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

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Bounty Killer (Embassy Pictures, 1965)

Old-timers ride again


As Gary Brumburgh writes on IMDb,

Dan Duryea was definitely the man you went to the movies for and loved to hate. His sniveling, deliberately taunting demeanor and snarling flat, nasal tones set the actor apart from other similar slimeballs of the 1940s and 1950s. From his very first picture, the highly acclaimed The Little Foxes (1941), in which he portrayed the snotty, avaricious nephew Leo Hubbard who would easily sell his own mother down the river for spare change, the tall, lean and mean Duryea became a particularly guilty pleasure, particularly in film noir, melodramas and westerns.

I always liked Duryea in Westerns. Even when he was (mis)cast as the nice guy, a luckily rare event, there was something méchant about him. His very first oater was Along Came Jones, the delightful 1945 Gary Cooper picture, in which he was the real Monte, the gunslinger naïf Coop was mistaken for. He was in seventeen Western movies altogether (and a heap of Western TV shows). He was in both versions of Winchester ’73, as Waco Johnny Dean of the hyena laugh in the James Stewart one in 1950, and as brother Bart in the made-for-TV version in 1967, the year before he died. It must be said that most of the Westerns he was in were B-movies but he was always great in them. At the end of his career he even did a junk spaghetti western (The Hills Run Red in 1966) but it didn’t matter. Of course he overacted wildly but that was part of his charm. Watch him with John Payne in Silver Lode and Rails into Laramie, for example, or with Audie in Ride Clear of Diablo, or with Jimmy Stewart again in Night Passage, and I guarantee you an enjoyable experience. He is always worth watching.

Dan Duryea, badman supreme

In 1965, in the twilight of his career, he starred in a very B-Western distributed by Embassy Pictures, The Bounty Killer. In its life as distributor Embassy had a few scoops, some big hits, notably The Graduate, The Lion in Winter, This is Spinal Tap and Escape from New York. That’s an impressive list. But many of its films were subtitled imports or cheap sword-and-sandal movies. Premiere Productions made The Bounty Killer. They only did two movies, this and Requiem for a Gunfighter the same year, also directed by Spencer G Bennet and also with Rod Cameron. Production values were far from high, the movie was very low-budget and old-fashioned in many ways, but it was nevertheless interesting.

For one thing, it really wheeled out the old-timers. Believe it or not, GM ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson was in it, as a man in the cantina. Anderson, as you doubtless know, had appeared in what many regard to be the very first Western movie, The Great Train Robbery in 1903 (he was the train passenger shot while trying to escape, among other roles), and had then become the first recognizable cowboy star. He was in a total of 328 Westerns! The Bounty Killer was the last of the 328 and his presence alone makes the movie of interest.

GM 'Broncho Billy' Anderson

Other superannuated cowboys stars make an appearance: Richard Arlen (54 Westerns, 1926 – 75) plays the father of the love-interest girl. The eternal sidekick Fuzzy Knight (128 Westerns, 1932 – 67) is Dan’s pal, the sea cap’n Luther. Johnny Mack Brown (131 Westerns, 1930 - 65) is the sheriff and Buster Crabbe (55 Westerns 1933 to 65) is there too. They all look a bit anno domini but hell, they’re entitled. Arlen was 66, Fuzzy 64, Johnny 61 and Buster 57. Dan himself was 61, and a little too old to play the young eloper, I fear, but doubtless winsome Audrey Dalton, 34, as heroine Carole, preferred the older man. It was the last Western of Anderson, Crabbe, Mack Brown and director Bennet.

Standing, Buster Crabbe, Richard Arlen, Fuzzy Knight, Dan Duryea
Front, GM Broncho Billy Anderson

The director, too, was no spring chicken. Known as ‘The King of Serial Directors’ (his epitaph reads ‘His Final Chapter’), Spencer Gordon Bennet (1893 – 1987) entered movies as a stuntman in 1914 and directed 122 pictures including 51 Westerns, 1924 – 65. All the Westerns were Bs and this was his last.

So there’s historical interest in the movie.

Eternal sidekick Fuzzy

But there are also some aspects of the film that make it worth watching apart from the curiosity value.

For example, it was co-written by Leo Gordon. Leo was, of course, one of the best Western tough-guy heavies ever. From Hondo in 1953 to the 1994 Maverick he terrified the daylights out of everyone. He was superb. But what is less known is that he also wrote Westerns. He wrote episodes of Maverick, Lawman, Sugarfoot, Tombstone Territory, Bat Masterson, Colt .45 and Cheyenne, and he wrote the 1957 George Montgomery film Black Patch, the 1958 Victor Mature movie Escort West (in which he also appeared) as well as Valley of the Redwoods in 1960.

The writing of The Bounty Killer is, it must be said, in many ways very formulaic but it is also interesting in part. It’s the old one about the tenderfoot from back East who becomes a more ruthless gunslinger than the Westerners. Just off the stagecoach, Willie Duggan (Duryea) is told by gunfighter Johnny Liam (Rod Cameron, 55, in the 51st of his 67 film and TV Westerns) that the only law in the West is worn on the hip.

Rod Cameron

Willie takes Johnny at his word and becomes a ruthless bounty hunter. Of course he falls for sweet saloon singer Carole (Audrey Dalton, Alan Ladd’s squeeze in Drum Beat) and she tries to reform him. You know how saloon singers do. But no dice, Willie cuts down a shotgun into a holstered sidearm, El Dorado style, and roams the West shooting wanted men.

No fancy sixgun artist he

When spurned by the townsfolk Willie gives them a sermon (really) on hypocrisy. They are happy to put up the money for the reward but despise the man who collects it and keeps their streets safe. He has a point. But Willie is drunk, he shoots the barman and now, bitter irony, there is a price on his head! He rides to Carole’s ranch (thanks to a money present from Willie she has given up saloon singing), he throws away his sawn-off and they go off together. But, oh cruel fate, a young up-and-coming bounty hunter shoots him for the reward. And the young bounty killer is… Peter Duryea, Dan’s son.

Don’t expect too much. The Bounty Killer is an old-style B-Western, even if in color. But it is still worth a watch. Be careful, though – don’t confuse it with the junk 1967 spaghetti of the same title.




  1. I remember seeing this at Cinefest (a film convention) maybe 15 years ago with Richard Gordon, brother of producer Alex Gordon (and a producer in his own right). Richard made horror films, Alex made westerns -- and worked, for many years, as the PR man for Gene Autry. Alex loved making these westerns because it gave him the chance to work with all of his boyhood idols.

  2. I liked Dan but this was not great. Near the end he leaves the saloon with an empty shotgun. Sheriff says: 'let's get up a posse'. Why didn't he just draw his gun and follow Dan out the door?