A routine Western despite an unusually apocalyptic climax, Ten Wanted Men (1955) is strictly bottom-of-the-bill fodder. It has a good cast of rising talent and busy character players, but in every important way it's undistinguished, and former Fox contract director H. Bruce Humberstone (Charlie Chan at the Opera, Sun Valley Serenade) blows several opportunities to liven things up.
Arizona Rancher John Stewart (Randolph Scott) is reunited with his Cincinnati-based lawyer brother Adam (Lester Matthews) after 18 long years. At a big party to welcome Adam and his adult son, Howie (Skip Homeier), John introduces Adam to Corinne (Jocelyn Brando, Marlon's older sister), John's "best girl"; Sheriff Clyde Gibbons (Dennis Weaver) and his new bride, Marva (Kathleen Crowley); land baron Wick Campbell (Richard Boone) and his young ward, Maria Segura (Project Moonbase's Donna Martell).
With John's help, Wick has become a successful businessman and rancher, but is driven by an obsession with Maria, who is grateful for the help he has given her, but does not love him. He becomes incensed when Howie asks her to dance, so much so that John asks him to leave and soon after Maria seeks permanent refuge at the Stewart ranch. None of this sits well with Wick, who in John's words "has grown as big as he can within the law. Now he's using violence to take him to the top."
Hiring ten gunslingers (including Leo Gordon, Lee Van Cleef, and Denver Pyle) for back-up, Wick kills old rancher Tod Grinnel (Clem Bevans, playing virtually the same hapless rancher he had in Man in the Saddle) for his land and cattle, then starts a stampede (stock footage, also from Man in the Saddle) to get at John's herd. Drunk with power, Wick becomes "kill crazy," shooting people at will, while his barely-controlled gunfighters threaten everyone in town.
Though it runs just 79 minutes, Ten Wanted Men loses steam almost immediately, laying its cards on the table in its first five minutes and then does little more than mark time until the final reel. Unlike Man in the Saddle (1951), which had surprising depth for a Randolph Scott Western, Ten Wanted Men falls back on cliched Western types who evolve not at all during the course of the picture, with most coming across as pure cardboard.
Richard Boone for instance was great playing intelligent, driven but angry men always on the verge of boiling over and lashing out hard against those standing in his way. He's fine when scenes call on that, but mostly Wick comes off as a loser, a man unable to move on after obsessing over a woman who has no interest in him. Surely this obsession doesn't justify the far-reaching mayhem he engineers, the killing done coldly out in the open, in the middle of town. Moreover, Boone just can't play scenes where he's not in control.
The action is unimpressively staged, with the final confrontation between Scott and Boone especially uninteresting. A knock-down, drag-out fisticuffs between Scott and Gordon is marred by the obvious use of doubles. Scott's Westerns seemed to have been especially weak in this area for some reason, and Scott's advancing years (he was pushing 60 when this was made) precluded a lot of action on his part.
Lee Van Cleef and Denver Pyle each get a little scene to show their stuff, as does Dennis Weaver in an early role. Lee Van Cleef has a nicely-played confrontation with Scott, while Leo Gordon is appropriately sadistic throughout.
Video & Audio
Ten Wanted Men is presented in the incorrect aspect ratio. Intended for 1.85:1 presentation, the DVD is full-frame only, which doesn't look too awful, but reformatted for widescreen presentations the compositions are more natural. The framing favors the upper two-thirds of the frame rather than exactly in the middle; some widescreen TVs can't adjust for height, and this may also explain Sony's mistaken belief that full frame was the OAR. Oddly, Sony's DVD of Lawless Street, released later in 1955, is both widescreen and anamorphic. The mono sound is okay but unexceptional. Optional English and Japanese subtitles are available. There are no Extra Features.
Competent but instantly forgettable, Ten Wanted Men is hardly the first place to start for those looking for a classic Western. Randolph Scott fans may enjoy it, but even by his modest standards Ten Wanted Men is below average.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.