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The 1960's were an especially interesting time for Westerns with many moving to foreign soil--especially Italian soil. The best example of course, being Sergio Leone's Dollar's trilogy which remains one of the genre's most inventive, artistic, oft copied and heralded series.
But the '60s showed varied intrigue within American Westerns. From the enjoyable, jokey Western Cat Ballou (1965) starring a slinky Jane Fonda and a drunkard Lee Marvin to the double punch of Monte Hellman's masterpieces The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind (both released in 1966) to the glossy, star-centric True Grit and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (both in 1969) the American Western was all over the map. There were also, of course, the films of Sam Peckinpah with his brilliant The Wild Bunch (1969) marking the end of an era.
1966 also saw some mediocre to better than average pulpy pictures like Johnny Reno, which had to have played a bit square next to that year's Hellman films as well as Django, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and The Professionals.
But Johnny Reno is better than producer A.C. Lyles' typical films with an intriguing premise, above par writing and unique cast. Dana Andrews (an actor I love, especially in the Otto Preminger noir's Laura and Where the Sidewalk Ends) stars as U.S. Marshall Reno, a guy who ventures to the small town of Stone Junction only to find a mob rule he highly disapproves of. An outlaw sits in jail while town leader Jess Yates (John Agar) eggs citizens on to a lynching. Reno, a man of principle, goes against the mob, putting him in some precarious situations that test his ideals and strengths. He also contends with the beguiling Nona Williams (the agreeable bombshell Jane Russell--how can you not love her in every film?) a sexy, feisty woman who runs the gin joint Johnny frequents.
With adept, sometimes imaginative direction by R.G. Springsteen, a nicely written story and some terrific co-stars (Lon Chaney Jr., Richard Arlen, Bettger and Tom Drake), Johnny Reno is better than expected. And the final moment involving Indians descending on Stone Junction is quite exciting moving it above a mere stock Western. It's not Hellman or Leone for sure, but it's pleasurable--sometimes even thrilling.
Paramount present Johnny Reno in a nice transfer in wide screen format enhanced for 16:98 television. Not bad.
Audio comes in Dolby Digital English mono. Sounds OK.
Final Thoughts:Better than you'd expect, Johnny Reno holds its own as an entertaining, standard western.
Read more Kim Morgan at her blog Sunset Gun