Warlock is a 1959 western film directed by Edward Dmytryk and starring Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn, Richard Widmark, and Dorothy Malone. It is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by American author Oakley Hall.

Fonda portrays Clay Blaisedell, a freelance marshal in the fictional town of Warlock with implacable methods of dealing with troublemakers. The film has a subplot centering around Blaisedell's club-footed assistant, Tom Morgan. Content to stay in the background, Morgan has sublimated his relationships and ambition into a warped devotion to Blaisedell, the only person Morgan thinks does not look down on him for his disability. A woman Morgan rejected in favor of his life as a sidekick soon arrives and seeks vengeance by setting the townsfolk against Blaisedell. Far from asserting himself, the marshal plans to quit and get married, much to Morgan's disgust. Morgan remonstrates that his skill as a gunman is far superior to his conventionally heroic friend's, and is the only thing that has been keeping the honorable Blaisedell alive. Blaisedell attempts to stop a spurned Morgan running amok, and with ulterior motives Morgan challenges Blaisedell to a duel in front of the watching town.

As in the earlier film Wichita (1955), the conflict of the law with the outlaw runs parallel to the resentment of the town's own leadership.

Plot

Warlock is a small Utah mining town of the early 1880s. Local cowboys working for Abe McQuown (Tom Drake) often come into town to shoot the place up, kill on just a whim, and beat up and humiliate any deputy sheriff who tries to stand up to them. The Citizens' Committee decides to hire Clay Blaisedell (Henry Fonda), a renowned gunfighter, as town marshal in spite of the misgivings of some, such as old Judge Holloway (Wallace Ford) who insists that the situation should be handled within the law (though he admits that a loophole prevents it from being done effectively). Blaisedell is famous for his golden-handled guns.

Blaisedell arrives in Warlock with his devoted friend, Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn), his hero-worshiping, club-footed, right-hand man, who is no slouch with a gun himself. Morgan has a reputation as a heavy-drinking gambler, but Blaisedell insists that Morgan is part of the package. They even take over the local saloon and rename it the "French Palace" (something they appear to have done in previous towns, since they bring the signboard with them).

Their first encounter with McQuown's men is without bloodshed, though the cowboys are humiliated and one of them, Johnny Gannon (Richard Widmark), stays behind. He has been put off by their propensity for killing, particularly by shooting their victims in the back, for some time now and resolves to be more law-abiding.

Some time later Morgan learns that his old flame, Lily Dollar (Dorothy Malone), is coming to town on the stagecoach, and she is accompanied by Bob Nicholson (Sol Gorss), brother of Big Ben Nicholson, who was recently killed by Blaisedell. Lily had left Morgan for Big Ben and knows that Morgan pushed Ben into challenging Blaisedell, who killed him as a result. She wants Blaisedell dead to punish Morgan.

Morgan sets out to meet the stagecoach but it is robbed by some of McQuown's cowboys as he watches from a distance. He takes advantage of the situation to kill Bob Nicholson unseen. Lily arrives in town and sees Morgan there. She believes that he pulled the trigger, although this is based on intuition rather than evidence.

The robbers are arrested without incident by Blaisedell and a posse. Before taking them to Bright City for trial, the sheriff, who disapproves of Blaisedell, appoints Johnny Gannon as his official deputy in Warlock. Because he was once a thug himself, Gannon takes his law enforcement duties seriously. The robbers, one of whom is Gannon's younger brother Billy (Frank Gorshin), are subsequently cleared by a jury intimidated by McQuown.

The acquitted cowboys, led by Billy, confront Blaisedell and Morgan. The deputy asks them to leave and tells Billy, "I ain't backin' him, because you're my brother, and I ain't backin' you, because you're wrong." One of the cowboys tries to shoot Blaisedell in the back but is shot by Morgan. Blaisedell kills two of the others, including Billy. Soon after, McQuown's other men post wanted notices for Blaisedell, declaring themselves "regulators" in mockery of his quasi-legal status. Gannon warns McQuown he will stop any regulators who try to come into town and McQuown angrily stabs him in his gun hand.

What is more, some of the inhabitants are getting tired of Blaisedell and Morgan, something which, based on previous experience, Blaisedell had predicted would happen. However, he has started a relationship with local girl Jessie Marlow (Dolores Michaels) and decides to marry and settle down, much to the surprise of Morgan, who wants to move on to another town.

Gannon, with the assistance of the townsfolk, unexpectedly breaks up the regulators and kills McQuown without the help of Blaisedell, who is prevented at gunpoint from helping Gannon by Morgan. Warlock has outgrown its need for the two gunfighters, but Morgan cannot tolerate the idea that Gannon is now more of a hero than Blaisedell. In the course of an argument, Blaisedell learns the truth about the deaths of the Nicholson brothers and turns his back on Morgan.

That evening, in a drunken state, Morgan shoots up the town and calls out Gannon, but Blaisedell locks the deputy in his own cell, insisting that "Tom Morgan's my responsibility." Initially content to seem cowed, Morgan realizes there is little glory for Blaisedell in facing him down, as no one realizes that it is he, not Blaisedell, who is the unbeatable gunfighter. Publicly proclaiming his superiority, he challenges Blaisedell to draw, telling him that he better make it quick. Morgan shoots off Blaisedell's hat, before being fatally wounded a split-second later. Satisfied that Blaisedell has been forced into a heroic mold again, Morgan's dying words are "I won, Clay, I won!"

The grief-stricken Blaisedell carries his friend's body into the saloon which, to the sound of thunder in the sky, he burns down. The humiliated Gannon tells Blaisedell that he will arrest him in the morning if he does not leave town. After what has happened, Blaisedell can't face staying in Warlock and decides to leave anyway. Jessie, however, won't accompany him. She insists that she is no Tom Morgan. Lily Dollar, for her part, takes little satisfaction in finally getting her revenge because she has fallen in love with Gannon. The next day Gannon and Blaisedell face one another, the latter wearing his famous golden-handled guns. Blaisedell outdraws Gannon, but then throws his guns into the sand, smiles at Gannon, mounts his horse, and leaves town.

Production and cast

Released by Twentieth Century Fox and shot in DeLuxe Color and CinemaScope, the film was adapted from Hall's novel for the screen by Robert Alan Aurthur. The supporting cast includes DeForest Kelley, who was a regular in western films before becoming known for Star Trek; Frank Gorshin, known for his role as the Riddler on the television series Batman; and Tom Drake, perhaps best known as John Truett, "The Boy Next Door", in Meet Me In St. Louis.

Inspiration

The inspiration for Blaisedell, Morgan and Lily Dollar probably comes from one of the West's most (in)famous trios: Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Kate Fisher. Morgan's club foot suggests a reference to Clay Allison.

  • Like Blaisedell, Earp had a reputation as a wanderer (Ellsworth, Dodge City, Tombstone) who took up law enforcement for short periods of time. He would clean the place up in an often dubious way and earned far more than the average lawman's pay. Some critics have likened his methods to "protection".[3]
  • While Morgan walks with a limp, Doc Holliday suffered from tuberculosis, but that did not make him any less a gunman or a killer. He was also a heavy drinker and notorious gambler. He was very close to Earp; Bat Masterson, who knew them well, is quoted as saying that "Doc idolized him".[3]
  • The name Lily Dollar implies that it is a pseudonym with obvious implications, and indeed it is revealed that she "worked" whenever Morgan was short of money. "Kate Fisher" was also an assumed name, and she was also allegedly a prostitute. Blaisedell tells how Lily once set fire to a house to help him and Morgan escape some enemies; Fisher is said to have done the same thing for Earp and Holliday.[3] On the other hand, there does not seem to be a record of Fisher eventually turning against her two friends.

Alternative titles

  • L'homme aux colts d'or - French title - (translation: The Man with the Golden Colts)
  • Ultima notte a Warlock - Italian title - (translation: Last Night in Warlock)
  • El hombre de las pistolas de oro - Spanish title - (translation: The Man with the Golden Guns)

See also

References

  1. Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p252
  2. "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Pictorial History of the Wild West by James D. Horan and Paul Sann ISBN 0-600-03103-9, ISBN 978-0-600-03103-1

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External links

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