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Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Day of Fury (Universal, 1956)

A quality Universal B-Western

A Day of Fury (marketed also under the titles Jagade and Justice Comes to Tomahawk) is a B-Western of quality. It’s classic Universal mid-50s fare and could have starred any of a number of their players (it would have suited Audie Murphy, for example, and does have a certain resemblance to No Name on the Bullet) but it in fact featured a pre-Wells Fargo Dale Robertson and stunt-man-turned-actor Jock Mahoney. Unusually, Robertson played the villain.

It’s the old one about two guys on opposite sides; one, Burnett (Mahoney) pins on a badge and is about to marry in church, while the other, Jagade (Robertson) continues as gunslinger, though he knows his profession is on the verge of extinction.

After opening music more suited to a B noir, the titles tell us:

"Standing in the path of the new civilization were undisciplined, untamed men - the gunfighters whose way of life was coming to an end."

It makes it sound as if gunfighters were a separate people, like Indians or something.

Of course, the girl that Marshal Mahoney is about to marry (Mara Corday, her eighth Western but only second as lead) used to be the flame of the gunfighter. Gunfighter-gambler Jagade (pronounced Jergadey) installs himself in town and the quiet, respectable (or is it?) burg is turned upside down. The stranger with a gun coming to town, sowing dissension and bringing chaos and confusion is a well-known Western trope (the recently reviewed Silver Lode being a good example), taken to its most extreme, perhaps, by High Plains Drifter.
Gunslinger Dale comes to town
While the townsfolk blame the gunman (and even the women want him driven out at the very least and preferably hanged), as Dale says, "I turned over a rock. I didn't create what came out from under it." It's a good point: the hatred and suppressed violence were there already, and the gunman didn't cause it.

However, while it may be “the old one about…” A Day of Fury does have an interesting touch of difference. There’s a preacher (John Dehner, looking quite young, very good as always) who urges mob rule and a judge (Carl Benton Reid, Col. Owens in Escape from Fort Bravo, the mayor in Wichita) who wants to take the law into his own hands. There’s a prim schoolmistress (Dee Carroll)  who comes to a grisly end. The marshal is thrown in jail. Our expectations are rather turned on their heads.
Preacher John Dehner - an interesting part. Mara Corday as saloon gal turned respectable.
The schoolma'am is interesting. She haunts the action for much of the film, like a silent chorus, and she is in some ways the worst of the town hypocrites, yet she is also the most tragic.

Dale Robertson, on loan from Fox, does the bad guy with a Glenn Ford/Ben Wade charm. Jock Mahoney was always rather wooden as an actor. He was a great athlete and had stunted for all the lead Western stars. He had even screen-tested as a replacement Tarzan for Johnny Weismuller and of course he led in the 78-episode TV series The Range Rider. But as an actor he made a great stuntman. In this movie he is stiff and just says his lines. With Peck or Fonda or someone like that in the marshal part, it might have been a really great film.
Robertson had the good part. Mahoney was rather wooden.
There’s a Skip Homeier-ish punk kid played by Jan Merlin in his first Western. Rather surprisingly (this Western is often surprising) he doesn't end up shot to death in the street, as he would have in many an oater. 

It was directed by Harmon Jones, his third Western (all three with Dale Robertson) and written by James Edmiston (his first Western) and Oscar Brodney (his seventh; he’d done Universal’s remake of Destry Rides Again called Frenchie (1951), and the 1955 remake of The Spoilers, among others). The direction and writing are of good quality, and the print available is superb - crystal clear and with luminous color.
It’s a better than average Universal B-Western and will repay a watch. Recommended.

That's a mean looking little .38 Mara has, pointed at Dale

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