The camera introduces us to a gang of sun baked, desperate men in a rocky terrain. Weary, tough and determined, young and afraid, thoroughly absorbed in the task at hand. It is obvious that this is dangerous business and many will die this day. The credits alert us that we are watching Hangman's Knot, a Columbia release produced by Harry Joe Brown and Randolph Scott, written and directed by Roy Huggins. Hold onto your hats, once the physical and emotional action begins, it does not let up.
Scott is Confederate Major Matt Stewart and he leads his men, dressed as civilians, on a mission to rob gold being transported by Union soldiers. The Confederates are successful in their ambush only to learn that their timing is off; the war is over and theirs was the losing side. When the advance scout, Captain Peterson played by Glen Langan (Dragonwyck, Margie), admits he knew in advance of the ambush that the war was over he is shot by the volatile Rolph Bainter played by Lee Marvin (The Dirty Dozen, Point Blank). This was the first of three movies Marvin made with Randolph Scott followed by The Stranger Wore a Gun and Seven Men from Now. Trouble always seems to come from Lee Marvin. Frank Faylen (It's a Wonderful Life, TVs The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis) plays Cass Browne, a man of infinitely more stability and a wry observer. John Call (Don't Bother to Knock, The Anderson Tapes) plays Egan Walsh who does his duty. 18-year-old Claude Jarmin Jr. (Intruder in the Dust, Rio Grande) plays young Jamie Groves who does a lot of growing up in a short time.
Randolph Scott, Claude Jarmin Jr.
Major Stewart agrees with his men that they have fought for the gold and it is theirs, but instead of keeping it for themselves it should be used to help rebuild the South. The new plan is thwarted by men and events. The men are a posse led by Ray Teal (The Best Years of Our Lives, TVs Bonanza) as Quincy and they are in search of the fugitives not for retribution or a cause, but to claim the loot for themselves. Circumstances force the gang to hijack a stagecoach and hold its passengers and way station keepers hostage as they battle the murderous posse and each other (Remember, trouble always seems to come from Lee Marvin.).
Donna Reed, Randolph Scott
The hostages which complicate the already perilous situation are a Union nurse Molly Hull played by Donna Reed. Miss Reed began her movie career at MGM and in ten years had grown from a charming ingenue to a versatile leading lady. Her professionalism and chemistry with co-star Randolph Scott adds much to Hangman's Knot made a year prior to her Oscar winning role in From Here to Eternity and a half dozen years before conquering television with The Donna Reed Show (four Emmy nominations, one Golden Globe win).
Claude Jarmin Jr., Clem Begans, Jeanette Nolan
Richard Denning (Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Glass Key) plays Lee Kemper, a schemer with little backbone, but crucial knowledge. The station agent Plunkett is played by old timer Clem Bevans (The Yearling, Portrait of Jennie), a man who has seen a thing or two. Plunkett's daughter Mrs. Harris is played by Jeanette Nolan (The Big Heat, MacBeth). Her character's heart has been hardened by loss.
Claude Jarmin Jr., Randolph Scott, Jeanette Nolan
Clem Bevans, Richard Denning, Donna Reed, Frank Faylen
The tension builds between both sides and within the camps as the Southerners are trapped by men as daring as themselves. The interplay between the fine actors with their sparse and well-written characters is intriguing and riveting viewing. Bold action and that thing we call Fate will have to combine if there is any chance for Major Stewart and those he leads and protects.
1914 - 2002
Roy Huggins was a working screenwriter at Columbia with seven credits to his name including Too Late for Tears and The Lady Gambles, and Hangman's Knot was his directorial debut. The film was well received by critics and fans, and Huggins was offered directing contracts from Scott-Brown and Columbia which were turned down. Huggins is quoted in Robert Nott's Last of the Cowboy Heroes (published 2000) as saying "I directed Hangman's Knot just to prove I could do it, so directors wouldn't talk down to me. I wanted to produce and write, not direct, and when I told Harry Cohn that, he said 'Every son of a bitch in this town wants to direct, and you don't'." The well-paced adventure film shows directing promise, although one might quibble about the filming of the stunt double in the fight scene, but it is still a good fight. In the long run, fans of Cheyenne, Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, The Fugitive and The Rockford Files, etc. are happy Mr. Huggins was true to himself.
1898 - 1987
Our star Randolph Scott devoted his screen career to westerns from 1948 on and they are a most interesting grouping of medium budgeted, well-crafted films that showcase an actor/star whose command of his abilities and persona improved with age and whose popularity as a top western star is legendary.
A click on this enticing banner will lead you to a world of Randolph Scott films and fans as hosted by Toby Roan of 50 Westerns From The 50s.