Directed by Tomas Carr
Produced by Walter Mirisch
Screenplay by Christopher Knopf
From a story by Louis L’Amour
Director Of Photography: Wilfred M. Cline, ASC
Music by Hans J. Salter
Film Editor: William Austin, ACE
Cast: Joel McCrea (Ned Bannon), Virginia Mayo (Ellen), Barry Kelley (Hardy Bishop), Michael Ansara (Zarata), Whit Bissell (Judson), James Dobson (Dud), George Neise (Mort Harper), Adam Kennedy (Red), Michael Pate (Charley), Leo Gordon (Stark), Ray Teal (Cap), Philip Phillips (Will), Robert Foulk (Pagones), Jennifer Lea (Mary)
In many ways, The Tall Stranger (1957) is just another late-50s CinemaScope Western from Allied Artists — a straightforward, low-budget picture boosted by a cast full of familiar faces. But this one’s got more going for it than that. It offers up a re-teaming of Joel McCrea and Virginia Mayo from Raoul Walsh’s terrific Colorado Territory (1949). And while The Tall Stranger won’t knock the Walsh movie off your list of favorites, it has plenty to recommend it.
The relationships between brothers, often strained or on opposite sides of the law, was a popular theme with Western screenwriters of the 50s, forming the basis for some of the decade’s finest cowboy pictures — often with some redemption worked in. (I’ll let you come up with your own list of examples.) Working from a short story by Louis L’Amour, The Tall Stranger is part of that sub-genre. Ned Bannon (Joel McCrea) and Hardy Bishop (Barry Kelley) are half-brothers who found themselves enemies in the Civil War. Now that the war has ended, Bishop (Conderate) sees Bannon (Union) as the reason his son was executed as one of Quantrill’s Raiders, and he’s vowed to see him dead. Bannon, on the other hand, has come to reconcile.
Bannon’s traveling toward Bishop’s Valley with a wagon train, and along the way he’s grown fond of a widow (Mayo) and suspicious of the guides. It all comes together into a tangled-up mess — the settlers, McCrea’s brother’s cattle land, the scheming trail guides, etc. — and McCrea gets to sort it all out — and, of course, shoot people — as it makes its way to a satisfying conclusion.
Virginia Mayo: “I love Joel, but I didn’t want to be in the film. I thought the script was terrible.”
The script is a bit run-of-the-mill, and little is done to elevate it. Thomas Carr’s direction is missing the visual flair he and DP William Witley brought to Gunsmoke In Tucson (1958). The action scenes are passable, but there’s little momentum or tension in the scenes that tie them together. So what you’re left with, largely, is the appeal and chemistry of its two leads — which is still more than enough to make The Tall Stranger worth your time.
The Tall Stranger is not available on DVD or Blu-ray in the States. There is a transfer floating around that crops the 2.35 Scope image to fit our 16:9 TVs. It’s watchable, but crowded at times. While this isn’t McCrea or Mayo at their best, this picture deserves to be seen — the way it’s supposed to be seen.
Source: The Westerners by C. Courtney Joyner