Directed by Michael Curtiz for Paramount in 1959, The Hangman tells the tale of a Marshal named Mackenzie Board (Robert Taylor) nicknamed 'The Hangman' because of his knack for bringing in wanted criminals and ensuring that they see justice, often times at the end of a rope. When the movie starts up, he's hunting down the last member of a four man gang wanted for murder and robbery - the problem is, he doesn't know what the guy looks like. His search takes him to an army base where he picks up a widow named Selah Jennison (Tina Louise) who can identify the culprit as she was once romantically involved with him. They head back to town together and she points him in the direction of Johnny Bishop (Jack Lord), one of the most popular men around.
With his man now identified, Board finds himself in a bit of a predicament where he has to convince everyone in town that someone they like and care for is in fact a cold blooded murderer. The town's sheriff, Buck Weston (Fess Parker), doesn't prove to be much help and Bishop soon proves to have a knack for rallying the townsfolk at his side and not only that, he's recently been married to his new wife Kitty (Shirley Harmer), who is soon expecting their first child. Complicating matters even more is the fact that Selah still very obviously has feelings for Bishop, leaving Board in a very sticky situation.
The Hangman is a decent western carried, for the most part, by leading man Robert Taylor. Though no longer a young man at this point in his career, Taylor makes for the right choice to play the stoic and thoughtful man who has made a living for himself out of bringing people to justice. This time around, obviously, things are different for him and it's interesting to watch as he wrestles with the morality of the situation, weighing the pros and cons and trying to figure out a solution. Taylor fits the role well, both with his physical appearance and in how he approaches it, bringing a pensive and sometimes somber tone to the character that works well. Also worth noting is the presence of the lovely Tina Louisa, best known for her role as the sultry Ginger Grant on Gilligan's Island. She's less of a sexpot here, but no less sexy for it, and the movie actually gives her ample opportunity not only to strut around and look awesome but to actually act as well. Surprisingly enough, Jack Lord doesn't fare quite as well. He plays his role with a certain sort of aloof quality that takes away from it a little bit, while Fess Parker is interesting enough in his part, but a little underused to make much of an impact either way.
Michael Curtiz, who fans will know from the many notable films to his credits such as The Comancheros and Angels With Dirty Faces, keeps the pace going as quickly as it needs to be without making the film feel rushed. It's quite a well controlled film, and as the mystery behind the events starts to build, it's easy to get pulled in. The cinematography from Loyal Griggs is good if not mind blowing, as it effectively captures the dust and grit of the Arizona locations on which the feature was shot. Harry Sukman's score is passable but not particularly noteworthy. The composer worked on a lot of westerns for both the silver screen and for television and he doesn't seem to have been all that inspired this time around but it does the trick.
A little more action and adventure might have made this one more of a crowd pleaser, instead it's a fairly atypical western that puts more emphasis on mystery and drama than on shoot outs and chase scenes. That's not a bad thing, mind you, and the solid work from Taylor and Louise make this one plenty watchable.
The Hangman looks good on DVD framed here at 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen. The movie doesn't appear to have undergone any sort of massive frame by frame restoration but mild print damage aside, the elements used for the transfer are in good shape. The black and white cinematography looks good in widescreen and with a few minor exceptions here and there, contrast looks right. Detail is solid if not amazing and for the most part the film's fan base should be pleased with this disc in the transfer department even if it does leave a bit of room for improvement.
The no frills English language Dolby Digital Mono track is alright for what it is. Things tend to come across a bit flat but the dialogue is easy enough to understand and the levels are well balanced. A bit of minor hiss can be heard in a couple of spots if you're listening for that sort of thing, otherwise you're not likely to notice it. Not an amazing track but any stretch, but a perfectly acceptable one given the age of the film in question.
Aside from a static menu offering chapter selection, there are no extra features on this disc at all.
The Hangman isn't as action intensive as most westerns tend to be and at times it feels more like a whodunit than anything else but it makes good use of its interesting cast and proves to be well shot and entertaining enough. It's not a movie that you'll go back to time and time again but it is worth seeing and this DVD offers up the best way to do just that. Recommended for established fans of the film, a solid rental for the curious masses.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.