Western RoundUp: Showdown (1963)
Showdown (1963) is part of the new Audie Murphy Collection III from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
Collection III features three films; in addition to Showdown, the movies are Hell Bent for Leather (1960) and Posse From Hell (1961). I really liked both those films and previously reviewed Hell Bent for Leather here in January 2022.
To my best knowledge, none of these films has been available in the U.S. on DVD or even VHS.
As a big fan of Murphy’s Westerns, I’ve been quite curious about the new-to-me titles. Having just watched Showdown, I can report that in relative terms it’s one of his weaker films, though I still found enough worthwhile to recommend it.
As the story opens, bronco buster Chris Foster (Murphy) and his friend and coworker, Bert Pickett (Charles Drake), arrive in a small Western town to cash paychecks for the previous six months of work.
Bert gets drunk, and an ensuing saloon fight results in the two men being chained up. The town lacks a jail and instead men are chained to a pole in front of the marshal’s office, with iron collars around their necks.
Chris and Bert have the misfortune to be chained up alongside a killer, Lavalle (Harold J. Stone) and some of his henchmen, including Caslon (Skip Homeier) and Foray (L.Q. Jones). These are bad, bad men.
Lavalle’s men force Chris and Bert to help them break down the pole and escape, chains and all; Chris and Bert have little choice but to follow along.
During the escape Bert picks up some negotiable bonds in the express office; he figures the sheriff will think Lavalle took them and he can live a life of financial ease. Chris is horrified by Bert’s poor judgement, but that becomes the least of his worries when Lavalle learns about the bonds and demands that Bert cash them in another town. If Bert doesn’t return with the money, Chris will be killed.
Eventually Bert’s ex-girlfriend Estelle (Kathleen Crowley) also enters the picture, as circumstances lead her to try to make off with the bonds herself!
I found Showdown kind of a “mixed bag.” The film is quite grim and some aspects are visually unappealing. The heavy iron collars around numerous characters’ necks for a significant amount of screen time made me claustrophobic just looking at them! I winced right along with the characters when the collars are later hammered off.
The other weak link is the screenplay, written by Ric Hardman under the pseudonym Bronson Howitzer. While Murphy is appealing as always as the stalwart, honorable hero, we’re not provided much back story, and he’s the lone person in the film worth rooting for.
More nuanced supporting characters would have helped, along with sharper dialogue; some of the lines get quite florid, especially for Crowley.
On the plus side, director R.G. Springsteen moves things along briskly, with the film clocking in at just 79 minutes.
While I didn’t like looking at the “men in chains,” the film’s Alabama Hills scenery, shot outside Lone Pine, California, is majestic. A great deal of the film was shot around Lone Pine, a definite plus in my book.
When Murphy daringly rides his horse down a steep hill, it was filmed in a cliff area outside Lone Pine which is seen in films far less often than the Alabama Hills. I took a photo of the cliff area last year.
Charles Drake had costarred in one of Murphy’s very best Westerns, No Name on the Bullet (1959), which is also available on a Kino Lorber Blu-ray.
While Drake’s No Name on the Bullet character was admirable, a philosophical doctor who sparred with Murphy, his character here is much closer to the unstable man he played in Winchester ’73 (1950), which I reviewed here in 2019.
Bert makes a series of bad decisions, only partly redeeming himself late in the film which he tries to deter Chris from risking his life for him. I was left wondering how somewhat educated as a veterinarian could otherwise be so stupid — and why Chris put up with him for a couple of years!
Drake is solid as always in the role, but as written the character is rather exasperating.
Kathleen Crowley has long been familiar to me, having been the most frequent female guest star on my all-time favorite TV Western series, Maverick (1957-62). Over the years she appeared in a number of Western films, including The Silver Whip (1953), Westward Ho the Wagons! (1956), The Quiet Gun (1957), and The Phantom Stagecoach (1957).
Unfortunately Crowley’s character in this film is problematic, due to a combination of poor acting and writing. Estelle is initially a duplicitous character; when she later gives Murphy a sob story about her life it’s impossible to tell whether it’s the truth or an attempt at manipulation. That uncertainty about her true intentions continues almost to the end of the movie; as a result, we don’t really see character growth because we don’t know what’s real and what’s not.
While the overwrought writing didn’t help, an actress of more depth might possibly have brought more shadings to the character.
The supporting cast includes Strother Martin, Charles Horvath, Dabbs Greer, and Harry Lauter. Look carefully to spot early “B” Western star Bob Steele as a poker player.
The movie was shot in black and white by Ellis W. Carter. The Lone Pine vistas look absolutely majestic.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray print looks and sounds very good. The lone extras for this film are a newly mastered trailer as well as trailers for three additional Murphy films available from Kino Lorber.
While Showdown might have been somewhat disappointing, I love Hell Bent for Leather, which has only improved on further acquaintance, and Posse From Hell has been an excellent new discovery. Given the fact that this set is the first time for all three films to be available in the United States, I recommend the collection for fans of Westerns and/or Audie Murphy.
Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.
– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub
Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns. She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals. Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.