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Fighting Man of the Plains
movies, Western

1949 | 4:3 | Black & White | Quality: Good - rare film with an aged print that shows wear but very watchable

Randolph Scott, Bill Williams, Jane Nigh


In August 1863, Jim Dancer (Randolph Scott), is searching for his brother's killer and rides with Quantrell's raiders against Lawrence, Kansas. Yancey (Paul Fix), one of the miscreants responsible for the band's bad reputation, accosts Evelyn Slocum (Joan Taylor). Yancey tell Dancer that Evelyn's father is the man who killed Dancer's brother, and Dancer wastes no time in killing him. But unknown to him, the man he murdered was really the brother of the man he is searching for: Bert Slocum (Barry Kelly). When the Civil War ends in 1865, Dancer becomes a wanted for murder, hunted by Slocum and George Cummings (James Millican), a detective for the Pleasanton Agency. Cummings catches Dancer and it is only then that Dancer learns he killed the wrong man. While crossing the river on a makeshift ferry, Cummings is accidentally killed and Dancer assumes his identity - saying the dead man was Jim Dancer. As Cummings, Dancer becomes a track-worker at Lanyard, Kansas, where he's pressured into taking the job of Marshal after fearlessly subduing some rowdy cowboys. It's a fairly corrupt town, but the new Marshal does a good job of keeping the peace and gets aid from some unexpected quarters at the local gambling hall. But Bert Slocum is still after him... At one point a detective from Chicago shows up, summoned by the suspicious Slocum, to see if "Marshal Cummings" is indeed his old detective buddy. To make matters worse, Slocum's got cocky young gunslinger Johnny Tancred (Bill Williams) in his pocket, ready to take over when the tide turns. On top of all this, the town's crooked justice-of-the-peace and district attorney aren't overly fond of the new Marshal and his law-and-order ways...

Directed by Edwin L. Marin and written by Frank Gruber, Fighting Man of the Plains stars Randolph Scott, Victor Jory and Jane Nigh. Music is by Paul Sawtell and cinematography by Fred Jackman Jr. One very interesting tidbit here is that Dale Robertson in what is believed to be his first credited screen role as Jesse James plays a part in the cleaning up of Lanyard (yes Jesse is kind of a good bad guy here), and he does have a key scene to play in the finale. This is a real humdinger of a western. The plot and dialog move along quickly, with no time wasted on unlikely romance or saloon song. On the contrary, this tight little gem centers fully and solely on the great Randolph Scott. Here, Scott is at his lean, trim, handsomest best; the director senses this, and the film is noteworthy for featuring a number of lovely, soft, lingering close-ups of Randolph's grim face. To me, this is a wonderful touch and a delightful tribute to one the Westerns' greatest stars. One unexpected twist involves the town's "tinhorn" gambler, played by Victor Jory. Jory is the only member of the town to recognize Scott as a wanted outlaw, and is certainly in a position to blackmail him; however, in a quite unusual development, Jory chooses to befriend Scott, and remains his loyal friend to the end. "Fighting Man on the Plains" is the perfect late-40's Western, a fully mature old-fashioned good-guys vs. bad-guys bit of adult theatre, a genre film crafted to its full potential; and it sets the stage nicely for the more psychologically complex Westerns of the 50's.

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