Amusingly, the packaging for Angel and the Badman, a TV-movie debuting earlier this year on the Hallmark Channel, quotes a review likening it to the recent 3:10 to Yuma. In other words, this 2009 remake of a 1947 film is a lot like the 2007 remake of a 1957 picture. To be perfectly honest, when I saw the title in our unwanted screener pile, I assumed it was the 1947 film, an interesting little B-Western starring John Wayne*. That film has long been in the public domain, and I was hoping this Lions Gate release might be a crisp new remastering. Instead, it turns out to be a faithful remake of the original story, with Lou Diamond Phillips and Deborah Kara Unger in the roles originally played by Marion Robert Morrison - er, John Wayne and Gail Russell.
The remake isn't bad but rather a modest if unmemorable success. The 16:9 enhanced widescreen presentation is nice enough, and there are a smattering of extra features.
Wounded gunfighter Quirt Evans (Phillips) collapses at a Quaker farm owned by Thomas Worth (Terence Kelly, in a nice performance), who lives with his wife and their adult daughter Temperance (Unger; she was called Penelope in the original), a widow with a young son. The basic plot concerns the hardened gunslinger's gradual redemption living among the devout pacifists, who believe violence can only damage the soul of the perpetrator, not the victim. Their indefatigable optimism about the spirit of man eventually wins over the cynical Quirt, and he soon falls for the beautiful but lonely Temperance. Meanwhile, Quirt's moral/religious awakening is tested when one-eyed gunfighter Laredo (Luke Perry) and his men come a-lookin' for Quirt.
Complaint Department: Despite packaging acknowledging this as a "John Wayne remake" and a featurette that also mentions the earlier film, I was more than a bit surprised to see James Edward Grant, who directed his original screenplay in the 1947 version, mentioned nowhere at all in the remake's credits. Producer Jack Nasser allows himself a title card reading "Written by Jack Nasser," but Grant's name is nowhere to be found. This is all the more surprising considering the film is almost a scene-for-scene remake. Except for a few trivial details, it's the same movie.
Grant was a strange writer; he wrote some of John Wayne's best and worst scripts. Big Jim McLain (1952) is a high-camp classic, and The Alamo (1960) has terrible dialogue throughout, but Angel and the Badman and Hondo (1953) are above average. Wayne produced the original Angel and the Badman for Republic, the studio with which he was under contract for many years, but which seemed almost incapable of making an A-list film worthy of his talents. Wayne at the time was on the cusp of Top Tier stardom, but that was in spite of Republic's efforts (e.g., Wake of the Red Witch), not because of it. Angel and the Badman was something of an exception, an offbeat if not exactly literate Western. It's story, quite unusual at the time though since done to death (in movies like Peter Weir's Witness, to name one obvious example), was a pleasant surprise.
The remake, a Canadian production shot in chilly British Columbia (the actors' breath is visible throughout, even interior scenes), has much the same modest charm. I don't think I've seen Lou Diamond Phillips in anything in close to 20 years, but now, in his mid-40s - and older than Wayne was in 1947 - he has improved quite a bit as an actor. His filled-out, unusual features are unexpectedly suited to the Western genre. (Nowadays he looks a bit like Warren Oates.) Wayne, of course, remains a towering icon, but Phillips's performance is better in this than Wayne was capable of in 1947, at least in the hands of an inexperienced director like Grant.
Gail Russell was terrific in the original - it was her finest film work, probably - but Unger (Cronenberg's Crash) is fine also; together they give subtle, understated performances to the point that their hushed tones are almost inaudible at times. Luke Perry is okay, though actors unfamiliar to this reviewer, like Winston Rekert (as the marshal), are all quite good.
Video & Audio
The 1.78:1 enhanced widescreen presentation is pleasant enough, doing justice to Anthony Metchie's cinematography, which is in line with other big Western TV-movies and miniseries of recent years (Broken Trail, etc.). 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital tracks are offered, both up to contemporary television standards, along with optional Spanish subtitles. The disc is closed-captioned, and region 1 encoded.
Included is a modest still gallery and a fairly good behind-the-scenes documentary, in 4:3 matted widescreen, featuring interviews with most of the key players and production personnel.
I'll never watch it again and will likely be vaporized from my memory cells eight weeks from now, but I was moderately entertained by this faithful - if officially uncredited - remake of a fair-to-middling John Wayne Western melodrama. For Western fans, this is Recommended.
* Sergei Hasenecz suggests that the 1947 film was really an "A" Western, and he's right. I was surprised to see that it cost $1.3 million at a time when B-movies were roughly anything under $500,000.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Tora-san DVD boxed set, is on sale now.