Please Note: The stills used here are taken from promotional materials and other sources, not the Blu-ray edition under review.
"They say he's closed the eyes of many a man, and opened the eyes of many a woman."
The first starring vehicle that John Wayne produced himself, the 1947 western Angel and the Badman is a nuanced romantic picture that explores the nature of violence, pitting the myth of the gunslinger against a sincere belief in a higher power.
Wayne plays the oddly named Quirt Evans, a fast-draw fighter who mostly ends up on the right side of the law. At the start of the picture, a wounded Quirt finds himself at the mercy of a family of Quakers who take him in and nurse him back to health. Love develops between the shooter and the farmer's daughter, Penelope (Gail Russell, Wayne's co-star from Wake of the Red Witch). Though naïve and inexperienced, Penelope is confident and knows what she wants. Quirt likes being around her and likes her family's quiet life. So much so that he begins to seriously consider holstering his pistol for good.
Naturally, this is easier said than done, particularly when Quirt's old rival, a rustler and land grabber by the name of Laredo Stevens (Bruce Cabot), gets up to his old tricks. Quirt must wrestle with his sense of honor and prioritize his restlessness with his feelings for Penelope. Temptation wins out more than once, but credit to Wayne and his team for pushing the hero in the girl's direction rather than causing her to decide that violence is okay in some situations, the way one usually expects things to go in macho movies.
Angel and the Badman is written and directed by James Edward Grant (McLintock, Donovan's Reef). Grant's directorial style is mainly functionary, and many of the action sequences in Angel and the Badman, including a barroom brawl midway though the picture, are basically horse opera by numbers. There are thrills, sure, but none of the shootouts or chases go anywhere surprising. Nor are they shot with much flair. The production plays it safe when it comes to the big stuff, delivering to the audience exactly what they want and expect.
This ends up being all right, especially since it's balanced out with the tender romance between Wayne and Russell. The slow burn of Quirt's coming around to his lady love's way of thinking allows for plenty of good interpersonal exchanges between them, with each bending the rules of the other to perform some kindness. There are even some nice moments where the new lovers actually stop and talk, giving the Duke a chance to show he's more than just muscle.
Angel and the Badman has been in the public domain for years, meaning there are lots of butchered, subpar copies floating around. I would daresay Olive's high-def release trumps them all, even if isn't exactly perfect. The overall presentation is pretty good, with a clear image free of any digital enhancement or other digital bugaboos. Instances of scratches and dirt still remain, but the print itself is at least intact, lacking any jumpy edits or missing frames.
The original soundtrack has been remastered in mono. The dialogue is audible and there are no drop-outs, but there are several spots where the audio quavers or where the balance is off, giving more volume to the sound effects than to the dialogue. Luckily, this only happens a small portion of the time and the soundtrack otherwise sounds decent.
Recommended. The 1947 cowboy picture Angel and the Badman provided a nice respite for star/producer John Wayne. It's less concerned with the shootouts and horseplay, and more focused on a sweet love story, as the aging gunslinger is taught a gentler way to live by a young Quaker girl. Gail Russell is comely and likable as the love interest, and Wayne seems to enjoy easing back on the throttle, predicting other such performances in the years to come. Though a bit slow at times and somewhat predictable, there is plenty to enjoy in this well-known classic, and Olive's clean-up job has made it look fresher than it's been in a long time.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.