Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend DVD Review: The Feel Good Flick of '57

OK, so Randolph Scott, Bret Maverick, and The Green Hornet walk into a bar dressed as Quakers...
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Towards the end of his prolific career as one of Hollywood's favorite cowboy stars, Randolph Scott was prone to signing on for the occasional odd outing in pictures. Just five years before changing his clean-cut good guy image in Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country, wherein the actor subsequently retired from the industry altogether, Scott found himself in a modest, somewhat offbeat Warner Bros. production entitled Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend. Though it would prove to be the final collaboration Warner Bros. had with Mr. Scott, it also highlighted several performers at the beginning of their own careers: James Garner and Angie Dickinson.

The slightly atypical tale finds Scott a recently discharged army captain and his two devoted men, Garner (just four months away from stardom in Maverick) and character actor Gordon Jones (cinema's first Britt Reid, alias The Green Hornet, himself recently mustered out from television as Mike the Cop in The Abbott and Costello Show) heading out west a bit to meet up with Scott's brother and his family. Alas, their timing is less-than-ideal, as Scott's brother winds up receiving an arrow in the bosom from an angry Hollywood backlot Indian only moments before. When Scott discovers the ammunition his brother purchased in Medicine Bend to defend his home was deliberately manufactured to be inferior, he and his troop head to town to find the shady businessman who sold the shoddy goods and help get better equipment for other jaded settlers as well.

But after the boys are robbed of all of their possessions as they frolic about in the water nude (a scene that was already unbelievable to begin with before it dawned on me that it eerily resembled a similar moment in the original Planet of the Apes), our trio of do-gooders are forced to ask a group of Quakers for some assistance. The donning of their new religious apparel comes in handy once they get to Medicine Bend, however, as - unlike most westerns - Scott figures out the bad guy is character actor James Craig within a matter of minutes. He also notices that the entire local government, from the sheriff to the mayor, are all in Craig's crooked pocket.

Interestingly, Craig isn't just another average rancher with delusions of grandeur. He's a cunning businessman intent on wiping out his competition by selling everything from stolen goods to complete and total shite to customers for the lowest price possible - a frighteningly accurate prediction of a post-Walmart America if there ever was one - with absolutely no qualms about making a killing of another kind if he has to do so. Of course, he's not going to dirty his hands on his own, not when he's joined with the stalwart "villainary" talents of veteran heavies Myron Healey and John Alderson (the latter of whom, amusingly enough, would appear in Blazing Saddles, a film wherein the utterance of Randolph Scott's name prompted a religious-like chorus).

Keeping up their appearance as men of God in the late 1800s - never an easy task since Garner wants to womanize and Jones wants to drink it up (both of which come naturally to men of God today) - the faker Quakers take up jobs in town; Scott's men working for the bad guys to get some inside info on Craig's evil enterprise, Scott himself being given a job by good business owner Harry Harvey after he cleverly shuffles his hands and feet about in order to engage Healey and Alderson in an "accidental" skirmish when they come by to smash up the place in a very classic protection racket "This is a nice place you have here, it'd be a shame if anything happened to it" sort of fashion. Scott's good sense of timing, footwork, and morals also enables him to catch the eye of Harvey's onscreen [gerontophilie] offspring, an almost unrecognizable but just as lovely-looking Angie Dickinson (herself three months away from the premiere of China Gate).

Donning a different wardrobe at night (including the proverbial handkerchief-as-a-mask), Scott sets out to break into Craig's stash of stolen property in order to reclaim and return the goods to their original owners. But his role as the Robin Hood of the West runs into a snag when Craig and his smarter-than-average henchmen begin to suspect the three strangers who often forget to say "thy", "thee" and "thou" might not actually be Quakers after all. Short-lived actress (and future former wife of both David Janssen and Hal Needham) Dani Crayne - an ancestor of William Shatner's Boston LegalĀ character, no doubt - plays Craig's saloon mistress girlfriend who sings a song, naturally; Don Beddoe and Trevor Bardette are the bought and paid for mayor and sheriff, respectively; Robert Warwick is an actual Quaker (who steals the show in the finale), as is cliffhanger serial regular George Pembroke; and Ann Doran has a small part as Scott's recently widowed sister-in-law.

Ironically, there really isn't much of a shootout to be found in Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend. There are a couple of gunfights, yes, but don't expect anything along the lines of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral caliber. The movie also sported a rather misleading ad campaign, wherein the words "He called himself the 'Preacher' …and he wrote his sermon in lead!" highlighted a nice representation of Scott clad in his Quaker disguise on horseback, a rifle ready to dispense said preachings. None of these things actually happen as depicted in the film itself, though they surely served to inspire later westerns of the flavorful, spaghetti-type vein (which usually starred Lee Van Cleef).

Instead, Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend offers up its viewers with a very fun old school cowboy photoplay that practically served as a passing of the baton between one western star to another. Director Richard L. Bare (who recently celebrated his 101st birthday) - the man who helmed nearly every episode of Green Acres as well as the Joe McDoakes series (not to mention one of the most heralded outings into The Twilight ZoneĀ ever, "To Serve Man") - brings us a competent western that overlooks its own faults for the sake of its audience just having a good time. The film also features many familiar faces in bit roles to keep any regular classic feature viewer the opportunity to pick them out should the movie prove too routine. (Oh, and keep your ears pricked for a then newly-recorded Wilhelm Scream.)

The Warner Archive presents the home video debut of this usually unseen item, and the widescreen 1.85:1 transfer is from a very good looking print. The IMDb listed this as a 2.35:1 picture, though I saw no signs of cropping, so I can only presume that the movie website has its fact wrong on this one. Accompanying the feature presentation is a clear and crisp mono English audio track. No special features are included in this Manufactured on Demand offering, but fans of Randolph Scott, James Garner, Angie Dickinson, and/or olde tyme westerns in general will want to grab this feel good flick of '57 just the same. Despite its deceptive poster art and the noticeable lack of a really grand gunfight, the only bad thing I have to say about Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend is that it tragically did not co-star Warren Oates - because you know I was simply aching to make a pun about "Quaker Oates".

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