Directed by Thomas Carr
Written by Geoffrey Homes
Based on the novel by Clifton Adams
Cinematography: Joseph M. Novak
Film Editor: Sam Fields
Wayne Morris (Sam Garrett), Jimmy Lydon (Tom Cameron), Beverly Garland (Laurie Bannerman), Rayford Barnes (Ray Novak), Dabbs Greer (Marshal Langley), Lee Van Cleef (The Crayton twins), Nestor Paiva (Captain Thornton), Roy Barcroft (Martin Novack), Florence Lake (Mrs. Cameron), John Dierkes
Thanks to a steady string of releases from Warner Archive, Wayne Morris will be showing up on this blog right regular for a while.
Though he had quite a career going at Warner Bros. — he played the title role in Kid Galahad (1937), Wayne Morris was one of the first stars to leave Hollywood to fight in World War II. He eventually flew an F6F Hellcat off the USS Essex, shooting down seven Japanese planes and helping sink five enemy ships. (His wife, Olympic swimmer Patricia O’Rourke, was the sister of Republic star Peggy Stewart.)
Back from the war with a number of decorations, Morris wasn’t able to regain his career’s momentum, and he found himself in a string of B Westerns — as Monogram was becoming Allied Artists and the B Western was heading into the sunset. One of the better ones was The Desperado (1954) from Allied Artists and director Thomas Carr.
The novel by Clifton Adams, published in 1950 by Gold Medal, was adapted for the movie by Geoffrey Homes. It takes place after the Civil War, as carpetbaggers are running Texas. In a town called John’s City, Tom Cameron (Jimmy Lydon) ends up on the run after locking horns with crooked sheriff Nestor Paiva. He crosses paths with Sam Garrett (Wayne Morris), a notorious gunman with a price on his head. Garrett takes Tom under his wing, teaching him how to use a gun and live on the lamb. After learning his father’s been killed, Tom takes all he’s learned back to John’s City for revenge.
Sam Garrett (Wayne Morris): “Some folks will tell you a good shot only needs one gun. That’s a lot of foolishness. Two of anything is better than one.”
The movie itself feels like an attempt to do something special, to take the B Western up a notch. Maybe they didn’t quite succeed, but it’s completely unpretentious, offers up all the action we’re used to, and deviates from convention whenever it can.
Nobody ever said Wayne Morris was a great actor. But he’s easy to like and he carries himself well. In The Desperado, he makes his gunfighter-with-principles character work. The scenes as he mentors Jimmy Lydon are very well done, and when he threatens to plug someone, you know he means it. By this time, Morris had put on weight, and he looks a bit weary — both boost his effectiveness here.
The Desperado provided an early role for Beverly Garland. She said of Morris: “He was no longer a star. This was not Warner Bros.! He was nice, but heavy. He had to have a box to get on his horse. I didn’t hang around with him so I didn’t know about his drinking — but from his being puffy, I certainly suspected it.”
Beverly would also appear with Morris in Two Guns And A Badge (1954), which is often listed as the last B Western ever made. She was also to appear in The Marksman (1953), but was replaced by Virginia Grey.
The rest of the cast of The Desperado is a B-Movie Who’s Who: Dabbs Greer, Lee Van Cleef (who plays twins!), Nestor Paiva (the same year he appeared in Creature From The Black Lagoon), Roy Barcroft and John Dierkes. Thomas Carr’s direction is typically tight, Joseph M. Novak’s camerawork is top-notch, and you get to see plenty of the Iverson Ranch.
The Desperado is an under-seen picture, one of those B Westerns that really rises to the top. Warner Archive has done a great job with it, presenting it with its original 1.85 framing intact — which makes a huge difference in the look of the film. Recommended.
Source: Ladies Of The Western by Michael G. Fitzgerald and Boyd Magers