I’ve made it clear from this blog’s beginnings that I’m not a huge fan of Westerns. There are a handful I really enjoy, but for the most part I tend to avoid the genre. But if I’ve learned anything from writing about classic films every day, it’s that great films sometimes come from the least-expected sources… and as such, I’ve decided to start giving Westerns a chance. This new series, un-creatively titled “Lindsey Tries to Appreciate Westerns,” will track my changing attitudes about the genre as I make a conscious effort to expose myself to more of its films.
Today’s film, the first in the new TMP series, is 1957’s The Dalton Girls.
As the film begins, a notorious bunch of criminals known as the Dalton brothers have been killed off by lawmen. Left behind are their four sisters: Holly (Merry Anders), Rose (Lisa Davis), Columbine (Penny Edwards) and Marigold (Sue George). Angry over the deaths of their brothers and the way that they themselves are now being treated by the town, the four girls decide to carry on the family tradition and embark on a little crime spree of their own. They rob banks and stagecoaches, leaving dead bodies in their wake as they kill anyone who gets in their way.
The sisters aren’t all equally committed to this sinister lifestyle, though. Tensions boil within the group, especially after Columbine meets a man named Illinois (John Russell), a charming suitor who has her considering leaving her sisters and their lifestyle behind altogether. All the while, the girls are also pursued by Hiram Parsh (Ed Hinton), a private detective.
Reginald Le Borg (The Black Sleep) directs The Dalton Sisters. The screenplay was written by Maurice Tombragel (Motor Patrol, Zanzibar) from a story by Herbert Purdom (Boston Blackie).
The Dalton Girls is no classic of the Western genre, but I thought it might be a good kick-off to this series seeing as it features four female leads. One of my favorite Westerns, Forty Guns, has Barbara Stanwyck in the role of a tough Arizona rancher, and I was hoping the female characters in this film would be similar.
Though the performances of the leads here aren’t quite on Stanwyck’s level, the gun-slinging Dalton girls are a lot of fun to watch.
I enjoy the variation that exists between the characters. Marigold is cheerful and naive, Columbine is morally conflicted, Rose is quite cold-blooded and Holly is the glue that holds all of these different personalities together into a somewhat functional family unit. These girls aren’t one-note carbon copies of each other, which works greatly in the film’s favor.
None of the leading ladies delivery remarkable performances but they’re generally believable in their roles. Lisa Davis stands out, partially because her character is the most brash and heartless but also because she has the strongest screen presence.
Aside from the fact that the outlaws are women, the story here isn’t particularly unique. Stick four young men into the Dalton roles and all you’ve got is a standard “criminals on the run” Western tale, the Daltons versus the law. This doesn’t mean the film is a bad watch, though. Its plot is standard, but it is pretty well-paced and doesn’t have trouble holding onto the viewer’s attention.
I enjoyed The Dalton Girls quite a bit, despite my own low expectations and the mediocre to poor ratings it has received from reviewers on IMDb and Netflix. Ignore the negative hype — it’s a decent B-level picture, and I liked it enough that I’d watch it again on a slow or rainy afternoon.
Did it boost my appreciation of the Western genre?: YES
The score: 3.5/5