Tribute To A Bad Man Jeremy Rodock is a tough horse rancher who strings up rustlers soon as look at them. Fresh out of Pennsylvania, Steve Miller finds it hard to get used to Rodock’s ways, although he takes an immediate shine to his Greek girl Jocasta.
Cagney’s Bad…and That’s Good!!
Tribute To A Bad Man Since, by and large, this is a forgotten film, I wasn’t expecting too much when I sat down to watch it. I was stunned to find a throughly enjoyable film. Fair warning: This is not a shoot-em-up Western…it is a human drama with one fist-fight, one gun battle, one hanging, and some (well-deserved) torture of the bad guys.
Evidently, I am a bad man…because I couldn’t find one thing wrong with the way the Cagney character went about his business. He was strong, fair…and brutal ONLY when he had to be. Yes, that brutality would have been unforgivable if there was a sheriff or other body of law close-by, but the movie makes the point repeatedly that there is no law for 200 miles in any direction. When there is a vacuum, or void, one must fill it. What the Cagney character does is fill that void with the mandatory strength and frontier justice required for the situation. What he did does not work in today’s society, but they weren’t living in today’s society, so one must take the philosophy in context of the times. He was not an unfair man, or brutal for the fun of it…he was brutal in order to punish the guilty who were there to steal from him…to steal his property, his livelihood, and also those who would try to steal his woman. Personally, I think if there was a bit more justice Cagney style, we wouldn’t have nearly the level of crime we do today.
Even with regard to how he treats the Irene Papas character, I didn’t see great fault with the man. Yes, he put off marrying her because he had issues, but virtually every scene they had together he was showing her some sort of affection, or enjoying her company…and never in a perverted “I own you” kind of way, but you could see in his face how deeply he cared for her. The drama arises from his determination to hang those who would steal his horses from him, and the Papas character’s revulsion by it. Other than that, they clearly love each other.
Robert Wise does a masterful job with the directing…this is a gorgeous film. Whether it’s one of the massive Cinemascope shots, or an intimate two-shot in a barn at night, everything is just beautiful.
The acting throughout is quite good, with Irene Papas absolutely phenomenal in her central role. Cagney, with only one or two over-the-top moments, is outstanding as the tough-shell-tender-center rancher who must keep an entire world together…land, men, women, and cattle. He was an actor who could do more with a guttural sound than he could with a paragraph of dialogue. He has some brilliant moments in this film. Don Dubbins is perfectly cast as the “soft” Easterner trying to make it as a horse wrangler. At first I thought I didn’t like his acting, but I think it was actually the character he was playing that I didn’t like…a bit too meek for my taste…but that was the character written, so he must have done a good job if I believed it enough to not like it. My only real complaint is that there’s not even close to enough screen time for Chubby Johnson, Lee Van Cleef, and Royal Dano.
The weakest part of the film is probably the script, which is decent, but not great. Fortunately, they hired top named actors for leads and support, and they infused the movie with a lot that wasn’t on the page.
Overall, an enjoyable Western that is well worth a viewing. 8 out of 10 from me for the great Cagney and Papas, plus the brilliance of Robert Wise’s direction. Tribute To A Bad Man