Vengeance is mine, saith the hero
The revenge drama is a staple of the Western movie. You show a really bad bad-guy in the first reel and establish his wickedness (and the bona fides of the good guy) so that the villain will deserve the come-uppance that will undoubtedly be meted out to him in the last reel. The excuse for allowing this personal act of revenge rather than involving the authorities is that there was limited official law ‘n’ order on the Western frontier, so it’s alright. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do and all that. Countless Western movies used this plot and yet another arrived in 2008.
I’m not sure if The Man Who Came Back was a theatrical release, a TV movie or a straight-to-video affair. It does rather have the look of a TV movie, though I watched it on DVD, and, as we have remarked recently, like many modern Westerns it does look a bit like a re-enactment in an historical Western town, with actors wearing costumes. Still, it isn’t too bad.
The villain of the piece is Billy Duke (James Patrick Stuart, below, Col E Porter Alexander in Gettysburg), who, in post-Reconstruction 1880s Louisiana, when, we are told, Southern aristocrats were taking back power, behaves like an unreconstructed vicious slave owner. He discovers some Nigras, as he calls them, leaving the plantation and he whips one and shoots the mule of another. I’m surprised he didn’t beat a child as well because that was a standard way of establishing bad-guy credentials in the opening scenes, but shooting an innocent mule will do.
George still had it
The man who will deliver this rough justice? Well, I’ve rather delayed talking about him. You might expect some well-known Western good guy but in fact we get Eric Braeden, né Gudegast, a German-American actor known for daytime soap operas on TV (he won a ‘Daytime Emmy’ but I’m not sure if that’s a good thing) who was also, I am informed, John Jacob Astor in Titanic (I say I am informed of that because I am the only person on this planet who has never seen Titanic). Mr. Braeden is solid and steady, though is unlikely to set the prairie on fire. Just occasionally he looks vaguely Stalloney. He was the German officer adviser in 100 Rifles (like Mapache's in The Wild Bunch) and appeared in various Western TV shows here and there.
Not the most charismatic lead, I fear
Paxton’s angelic spouse is Angelique (Carol Alt) and they have an equally perfect young son (Brady Hender) but the wife and child end up in a way that reminds me of the grisly fate of the family in The Tall T. Now Paxton has even more justification for revenge. He escapes from the brutal prison - where the warden (Peter Jason) tells him that “Prisoners are not men; they are livestock” - and, as the movie’s title suggests, he returns to exact his vengeance.
The warden surveys his livestock
Zane is rather gray
Armand Assante with lead Braeden at the wrap party
One by one those who were responsible for Paxton's imprisonment and the deaths of his family are eliminated (the preacher is appropriately crucified). As Paxton replies when the saloon madam asks if he’s going to pay for that drink, “Everybody pays.” (There’s a bizarre and totally out-of-place love scene between Paxton and the madam which can only have been inserted for a few R-rated shots of breast.)
One is left thinking, “Next!”