I love a film with a strong opening, and 1956’s The Brass Legend has no trouble grabbing the viewer even before its introductory credits roll. Beautiful black and white cinematography shows shots from an off-screen revolver being fired at a “REWARD – DEAD OR ALIVE” poster. Harmonica-fueled music plays as the film transitions from this undeniably Western scene to its opening titles.
The man on the “REWARD” poster is Tris Hatten (Raymond Burr), a notorious man who is wanted for the murders of the former Apache Bend, Arizona sheriff and his deputies. The town isn’t too worried about Hatten, though. Everyone is sure that he himself has died.
A young boy named Clay (Donald MacDonald) is the shooter taking aim at the poster. He’s being taught to shoot by Sheriff Adams (Hugh O’Brian), the relatively new lawman of the town, who is engaged to Clay’s sister, Linda (Nancy Gates).
Later that day, Clay gets a new horse. While out riding, he happens upon the secret hide-out of the evil Tris Hatten, who has just come back to town and reunited with his old love, Millie Street (Rebecca Welles).
Clay immediately rushes home and tells Sheriff Adams what he saw. The sheriff tells him to keep quiet, but Clay decides to tell his father (Robert Burton) about it anyway. The situation gets sticky when Clay’s dad accuses Sheriff Adams of wanting to pretend he found Tris, so he could have all of the fame and the reward money — and meanwhile, Tris is up to his old murderous tricks as well.
Gerd Oswald (A Kiss Before Dying) directs The Brass Legend, a solid outlaw-vs.-sheriff Western. The film was produced by Bob Goldstein Productions and theatrically distributed by United Artists.
After that wonderful opening, the film doesn’t disappoint. At first glance the story seems to be a fairly typical one of the lawless side of the Western genre: new sheriff in town sees a threat to the peace, and works to remove that threat. The film doesn’t feel formulaic, though. There are a couple of decent twists thrown in (not “surprise” twists, but deviations from the norm, like focusing some of the story on a child) to give the story distinction.
The music and cinematography are also very good. They serve to elevate the story’s moods. I was somewhat surprised by just how good the cinematography was in particular. Charles Van Enger, the man responsible for it, is most well-known for much lighter fare, such as Africa Screams and episodes of the television series Lassie.
Combined with the wonderful sights and sounds of the film, the performances also work to set The Brass Legend apart from other Westerns with similar stories. Hugh O’Brian and Rebecca Welles are stand-outs. O’Brian’s performance takes on a menacing edge at times as the film progresses.
Did it boost my appreciation of the Western genre?: YES. I enjoyed this one a lot.
The score: 4/5
Thanks. The genre allows for so many ways to tell simple yet winning stories and so many craft skills make the difference between the routines and the excellent. Regards Thom.
That’s one of the things I’ve come to love about the genre through this project. Thanks for reading!