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Showdown at Abilene

1956 | 4:3 | Color | Quality: Excellent

Jock Mahoney, Lyle Bettger, Martha Hyer


The Civil War has ended, and former Confederate officer Jim Trask (Jock Mahoney) rides back to his hometown of Abilene to find things have changed. Trask's friend since childhood Dave Mosely (Lyle Bettger) has given up farming and struck it rich in the cattle and real estate business. He runs the town with an iron fist and even has his own hired gun, Dan Claudius (Ted de Corsia), installed as sheriff - the job that Jim himself used to hold and had planned to return to. Jim finds everybody thought he had died in the war so his reappearance surprises everyone, especially his former fiancée, Peggy Bigalow (Martha Hyer), who is now promised to marry Dave. Jim also has changed since he left, and is nursing some serious trauma from the war, which in no small part stems from events surrounding the death of Dave's brother. Jim gets his job as Sheriff back but is suffering from what we would now call PTSD and he cannot bring himself to use a gun - a fact he tries to keep hidden but soon becomes plainly obvious. The friendship between Dave and Jim is pushed beyond the limit when the farmers in the area revolt against Dave's strongarm tactics and a range war brews...

Jock Mahoney tops a first class cast that features western stalwarts like Lyle Bettger, Martha Hyer, Ted de Corsia, and Lane Bradford. "Star in the Dust" director Charles Haas surpasses himself with this suspenseful cattlemen versus the sodbusters tale. The real meat of the script is given to Lyle Bettger as Dave Mosely, who very successfully plays that extreme rarity in films: the truly sympathetic villain. His part is really phenomenal in that he is actually a decent enough man who is a childhood friend of Mahoney's lead Jim Trask, and yet Trask the supposed hero undoes Dave's entire life and accomplishments. One almost ends up wanting Bettger to triumph over the lead characters. It's one of the most tragic figures I've ever seen played in a Western. The trajectory of Dave's destruction occurs on multiple levels, partially through the usual underestimating of his foe, but also at his reluctance to step in and take down his friend who has done a list of wrongs any man would kill for. One of the best scenes, staged imaginatively by Haas, has Peggy confronting Jim in the general store where our hero is having a suit of clothes made for him. When Jim and Peggy approach each other, Haas has set up a full-length mirror in front of and between them so we can see the reflection of Dave Mosely. Literally, Dave stands between Jim and Peg as they gaze into each other's eyes. This is almost surreal, and the implications for this love triangle are all too clear. Curiously, just 11 years later, Universal released an inferior re-make of this movie called "Gunfight in Abilene" with, of all people, Bobby Darin in the Jock Mahoney role.

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