has not only caught his man, he's killed him, but the town refuses to cooperate, first having a kind of show trial to determine whether the shooting was justified, and then, after the local judge can't find any reason to say it wasn't justified, preventing Welsh from collecting his bounty by not identifying the victim as Maynor. Even Welsh's attempt to use that newfangled technology of photography to prove he's killed Maynor is defeated by a couple of well aimed bullets at the glass photographic plate.
The rest of Showdown at Boot Hill follows Welsh as he tries to talk some sense into the townsfolk, and then becomes romantically involved with the sweet but troubled Jill. It turns out Jill's mother Sally (Fintan Meyler) is a kind of floozy at the local dance hall (the intimation is she's a prostitute, though that's never explicitly stated), and Jill has been estranged from her for years. Jill actually witnessed the killing of Maynor of course (she was standing right there), but has refused to identify him for fear of the town's retribution, but she finds her alliances shifting as she becomes more and more attracted to Welsh. Welsh, on the other hand, is beginning to question his whole raison d'être, namely killing people for money. He's been a loner for too long, and especially now due to his burgeoning relationship with Jill, he may have found a place to settle down.
Showdown at Boot Hill is a deliberately intimate, small scale western that focuses on the internal deliberations of several characters, most notably Luke. There's relatively little action here, aside from just a couple of shootouts (of course) and some fists of fury (so to speak). The film runs a pretty brisk 72 minutes and probably could have used a little more development, but as it stands, it's a rather fascinating little film that offered Bronson one of his first leading roles and proved what a compelling screen presence he was from the get go. Mathews is also incredibly appealing as a young woman trying to do the right thing, but not knowing how to proceed. Carradine is a lovable rascal in a nice turn as the affable but world weary Doc.
Showdown at Boot Hill Blu-ray, Video Quality
Showdown at Boot Hill is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. Fox reserved its iconic CinemaScope imprimatur for its most prestigious productions, while the relatively low end B- movies were often consigned to the less magnificent sounding RegalScope branding, despite the fact that the two widescreen processes were more or less the same. This high definition presentation boasts really commendable sharpness most of the time (there's one brief scene with Mathews that looks like it may have been sourced from a dupe element, with some scratching and increased fuzziness). Damage is minimal and while contrast is a bit on the anemic side (at least for my tastes), generally speaking the image boasts solid blacks and decently modulated gray scale. Fine detail is quite good in the film's close-ups.
Showdown at Boot Hill Blu-ray, Audio Quality
This is getting to be a bit of a mantra with some of the older Olive Films catalog releases, but Showdown at Boot Hill's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track sounds fine if you can get past very noticeable distortion both in the opening theme as well as the closing brass flourish that accompanies the closing moments of the film. Dialogue is very cleanly presented and the score actually sounds fine for the bulk of the film. Fidelity is very good, and the occasional bursts of sonic activity courtesy of the sporadic gun fights and fist fights come through with good clarity and vibrancy.
Showdown at Boot Hill Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No supplements are offered on this Blu-ray disc.
Showdown at Boot Hill Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Showdown at Boot Hill is a really interesting and well done small scale western that has uniformly excellent performances and a rather odd but compelling premise. The film probably could have used a bit more development—it tends to kind of rush headlong into things—but that also means there's very little dragging here, with events kind of careening toward an unusual but fulfilling conclusion. This Blu-ray features nice looking video and good sound. Recommended.
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