Distinguished solely by its above average cast, (Zane Grey's) Robbers' Roost (1955) adequately goes through its familiar paces while contributing nothing new to the Western genre, a genre changing fast in the mid-1950s, away from ordinary, old-fashioned oaters such as this. It delivers a decent quotient of action, romance, and intrigue, but that's about it.
However, this MGM "Limited Edition Collection" manufactured-on-demand release is at least presented adequately. The Eastman Color film (original prints by DeLuxe) is 1.78:1 widescreen with 16:9 enhancement, with the opening titles pillar-boxed to around 1.66:1. The film elements show a fair amount of wear, but nothing terribly distracting.
Mysterious loner Tex (George Montgomery), actually Jim Wall, a wanted man, rides into the border town of Junta Grande. There he soon impresses cattle rustler Hank Hays (Richard Boone) after Tex catches rival rustler and expert gunslinger Heesman (Peter Graves) with an ace up his sleeve. Tex intimidates him into submission.
Both Hays's and Heesman's thugs have been hired, reluctantly, by crippled rancher "Bull" Herrick (Bruce Bennett), who's been unable to leave his wheelchair since a near-fatal accident. (Hays, Heesman, and Herrick - sounds like a law firm.) Herrick seems aware that his new hands consist entirely of outlaws but naively hopes that the two factions will be too busy fighting one another to rustle his cattle.
Meanwhile, Bull's kid sister Helen Herrick (Sylvia Findley) arrives, hoping to convince her brother to leave the ranch and return with her back east for medical treatment that might enable him to walk again. Wealthy Robert Bell (William Hopper) is in love with Helen, offering to take over her brother's struggling ranch if she'll agree to marry him, but she refuses.
Soon, one of Hays's henchmen, Smokey Joe (Warren Stevens, minus his usual toupee) tries to molest Helen, but Tex puts a stop to that. He also tries to convince Helen to sell the herd off immediately, no matter the offer, implying that Hays and Heesman are ready to make their move and ride off with everything.
Zane Grey's story was serialized in Collier's during October-December 1930, and the movie has many elements more in common with early-'30s Western stories than a middle-'50s one, such as the obstinate wheelchair-bound patriarchal figure. The basic story also bears more than a passing resemblance to Dashiell Hammett's classic detective story Red Harvest, published one year before Grey's.
Director Sidney Salkow acquired the screen rights from Romer Grey, Zane's son, around 1953, eventually partnering with producers Robert and Leonard Goldstein, who were releasing films through distributor United Artists. None of their films from this period were particularly good, but despite modest budgets all had good casts and usually interesting directors at the helm: Black Tuesday (1954) starred Edward G. Robinson and featured Graves and Stevens; Stranger on Horseback starred Joel McCrea, Kevin McCarthy, and John McIntire and was directed by Jacques Tourneur; Dance with Me, Henry (1956) featured Abbott & Costello in their last film as a team.
Robbers' Roost had been filmed once before, as a 1932 Sol Lesser production for Fox starring George O'Brien as Tex/Jim Wall, Maureen O'Sullivan as Helen, Reginald Owen as Herrick, and William Pawley as Hays. I've not seen it, but the consensus is that it's better overall.
The remake was filmed in color in Durango, Mexico, with a few actors obviously dubbed in post-production. Filming there presented some problems; the sound recording is notably poor and interiors especially have tinny, echoic audio.
For Western movie audiences today, the main draw will be its cast, particularly Richard Boone as the ruthless Hank Hays, but it's not one of the pre-Have Gun - Will Travel star's better performances. Though intimidating, Boone incorporates an odd, actorly facial tic. Whenever Hank is being especially sadistic he puckers his lips, exposing several front teeth. It's a faintly ridiculous mannerism: he looks a little like a man pretending to be a rabbit, or maybe a gunslinger doing Harpo Marx's gookie, or maybe he's just hesitant about spitting some chewing tobacco, but it's attention-grabbing in all the wrong ways.
William Hopper gets the last line, which could apply to the film itself: "Well, it looks like I made a long trip for nothing!"
Video & Audio
As noted above, Robbers' Roost gets a pretty decent transfer, in 1.78:1 format and properly enhanced for widescreen TVs. The elements sourced exhibit a fair amount of damage, such as a big green negative scratch around the 21-minute mark. But the color is decent, and for what was probably no more than a $350,000 production the transfer puts it in about the best possible light. The region 1 encoded disc also offers decent Dolby Digital mono audio, English only with no alternate language or subtitle options. No Extra Features.
Western fans will want to see this for Richard Boone and perhaps others in the cast. It's thoroughly disposable but not bad. Rent It.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.