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 na´ve 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.