This film was viewed for the Barbara Stanwyck Filmography Project. To read more reviews from this project or check out the progress so far, visit TMP on Listography!
John Parrish (Glenn Ford) is a veteran of the American Civil War. He’s spent the past three years recovering from the war and working on a cattle ranch.
Finally given approval by his doctor to head back East, John makes a plan to get out of the west with Caroline Vail (May Wynn), his fiancée. He never intended to stay a rancher forever, and he’s ready to sell his land.
But John’s plans change when he sees the town sheriff, Martin Kenner (Willis Bouchey), murdered by Wade Matlock (Richard Jaeckel). Matlock works for Lew Wilkison (Edward G. Robinson), a ruthless man who has been bullying the local ranchers into selling their land to him at dirt-cheap prices.
Though he’s been eager to leave his dusty ranch, John decides that it’s best for him to stay for a while longer and deal with the town’s mounting problems.
Meanwhile, Lew’s got trouble of his own beyond just the tension between himself and the ranchers: his wife, Martha (Barbara Stanwyck), is cheating on him with his own brother (Brian Keith).
The Violent Men, released in 1955, was directed by Rudolph Mate. The film is based on a novel by Donald Hamilton, serialized in the December 1953 and January 1954 editions of Collier’s.
This film has a very strong cast, as you may have noticed from reading the synopsis above. Stanwyck, Robinson and Ford all sharing the screen!
Ford is highly believable as a good-hearted soldier-turned-rancher. He was a great choice to lead the film, and Robinson a good choice for his foe. A dusty valley may not be the setting we’re used to seeing Robinson in — he’s known for his roles as big-city criminals — but he plays Wilkison with equal parts hardened heart and sensitivity.
No better actress than Stanwyck could fill the shoes of the two-faced, ruthless, adulterous Martha. Stanwyck does seem to be “phoning it in” at times early on in the film — her role at this time isn’t incredibly challenging or multi-dimensional. However, she’s got one big, shocking scene that totally changes the story, and her character becomes much more interesting in the final act.
A wonderful supporting performance is given by Dianne Foster as Judith Wilkison, daughter to Stanwyck and Robinson’s characters. Her screen time isn’t quite as large as some of the other players, but she makes the most of her scenes and leaves a big impression, displaying so much bitterness and attitude. Two of my favorite scenes in the film are her rants against the senseless deaths and violence in the valley, which occur in conversation with Ford’s character.
The Violent Men is probably not a film I would have chosen if not for my goal to complete Barbara Stanwyck’s filmography. I wasn’t expecting much from the story: a tale of a grumpy old man ruining a town with his greediness, with some romantic melodrama thrown in for good measure.
Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s certainly not the most riveting tale ever told of cattle ranchers and corruption, but it did succeed in holding my attention. The drama between Parrish and Wilkison’s gang is much more engrossing than I ever expected it to be, and the dynamics between all of the characters really add a uniqueness to the story.
The Violent Men is a good watch — not a personal best for Barbara Stanwyck, but a solid film with a lot of talent involved. The score: 3.5/5