Friday, June 14, 2013

"Posse from Hell" (1961) -- Initial Thoughts

I knew nothing about this movie until Patti reviewed it here on her blog, They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To.  I've only seen Audie Murphy in one movie before, his own biopic, To Hell and Back (1955), and that was long, long ago.  But this has Vic Morrow in it, playing the heavy of course, so I knew I needed to see it.

I'm so glad I did!  This is a great B western, one that grapples with tougher questions than most A westerns, especially for a movie of the early sixties.  What happened on the frontier to a woman who was kidnapped and raped?  What kind of life would she have after that, shunned by so many for having lost her maidenly virtue, even though she is a victim?  And what do you do with a prisoner who's wounded, perhaps mortally, when you don't have enough men to leave one to care for him and you can't take him with you?  Tough questions, and these characters face them straight on, no polite ignoring or glossing-over.

The movie begins with four escaped convicts (including Vic Morrow and Lee Van Cleef) swaggering into the little town of Paradise.  They rob the bank, kill several townspeople, and mortally wound Marshal Webb (Ward Ramsey), then take a woman hostage and ride out of town.

Everybody look sad now, got it?

Enter Banner Cole (Audie Murphy), the marshal's best friend who just arrived in town.  Just before dying, Webb deputizes him and sends him out to catch the outlaws.  Cole is a misanthrope who would rather go after the four bad guys alone, but he promised Webb to do this thing right, so he asks the townspeople to form a posse.  Only seven men volunteer, among them the kidnapped woman's uncle (Royal Dano), a tenderfoot bank inspector (John Saxon), a boastful gunslinger (Paul Carr), a bossy former cavalry officer (Robert Keith), and an Indian seeking acceptance in the town (Rudolph Acosta).  And also a couple of guys to be cannon fodder.  This motley posse starts off after the bad guys, but you know it's going to boil down to a shoot-out between Cole and the lead outlaw, Crip (Vic Morrow).

The posse finds the hostage, Helen Caldwell (Zohra Lampert), abandoned by the outlaws to slow the posse down.  Although the word "rape" is never used, we all know what happened to her.  I thought Lampert's performance overall was superb, showing a woman by turns numb, enraged, and despondent.  And I absolutely loved how the men, especially Audie's Cole, don't touch her more than they have to.  Some keep their distance out of disgust or a kind of fear, but others seem to respect the fact that for a long time, she's going to need to control who touches her and how.  Or at least that's how I took it.

Helen and her uncle

The posse sends Helen and her uncle back to town, and then the other men are killed or wounded one by one until only Cole and one other are left to give the outlaws a little taste of western justice.  Which, of course, they do.

The posse.  From Paradise, actually, but whatever.

This movie is jammed with familiar faces!  I know Robert Keith from Guys and Dolls (1955), where he played Lt. Brannigan, of the New York Police Force (yes, I always have to say it that way.  Nicely, Nicely, thank you!).  I know Royal Dano from a zillion westerns -- he's one of those ultra-prolific character actors you see all over if you watch a lot of old movies.  I know John Saxon from the James Stewart/Maureen O'Hara comedy Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962).  And I know Paul Carr from both a Combat! ep (he's Kleinschmidt in "Hills are for Heroes") and a Bobby Darin/Gregory Peck/Angie Dickinson/Tony Curtis movie, Captain Newman, M.D. (1963).  So cool to see all of them, especially Paul Carr, since he would go on to work with Vic again a few years later in such a critically acclaimed ep of Combat!  There are other familiar faces too, like Lee Van Cleef, who had much more minor roles.

Vic being menacing in his own delightful way.

But enough about all of that.  You want to know how Vic Morrow was, right?  I'm sorry to say he's not in it much, though he makes the best of his screen time.  He's got a lot to do in the first eight minutes, menacing and shouting and shooting and all.  But he's doing this weird thing with his voice -- like he's almost trying out a falsetto and a western accent all at once.  But he still drops all his 'r's, so I don't really think it's a dub.  Still, I missed his usual voice.  But anyway, after those first 8 minutes, he only has a smattering of moments on screen until the final shoot-out.  But that shoot-out has a nice amount of him sneaking around in the woods, running at a crouch like he'd spend the next 5 years doing on Combat!, and that was mighty enjoyable to watch :-9

You can watch this whole movie on YouTube starting here, which is what I did.

I don't have a lot to say about the costumes here.  They're your average western costumes.  Audie Murphy wears a neatly knotted bandana throughout, which gives him just a little bit of a dandified air that I found a bit incongruous with his tough-as-nails character, but it also gave him a touch of mystery, so I'm cool with it.

UPDATE:  I forgot to mention if this is family-friendly.  Depends on the family, as is so often the case.  If you would be offended by the idea of a woman being raped, then you already know this movie is not for you.  If you like seeing difficult subjects handled deftly and gently (and the word 'rape' is never used, they said instead that she'd been 'used badly' or something to that effect, so young children would probably be satisfied with the explanation that the outlaws hurt her), then you'd dig it.  Nothing more than a torn sleeve is shown on screen, though she does appear in her petticoat later (which is basically a sleeveless dress).


  1. What a great review!! I'm so glad you liked this film. I know that we all have different tastes and preferences, but when I recommend a movie, I always hope that others will enjoy it as well. Otherwise, they've just wasted their time.

    One of my favorite scenes in the movie was when Audie (my current love!) tells Helen, "As far as I'm concerned, you've never really been touched." The man he was at the beginning of the movie was no longer! Kindness and compassion and a realization that some people were good had come upon him.

    The transformation in John Saxon's character was terrific too. No longer a tenderfoot!

    Yes, your Vic wasn't in the film long, but he did indeed have an important part. Without him, there would not have been a story!

    1. I loved that scene between Banner and Helen too! And how, at the end, he never takes her hand, they just walk side-by-side. She's not ready to be touched yet, and he respects that.

      I thought about discussing the character development, but my review was already pretty long, and you covered that really thoroughly, so I felt like I'd just be repeating you anyway.

  2. This is a really great review Hamelette. This movie is not available to stream so I will have to find the DVD someplace.

    Thanks to you and Patti for bringing Posse from Hell to our attention.

    1. I don't believe it's out on DVD, but you can find it on YouTube. Not the greatest copy (so bad that I only took a couple screencaps), but better than nothing.

  3. I always enjoy a good western, I will have to check this one out. Thank you for following my blog, both of yours are great, I am following!

    By the way, the video of the movie no longer works. It says: "Video is Private"


    1. I enjoy a good western more than just about any kind of movie.

      Your blog is lots of fun! I hope to have time to explore it more in the future.

      Changed the link to a different version -- thanks for the heads-up. That's how it is with YouTube, sigh.


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