Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The Lonely Man is a big-studio cheapie Western with a script that belongs in a Golden-Age
psychological teleplay. Sure, Jack Palance and newcomer Anthony Perkins are good actors, but the
clunker screenplay never puts a strain on either of them, except to generate an overall feeling
of mawkishness. This one's for diehard Western buffs only.
Outlaw Jacob Wade (Jack Palance) does his darndest to win back the affection of his
grown son Riley (Anthony Perkins), a bitter young man who blames his dad for abandoning his ma.
Accompanying Jacob on a search for a new home, Riley discovers what it's like to
be scorned because of one's reputation, and to be victimized by still-dangerous ex-cronies.
Blackburn (Claude Akins) shows up with his gang to cause trouble, and a gunddown occurs. King Fisher
(Neville Brand) is obsessed with ambushing Jacob, and arranges for marksman Faro (Lee Van Cleef)
off to one side when they cross paths. But Ben Ryerson (Robert Middleton), one outlaw pal who turns
out to be loyal and decent, tells Riley the truth about his dad. Riley gains a new respect for how
circumstances made Jacob an outlaw, all the while becoming attracted to his father's girlfriend, Ada
Marshall (Elaine Aiken).
Well, this one's in VistaVision, and is as sharp as a tack, but the blah b&w lighting is nothing to
home about. Henry Levin's flat direction gives the impression that all but a few scenes were
carelessly dashed off. Jack Palance is fine, showing an atypical restraint, but the film generates
little atmosphere or style to back him up. The colorful cast of B-Movie baddies (see above) are
given little to do, and none of them distinguish themselves, not even the always-welcome Lee Van
Cleef. Gravel-voiced John Doucette doesn't even have any lines, which is a real waste.
Anthony Perkins does well with a theatrical script that requires him to be unreasonably
bitter, so that he can mellow out later. We don't buy it, no more than we buy the weak
idea that Riley would leave his home to accompany his dad, to remind him of his sins. Also
rather obvious is Elaine Aiken's
dance-hall-girl turned rancher. She's desperately in love with Palance, and then abruptly
attracted to Perkins. It's barely addressed in the script and the triangle never becomes
an issue. Palance is never even aware of a problem. It looks like a pure case of a director
not addressing the issues implied by the script.
On the IMDB we find that the beautiful Aiken made few movies but was notable in New York
theater circles. Unlike many 50's blondes in Hollywood, she can really ride a horse - perhaps
because she's originally Elena Arizmendi from Andalusia, Spain.
In fact, the best part of this stagey film are some sequences chasing a wild horse in the desert.
The horse is convincingly wild, and the principals appear to be doing their own riding. In
one scene, the stallion escapes from a tight corner by leaping over a boulder and dashing down a
dangerous-looking canyon. If only the rest of the show played this well.
Production qualities are very uneven. The VistaVision looks good, but there are too many poorly-paced,
one-angle scenes. Several short scene-lets end in ugly fadeouts, before people can finish their last
dialogue lines. From an editorial point of view, I wonder if the transitions were originally straight
cuts, after which someone decreed they all had to be fades, when was too late to recut. It's
difficult to tell, but what's on screen is very distracting.
This is the only early-career film I've seen of Anthony Perkins than can be described as a failure.
Robert Middleton accompanies him from the same year's
Friendly Persuasion and again does a
good job. Don't confuse this with a similar coming-of-age Western Perkins made the same year,
The Tin Star with Henry Fonda. It has Neville Brand as well, but was directed by Anthony
Mann and is much better. I'm willing to believe someone over at Paramount is an Anthony Perkins
fan, what with this release and
Fear Strikes Out, a superior
baseball movie from a couple months back.
For those looking for every Western under the sun, Paramount's DVD of The Lonely Man will be
more than satisfactory, with a clean 16:9 picture and clear audio for the forgettable Tennessee
Ernie Ford title tune. There's nothing much else to
recommend it; despite what the optimistic liner notes say, it's by no means comparable to
classics like The Gunfighter, Shane, or
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Lonely Man rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 29, 2003
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson