"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Showdown (Universal, 1973)

Pleasant enough

The whole notion of the showdown was fundamental to the Western. The plot of the first great Western novel, The Virginian (1902) depended on it and countless movies gave us the last-reel confrontation between goody and baddy as the climax of the picture. Republic released The Showdown (a Bill Elliott oater) in 1950, Louis L’Amour published Showdown at Yellow Butte in 1953, Jock Mahoney won a Showdown at Abilene in 1956, Charles Bronson had an indecisive Showdown at Boot Hill in 1958, and Universal put Audie Murphy in Showdown in 1963. And ten years later Universal used the title again, though with a different story, in yet another Showdown.

I don’t remember it, actually, and may not even have seen it at the time (though that would have been odd) but reader John Knight mentioned it in a comment on another 70s Western we reviewed recently, The Culpepper Cattle Company. So I watched this Showdown last night.

This one, unlike Audie’s rather ordinary black & white effort a decade earlier, is quite a glossy picture, 99 minutes of Todd-AO 35 Technicolor with some great New Mexico and Sequoia National Forest locations shot by Ernest Laszlo, no less.

It stars Rock Hudson and Dean Martin. Both these actors often did Westerns as non-leads or co-stars. Rock was paired with James Stewart in Bend of the River, with Robert Ryan in Horizons West, with Kirk Douglas in The Last Sunset and with John Wayne in The Undefeated. Dino partnered Wayne in Rio Bravo, Sinatra in Sergeants 3 and 4 for Texas (and very bad they were too), Wayne again in The Sons of Katie Elder, James Stewart in Bandolero! and Robert Mitchum in 5 Card Stud. Rock was quite good in Westerns; he rode well and did a good job of the tough-but-decent Western hero. Dino was in some pretty weak Westerns, to say the least, but he was always charming and enjoyable in them. And in Rough Night in Jericho he was excellent as the bad guy.

Showdown has the old plot about two brothers – or in this case best friends – on opposite sides of the law. They grew up together and became partners in a ranch but Billy (Martin) left and fell in with some undesirable elements while Chuck (Hudson) stayed and became a lawman. In the opening scenes Billy holds up a train and of course it will be Sheriff Chuck’s job to hunt down the robbers, allowing for anguished conflicts.

There’s a slight Butch Cassidy vibe as both pals exchange badinage and both fall for the same gal, Kate (Susan Clark). Chuck marries her but Billy more than half loves her too. Unlike Etta in Butch Cassidy, though, Kate is a rather shrewish wife and a nag. She says she does it because she loves Chuck but it makes her come across as an unsympathetic character.

The director was George Seaton, hardly a name to set the blood of Western-lovers coursing hotly through their veins. It was the only Western he directed, though he was one of the producers of The Tin Star and also deserves encomiums, panegyrics and paeans from all true Westernistas because he was the voice of The Lone Ranger on Detroit radio station WXYZ, where he claimed to have originated the "Hi-Yo, Silver!" catchphrase because of his inability to whistle.

There are occasional black & white freeze-frames which segue into little flashback vignettes as both characters recall their younger days of buddiness. There are probably too many of these, to be honest. They do rather slow the action down.

It’s set very late – Billy tells Kate he has been in Cuba with the Rough Riders – but of course all the clothes and guns are 1870s, as usual.

It was the last Western of both Hudson and Martin, both perhaps slightly past their sell-by date, and the last film of director Seaton.

There’s a fair bit of action. Billy uses a derringer at one point. So it has its moments.
The final showdown is a bit of a cheat, though, because it isn’t a confrontation between Chuck and Billy at all. They in fact unite against the bad-guy accomplices of Billy in that robbery.

It’s harmless enough, no great shakes but perfectly watchable.





  1. As mentioned previously Jeff I have not seen this one since its release-
    but I do remember enjoying it at the time.
    I'm tempted to get the new soon to be released German Blu Ray.
    All I remember about the film is the lovely scenery and equally lovely
    Susan Clark. Susan also was good in VALDEZ IS COMING a Lancaster vehicle
    which should have been a whole lot better-perhaps Sturges should have directed.
    To continue the "political" debate we got involved in on the previous thread
    another film that gets accused of being rather political is TELL THEM
    WILLIE BOY IS HERE also with Susan.
    For me it's a pretty good pursuit Western-Redford is OK nothing more but
    really how can any movie with Barry Sullivan and Charles McGraw not be any
    Jeff,you also name-dropped ROUGH NIGHT IN JERICHO another film I have not
    seen since its initial release. I feel it deserves another look despite
    it's sour reputation with critics both then and now.
    I might add I really like the Audie Murphy SHOWDOWN the only one of his
    Universal Westerns made in black & white.

    1. I think Valdez was a fine Western (mainly but not only because of the writing) but Willie Boy was a bit 'trendy' and California-liberal. I'm a bit of a fan of Rough Night -Dean M never better.

    2. Jeff, unlike THE CULPEPPER CATTLE COMPANY(1972), SHOWDOWN is out of step with the early 1970's Westerns. That is why I enjoyed watching this pleasant enough Western. I first saw it on NBC TV in 1974. I think it did better on TV, because Rock and Dean were being viewed more on TV during the 1970's.

      This movie is very watchable because of Rock Hudson, Dean Martin, and Susan Clark. Also, I liked John McLiam. I especially liked him loading his shotgun. I think some light needs to be shined on movies like SHOWDOWN, which not very much has been written about.

    3. Yes, that shotgun image was memorable. I must pay more attention to McLiam.