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Monday, October 20, 2014

Yellow Sky (1948)

A band of bank robbers led by a tough no nonsense gunfighter (Gregory Peck) trek several days through a scorching desert to escape the pursuing cavalry. Near death due to thirst and heat, they arrive at a ghost town inhabited by an old coot (James Barton) and his feisty granddaughter (Anne Baxter). This is one of the best westerns to come out of the 1940s. As directed by William A. Wellman, it's a tough and unsentimental (well, maybe a wee bit sentimental toward the end) adult western, intelligently written and executed. The gang of thieves, including Peck, are a bunch of cold hearted bastards and Baxter is no demure heroine, she's a hellcat! Wellman smartly lets the tension slowly build up before he lets all Hell break loose. It's a refreshing change of pace from the standard western where everything goes by the numbers while the minimal cast allows for more character development than usual. With Baxter as the only woman in the film, Lamar Trotti's screenplay emphasizes the potential possibility of rape at almost every opportunity and indeed, she fights off several attempts. Joseph MacDonald (MY DARLING CLEMENTINE) does a superb job of shooting the Death Valley and Lone Pine locations in crisp black and white. The rest of the gang are played by Richard Widmark, John Russell, Henry Morgan, Robert Arthur and Charles Kemper.

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