Captain Buff Devlin (Randolph Scott), Sergeant Johnny Maitland (James Garner), and Private Wilbur Clegg (Gordon Jones) have returned from the Union army, joining Devlin’s brother Dan (Ed Hinton) in the Nebraska settlement.
When the men arrive, the community is under attack by a local Native American tribe. Dan attempts to protect himself and his family with a gun, but finds that the ammunition is defective, and before the attackers retreat, he is killed.
Buff learns that the ammunition was purchased in Medicine Creek, a nearby town. He and his army pals decide to make their way to the town to investigate the source of the defective ammunition, and to load up on some much-needed supplies for Dan’s family.
When they arrive in Medicine Creek, the men find that the whole town is corrupt and held under the influence of “Pioneer Emporium” merchant Ep Clark (James Craig) — including the sheriff (Trevor Bardette) and the mayor (Don Beddoe). Conflict ensues.
Richard L. Bare directs 1957’s Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend.
Anyone who knows my history with Westerns will suspect, and rightly so, that I was none too happy when I started this film only to be met with your stereotypical “evil Indians” vs. settlers battle. Much to my relief, however, the film doesn’t dwell on that fight or focus on Native Americans as a horrifying enemy. The fight is simply used as a catalyst for the kick-off of the faulty ammunition conflict, in which the big bad wolf is a general store owner.
After the tense opening, Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend comes to mix comedy and conflict. There’s a good amount of action but also plenty of laughs as Buff, Johnny, and Willy go “undercover” as teetotaling Quakers when they arrive in Medicine Bend. I found myself laughing out loud quite a bit, but there are also very effectively tense scenes and of course, eventually, that shoot-out given away by the title.
Posing as religious “brothers” is easier said than done in an environment full of booze, tobacco, and flirty ladies. Willy sort of gives up, sneaking spirits into his buttermilk at the saloon, while James Garner is hilarious to watch in Johnny’s resistance to giving up his favorite things. “No smokin’, no drinkin’, no nothin’,” Buff tells his pals as they prepare to head out on the town for a night. “No NOTHIN’?!?!,” a shocked and appalled Johnny replies.
Garner and Gordon Jones provide great support for leading man Randolph Scott, and actor I’ve come to enjoy watching quite a bit through discovering several of his Westerns. He offers a nice mix of principled man and skilled, tough marksman. As a trio, the three men have excellent chemistry and are easy to buy as friends, in serious scenes but even more so in the film’s lighter moments.
Dani Crayne and Angie Dickinson have small roles, but both do very well with what they’re given — Dani as a showgirl (and romantic interest for James Garner), Angie as a shopgirl (and romantic interest for Randolph Scott).
Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend can easily be added to the list of TMP-approved Westerns. It’s a B-movie, and a simple story of good versus evil, but I had loads of fun watching it!