To celebrate the third May birthday boy from my blog header, I'm reviewing one of Duke's more unusual westerns, Angel and the Badman (1947). It's easily one of the most romantic westerns I've ever seen, with a love story so central to the plot that the title itself refers to the pairing.
Angel and the Badman (1947) begins with a wounded stranger (John Wayne) falling off his horse and into the lives of the Worth family, peaceful Quakers who believe it is their duty and privilege to help anyone and everyone who needs them.
This stranger insists on sending an urgent telegram, so Mr. Worth (John Halloran) and his daughter, Penny (Gail Russell), drive him into town. Once there, he sends a telegram stating he's filing a claim on a specific piece of land. His signature reveals that he is Quirt Evans, once Wyatt Earp's deputy and now a man with a reputation for using his gun. He then collapses in Penny's arms.
Before he loses consciousness, he startles her with a reflexive, passionate kiss. Penny is astonished, but not angry. Still, we get the feeling this is the first time she has been kissed by anyone, much less a handsome and infamous gunman.
Once back at the Worth farm, a doctor tries to tend to Quirt Evans' wounds. He's been shot in the abdomen, and also has an injured leg. But although the doctor gives Quirt as much laudanum as he dares administer, the gunman clings to semi-consciousness.
He tosses back and forth, hands reaching, grasping for something he can't find.
Mr. Worth fetches Evans' pistol, which they'd left outside the house since Quakers don't believe in violence.
After prudently unloading it, he places the pistol in Quirt's outstretched hand.
Immediately, Quirt stops thrashing and slips into a passive sleep.
I first saw this movie when I was a young teen, probably only 14 or so. I remember this scene so vividly -- that wounded man unable to rest unless he has his weapon. His instincts so strong they overrode a powerful sedative, like an addict who doesn't just crave his drug of choice, he's entirely in its thrall. I didn't see this movie again for twenty years, but I always remembered it as the movie where "John Wayne is wounded and can't sleep without his gun." In fact, I used that idea in at least two stories as a teen, and it pops up in some C! fanfic too, where Caje takes to sleeping with a knife in his hand.
Penny and her family nurse Quirt Evans back to health. When he finally regains consciousness, Quirt flirts expertly with Penny, who has begun to fall in love with him, and rather a lot of this sort of thing goes on all through the rest of the film.
Quirt is taken aback by Penny's very sincere affection for him. At first, he finds it flattering, but just as he finds himself beginning to return her feelings, plot rears its ugly head to interrupt them.
You see, those bullets he had in him when he arrived came from a guy named Laredo Stevens (Bruce Cabot) and his cohorts, all of whom Quirt blames for his foster father's death. Quirt beat them to staking a claim on some land they want, and now they're after him to get the deed.
And before long, a nosy US Marshal called Wistful McLintock (Harry Carey) comes around too, checking on Quirt to see if he was involved in some mischief, which reminds Quirt and Penny of just what sort of a man he was before he came to the Worth farm.
From then on out, it's all about Quirt needing to chose between going back to his old ways of relying on his gun and violence to get him out of trouble, or giving them up to be with Penny. I'm not going to dig deeply into that here because I'll have a whole article on that subject in the next issue of Femnista.
If you're scratching your head and saying, "Hang on, John Wayne as a romantic lead? John Wayne? Really?" then you need to watch more of his movies, because honey, he will smolder your socks off.
You can currently watch this entire movie for free here on YouTube with very good picture and sound quality, thanks to the Paramount Vault. It's actually in the public domain as well, so there are a lot of inexpensive DVD versions out there, but not all of them are very good quality, and some of them are missing several minutes of the movie! If you find it on DVD, make sure it has 100 minutes of movie on it so you get to see the whole film. I have one put out by Olive Films that is very nice.
Angel and the Badman is the first film John Wayne ever produced, and I can see why he chose it. It's an ambitious movie trying to stay more than just "good triumphs over evil." That theme is there as well, but this focuses mostly on how a person's choices affect themselves as well as those around them.
There's a bit of embroidery hanging near the bed where Quirt convalesces, and he discusses it with Penny at one point.
Penny and her family believe this to be true. Quirt begins the story by insisting he's been hurt by others, not by himself. Laredo Stevens and his buddies hurt Quirt by killing his foster father. They hurt him by shooting him. But Penny gently brings him around to seeing that it's his vengeful grudge against Laredo that is hurting Quirt more than anything else. And that their killing and shooting has hurt them morally more than it has hurt Quirt physically.
Penny herself makes some decisions that could hurt herself, but also many that preserve her moral integrity. She unabashedly declares her love for Quirt, and says she would leave her family to be with him. Had she blindly ridden away with him, unmarried... there's a world of hurt to be had down that road. Later, she chooses not to lie for him. And later still, she chooses to risk her life to save Quirt.
By the end of the film, both Quirt and Penny have matured. Both have willingly sacrificed something they previously held dear in order to help the other, and against great odds, their ending is a happy one.
This is my 12th movie watched and reviewed for the Period Drama Challenge! And that doesn't end until July 2, so I may get a few more in yet. I was aiming for the 12-15 movie level, so yay! I'm afraid I didn't take any extra shots of just costumes for this movie, sorry. I think you can get a good feel for them with what I've shared, though.
Is this movie family friendly? I think it's fine for older children, say age 8 on up. There's some western violence involving guns and fists, including a raucous barroom brawl, and a somewhat scary/tense scene where a wagon goes over a cliff. There's also a little bit of somewhat suggestive dialog where a delirious Quirt calls a woman he's remembering a "hussy." Later, he gets drunk with a woman after she dances and sings in the saloon to attract his attention. It's implied that he and she are planning to spend the evening together in her room, but they don't. It's strongly suggested that Quirt was a "ladies' man" before he met Penny.