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Author Topic: The Law and Jake Wade (1958)  (Read 2098 times)
cigar joe
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« on: October 05, 2008, 10:06:10 PM »

I watched this out of the new Warner's DVD set tonight, I had caught it on TV about a month or so ago under a less that ideal setting. This time it had a proper viewing and my undivided attention. The film was Directed by John Sturges, and I can't recommend more that you see this alone for the gorgeous cinematography by Robert Surtees. Here is a Western that in outdoor locations and settings looks perfect. The  sagebrush engulfed ghostown at the end is really impressive. Either they went to the trouble of building a partially collapsed wooden aqueduct to a water tank or the set was an actual real ghostown .

These locations are all in Lonepine, Death Valley, and The Alabama Hills. Why no recent Westerns in the last 30 years have not been shot there is beyond me, but using those locations would be like slipping into a comfortable old pair of shoes and would also give a certain cachet to a work. Those locations are not as singularly iconic as the Buttes of Monument Valley, but they actually represent even more the West as a whole because they provide an infinite variety of jagged peaks, flat plains, alluvial fans, erroded badlands, and boulder fields.

The film stars Robert Taylor as Jake Wade , a reformed outlaw,  Richard Widmark as Wade's old partner in crime Clint Hollister from the Civil War Kansas/Missouri border war.   Patricia Owens is Peggy Wade's fiance who knows nothing of his past.  Robert Middleton plays Ortero a member of the old Wade-Hollister Gang.  Henry Silva is in one of his stock quasi lunatic hothead roles he played so well, as new gang member Rennie.  De Forest Kelley (Bones from Star Trek) is again playing a heavy (very similar to what he played in Warlock) gang member Wexler,  Eddie Firestone is I believe minor gang member Burke who rounds out the main cast.

The story is basically that a reformed Wade finds out that Hollister has been captured and held in a jail awaiting a hanging close enough nearby to allow Wade to break him out in order to pay back a dept owed (Hollister saved his life). After accomplishing this Wade splits with Hollister to go back to his reformed ways, things don't quite go as planned.  It seems that on the last job Wade & Hollister pulled Wade disappeared with $20,000.

*note bene those who watch this the way they  take no chances and bind this Wade's hands behind his back in stark contrast to the stupid remake of 3:10 to Yuma.

The only minor things keeping this Western out of a top ten list are that the night time scenes are all shot on obvious sets one of which has a ridiculous backdrop painting of Monument Valley, looking very out of place. Another is that though all the clothes of the actors who have been on the trail supposedly for days are suitably well dusted up, none of the actors have any stubble or the beginnings of beards. And finally the way Robert Taylor looks & plays his part seems just a tad off the mark (old Hollywood style), its like the difference between Sturges' "Gunfight at the OK Corral" and his "Hour Of The Gun" the way in the former Lancaster appears as Earp with the way in the latter Garner looks as Earp.

The soundtrack is average.

If you liked the look of Sturges's Bad Day at Black Rock see this.

This is a definitely a Western to own.






« Last Edit: October 06, 2008, 08:13:54 AM by cigar joe » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: October 07, 2008, 10:55:06 AM »

I watched this some month ago and agree with your review. What you note about Taylor could be extended to all his westerns (those 2-3 I watched). He looks too dapper to be credible. Even his haircut looks impeccable (and greased?).



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« Reply #2 on: October 07, 2008, 01:46:07 PM »

Quote
Even his haircut looks impeccable (and greased?).

probably pomaded,  lol.

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« Reply #3 on: September 19, 2009, 12:07:27 PM »

Just got this from Netflix the other night and gave it a view. All I can say is that it's basically a piece of crap.

What makes the film bad is the ridiculous plot and the laughably bad performances (with the exception of Richard Widmark and Robert Middleton who did a good job with the poor script). The star of the film (forgot his name) was about as charismatic as a plank of wood, boring in every scene he's in. Henry Silva, who was very good in The Bravados and The Tall T, does a horrible job here making me laugh every time he's on scree, not to mention the way he acts when his character dies which is absolutely hilarious. All other performances range from okay to bad. DeForrest Kelly could have done a good job if he wasn't given such a one-dimensional character.

The plot of the movie is enough to make you laugh. It begins with a sheriff who has a dark past but is now faithful to the law, breaks his ex-friend who's a notorious outlaw out of jail. Why? Because he did it for him long ago. But he has no intention of being friendly with his old buddy, just tells him to stay away from him.   Huh   So that's really smart, let me break the law, which I'm paid to uphold and now fully believe in, just to help an ex-friend who's just going to come back and haunt me and my new family. And all because he did the same for me long ago when I use to be like that. That's some excellent logic right there.

Then it gets slightly interesting when the criminal and his thugs take the sheriff and his new wife hostage, but then drags out when they go on a dull trek to some buried gold. Moron logic kicks in once again when they come upon a huge cavalry patrol which greatly outnumber the gang. The criminal gives the sheriff back his gun and his badge and without aiming any concealed weapon at him or his wife tells him to play along. Immediately the leader of the patrol know something's fishy but instead of the sheriff giving him any form of hint, even a wink, he plays along with it and the patrol goes away.   Huh

Then an Indian attack is thrown in just to kill off some of the baddies and leave the main characters to finish off a hugely predictable ending. However, the final climax is very well done and was pretty cool, it can't make up for the rest of this boring crap-fest. An unfortunate waste of some good talent.

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« Reply #4 on: May 24, 2016, 09:01:29 PM »

Just saw this movie, on TCM, it's mostly a crappy movie, then has a decent end.

I have not seen the dvd, but on TCM the image quality is not very good.

« Last Edit: May 24, 2016, 09:02:36 PM by drinkanddestroy » Logged

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« Reply #5 on: May 25, 2016, 10:29:58 AM »

I disagree with the notion that everything is boring before they enter the ghost town. This is a well written movie that is never remotely boring. There are conflicts scattered consistently throughout the film and some really clever moments: the failed escape attempt by Taylor, the calvary scene, the aftermath of the Comanche attack and makeshift graveyard, etc. Even the studio shot campfire scenes with Widmark revealed information about the characters and were entertaining.

The only disappointing aspect of this movie is the sets and direction, which aren't up to snuff with 'Gunfight" or the Mag 7 - but I'm sure that is entirety a budget issue. The ghost town set was great though.

As for Hostage Westerns, most of Boetticher's stuff qualifies to varying degrees and he's one of the masters of the genre. Also, Jake Wade doesn't suffer from the potential shortcomings of the subgenre due to the scope of this thing. Once they get settled, the location was great and it never wasn't cinematic.

8.5/10. Better than I remembered, will pick this up on bluray whenever it's released.

« Last Edit: May 25, 2016, 10:45:12 AM by T.H. » Logged


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« Reply #6 on: May 25, 2016, 12:43:47 PM »

This film has (probably) the most atmospheric color photography of a 50s western. Hmm, together with The Wonderful Country. Robert Surtees for this one, Floyd Crosby for the Wonderful one.

And Richard Widmark is incredibly good. One of his best roles.

I do not remember the few studio shots looking bad, it were only some night scenes anyway, and shot with filters in the glistering sun does not give a more impressive image.

But the film is too short, several incidents would have benefited from some more detailedness. The final duel in the ghost town for example, or the scene at the beginning when Taylor just looks back to see if Widmark follows him, instead of showing him elaborately taking care to cover his tracks.

Like all 50s westerns by Sturges a good one, and like all better than Mag 7. 7,5/10

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« Reply #7 on: May 25, 2016, 01:42:16 PM »

and Robert Taylor doesn't do anything that remotely makes a bit of sense here.

Let's get this straight: Widmark clearly tells Taylor that after Taylor takes him to the gold, he's going to kill Taylor. And he says the girl has to come along. There is zero doubt he'll kill the girl also, once he gets the gold.

Now, Widmark needs Taylor alive, or else no gold. So Taylor, even with a gun at his back, has quite  a bit of leverage. Yet he, who's supposed to be this great gunslinger, just acts like a patsy, going along with Widmark's commands. Why doesn't he say, "I'll go, but alone. You let the girl go home." What's Widmark going to say to that? "No - she comes along or I'll kill you"?? Widmark doesn't want Taylor to die before they reach the gold, anymore than Taylor wants to die. Taylor can insist on certain conditions like letting the girl go home. No way is widmark going to shoot him.

Also, when the cavalry shows up, there are dozens of soldiers there. A great opportunity for Taylor to try to get help. Might that result in Widmark shooting them? Maybe. But Widmark has already promised to kill them once they get the gold. Again, Taylor acts like a patsy, giving into every demand from a man who has promised to kill him once he gets the gold but really needs him alive till then.

In Boetticher's two hostage movies, The Tall T and Comanche Station, as I recall, nobody acts that stupid. Those are far better films than The Law and Jake Wade, IMO. TLAJW has a ton of awful panning shots that look curved because of CinemaScope. There should be two rules for CinemScope movies: A) Don't use CinemaScope; B) if you're going to be an idiot and use CinemaScope, don't do these big landscape panning shots that look awfully curved. This movie has them again and again.

the Boetticher films IMO look much, much prettier, but again, that could just be the print quality. The TCM print did not look good; can't necessarily blame the cinematography here. So forget that point.

And btw, IMO it probably would have made for a better ending if Widmark and Taylor had killed each other, rather than the happy ending. Taylor did commit crimes that he never paid for, so it would have been poetic justice also. But hey, Hollywood likes the happy ending.

I guess Leone fans will enjoy the "gold in the grave" bit at the end.

I did like the final duel, it was a nice spin on the traditional Western final duel. Although I laughed at Taylor running around, with that big fat ass moving s slow; Widmark is so much quicker and in much better shape; I laughed every time they had a shot of Taylor running and tumbling.


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« Reply #8 on: May 26, 2016, 10:44:24 AM »

Stanton, that's a good point about how studio shot night time sets are superior to day-for-night. My thinking is if we don't kill Leone for using day-for-night in Fistful, we shouldn't hold it against anyone else - though there are almost always exceptions to the rule.

I also can't recall too many examples of rural locations being shot at night in the classic era; towns, sure, but not the middle of a desert or a campground. And studio campground sets were the norm back then, and there is honestly a lot of creativity and craftsmanship that goes into making those sets - when done right.


Drink, I think it's perfectly logical for the Wade character to not object to his girl being brought along when the alternative is one of the gang members being held back to keep an eye on her. We also know from the climax that he will have access to a gun.

As for the calvary scene, if he said something a bloodbath would have ensued and there was no need to take that risk. Wade also knows he's smarter than Widmark's character so it's a good bet that he would have an opening with a less bloody conclusion.

« Last Edit: May 26, 2016, 12:13:36 PM by T.H. » Logged


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