on 4 March 2007
Between 1951 and 1954 the prolific Randolph Scott completed six westerns for Hungarian director Andre de Toth in between times he still found time to make a couple more westerns most notable of which was the highly rated and commercially successful HANGMAN'S KNOT (1952) A Scott-Brown Production for Columbia Pictures. Written and Directed by Roy Huggins. This was Huggins only film as director. Later he moved into television and had such series as MAVERICK and THE ROCKFORD FILES to his credit.
The story is of a small band of Confederate soldiers led by Major Matt Stewart (Randolph Scott) who following an attack a Union gold shipment discover from a Union soldier survivor that the war has been over a month. Lee Marvin plays one of the soldiers in his first of several films with Scott; another of the soldiers is young Claude Jarman Jr. Most of the action takes place in the Sierra Stage Line Way Station, where the soldiers are pinned down along with the stagecoach passengers and station keepers by a renegade band posing as the lawmen led by Quincy (Ray Teal) who were after the gold. Among the passengers are former Union army nurse (Donna Reed) and her no-good fiancée (Richard Denning). The tension rises as the advantage shifts from one side to the other before the leading up the eventual final showdown. A credit to all concerned with high production values throughout.
Hopefully Columbia will digitally re-master other fifty-odd year-old Randolph Scott Westerns like the wonderful RIDE LONESOME (1959) and his penultimate film COMANCHE STATION (1960) they deserve the best of treatment and care for future generations to enjoy.
Major Matt Stewart, CSA, (Randolph Scott) and his men have a problem. It's Nevada, 1865, and they've just shot down a group of Union soldiers and taken $50,000 worth of gold. Their orders were do to just this, and to get the gold back to the Confederacy. The problem is that the war ended a few weeks ago and they didn't know it. No one will believe their story if they turn themselves in, not with ten or so Union corpses on the ground. They decide to keep the gold and attempt to make their way back home. This isn't going to be easy. Stewart and his men wind up in an isolated stage relay station, pinned down by a gang of murderous drifters. With Stewart and his men are Molly Hull (Donna Reed) and Lee Kemper (Richard Denning), who'd been passengers on a stage. Molly had been a Union nurse and is a fine looking woman. Kemper says he's her fiancée, but we suspect that he's just a smooth operator, probably with cowardly tendencies. And there's the couple who run the station, an old man and his daughter-in-law, a woman whose husband and son were killed fighting for the Union.
Then there's the matter of Stewart's men. Most are reasonably good guys, including Cass Browne (Frank Faylen), a matter-of-fact realist with a sense of irony, and Jamie Groves (Claude Jarman, Jr.), the obligatory young kid who has to learn to become a man. There's also Rolph Bainter (Lee Marvin) as, what else if Marvin plays him, a mouth-breathing bully with a fondness for killing. "What's happened to you? Is it that easy to kill a man?" Major Stewart asks Bainter just after Bainter guns down a minor player. "Well, isn't it?" says Bainter with a shrug.
Hangman's Knot starts with a rousing action sequence that includes the attack on the gold escort, the tense appearance of the drifters' gang, the stagecoach chase and the first attack on the stage station. It concludes with a violent resolution that involves fire and rain, with lighting and betrayal all mixing it up with a lot of death. Some critics have said that the middle of Hangman's Knot, when everyone except the drifters is holed up in the small, two-room station, is slow going. I don't think so. It's just that the middle doesn't have any galloping. What the middle section has is tense character development. We get to know who the people are and see the dynamics of their relationships change, thanks to a shrewd screenplay. I don't want to make too much of this but in the hands of actors like Jeanette Nolan, Frank Faylen, Glenn Langan and Richard Denning Hangman's Knott turns into a pleasant way to spend 81 minutes. While it may not be an A movie, it certainly isn't a B movie, perhaps a strong B-plus. And it's Randolph Scott who makes the difference. He had long ago established himself as a major star. Like Joel McCrea, he liked the outdoors and had enough money and smarts to make the movies he wanted to make, namely Westerns. Most of the movies he made in the Fifties he also produced. Scott was a big guy who aged well and stayed lean. There never was any doubt which side of honor Scott's characters came down on.
Watching Randolph Scott handle Lee Marvin is an interesting lesson in star charisma. In this movie, Marvin is modestly billed but has an important role. Five years later in Seven Men From Now, Marvin is billed third and the movie essentially is about the two of them. Marvin is still the sneering bully who likes to prod the weak. In both movies, Marvin is such a strong presence with his own brand of charisma and vivid unlikablity that not too many star actors could have stood up to him. Scott was 26 years older than Marvin and looks it. Yet it is Scott, in my opinion, who dominates. Marvin steals no scenes he shares with Scott. That, in my view, speaks to Scott's genuine star power. In the movies, assuming the actors are both capable, lip-smacking evil will almost always dominate earnest good. Just look at how Walter Huston stole the show from Edward Arnold in The Devil and Daniel Webster. It takes a rare actor who plays good to dominate another capable actor playing bad. Not many actors had Lee Marvin playing second fiddle. Scott did it twice.
The color movie has a good DVD transfer that does justice to all those wide-open spaces in the first third of the movie. There are no extras.
on 4 July 2007
This is a film that deserves to be better known, particularly by those fans of Randolph Scott's later work with director Budd Boetticher (The Tall T, Commanche Station, Ride Lonesome etc). A fascinating transitional work, it's also a one-off vehicle for director Huggins, who went on to direct the Rockford Files for TV.
As Scott grew older in his acting career, he made predominately Westerns. At the same time his face grew harder, more sinewy and austere. Something of his matinee idol looks and southern accent remained, but age brought something else - a moral gravitas that added immeasurably to his on-screen presence. Finally the 'Scott character' achieved a magisterial quality - a characteristic that added immeasurably to the ironic resonance of his last film Ride The High Country.
In Hangman's Knot, Scott plays a Confederate officer who only learns that the Civil War is over after a successful action in which his group take a gold shipment from Union soldiers. He and his men agree to return home, each with their share of the booty, but run across some outlaws who corner them in a way station, laying siege to them.
It's a situation familiar to those who know those later Scott-Boetticher masterpieces, and the familiar hallmarks are already in evidence. Even the same locations are utilised. Like the later films with a different director, this is a morality play, almost a chamber drama, where Scott makes a dignified stand of principle. In Hangman's Knot, those with the dark hearts are both outside the way station's walls waiting to pounce, as well as inside (a characteristic performance by Lee Marvin, reminiscent of that he gives in The Big Heat). These are the men that Scott's character, Stewart, cannot relate to: those without honour or moral courage, greedy, cruel men. For Scott, as he says in one of those later films, 'there are some things a man can't ride around' and these are the choices that have to be made. A man needs to face up to his options in life and live with himself on or off the trail. When he tells Marvin here that he 'never really knew (him) at all', we know the moral battlelines have been drawn, just as distinctly those that existed between the warring states.
At first the gold is merely the spoils of war. Then it becomes a short cut to happiness, an unexpected reward for the men's trouble, and a compensation for the loss of the War. Finally it is just a moral encumbrance, both to body and mind. By the end of the film, as Scott and the boy let the heavy saddle bags slip off their shoulders, the sense of relief is tangible - one which isn't just physical.
A film well worth investigating, full of artistic resonance and anticipations. And if you haven't seen the later Scott-Boetticher vehicles, some of the greatest B-Westerns ever made, see this as a taster.
Columbia Pictures presents "HANGMAN'S KNOT" (1952) (81 mins/Color) (Dolby digitally remastered) --- Starring Randolph Scott, Donna Reed, Frank Faylen, Richard Denning & Lee Marvin --- Directed by Roy Huggins and released in November 15, 1952, our story line and film, It's 1865 in Nevada and a unit of Confederate soldiers attack a Union troop carrying gold. They kill the soldiers and capture the gold only to learn the war ended a month ago. Deciding to keep the gold they flee but get chased by a group of drifters that want the gold. They get pinned down at a stage relay station and when deals between the two sides fail, the drifters decide to burn them out --- Highly regarded western which ranks alongside the Scott-Boetticher vehicles of a few years later --- Harry Joe Brown and Randy Scott produced some of the best westerns Hollywood ever made, this is one of them ... one of only two films directed by the brilliant writer-producer Roy Huggins.
Under Roy Huggins (Director / Screenwriter), Harry Joe Brown (Producer), Charles Lawton (Cinematographer), Mischa Bakaleinikoff (Musical Direction/Supervision), Gene Havlick (Editor), Frank A. Tuttle (Set Designer) - - - - the cast includes Randolph Scott (Matt Stewart), Donna Reed (Molly Hull), Claude Jarman, Jr. (Jamie Groves), Frank Faylen (Cass Browne), Glenn Langan (Capt. Peterson), Richard Denning (Lee Kemper), Lee Marvin (Rolph Bainter), Clem Bevans (Plunkett), Jeanette Nolan (Mrs. Harris),Ray Teal (Quincey),Monte Blue (Maxwell), John Call (Egan Walsh), Reed Howes (Hank Fletcher), Guinn "Big Boy" Williams (Smitty), Frank Yaconelli, Grant Withers, Edward Earle, Post Park, Frank S. Hagney - - - - Randy Scott had a quiet gentleman nature about him which is not seen in the films of today ... Randy took his job and his responsibility to his audience very seriously ,,, would not settle for anything less than his best ... same was true in his personal life.
SPECIAL FEATURES BIOS:
1. Randolph Scott (aka: George Randolph Scott)
Date of birth: 23 January 1898 - Orange County, Virginia
Date of death: 2 March 1987 - Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California
Special footnote, George Randolph Scott better known as Randolph Scott, was an American film actor whose career spanned the sound era from the late 1920s to the early 1960s ... his popularity grew in the 1940s and 1950s, appearing in such films as "Gung Ho"! (1943) and "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" (1938); but he was especially famous for his numerous Westerns including "Virginia City" (1940) with Errol Flynn and Humphrey Bogart, "Western Union" (1941) with Robert Young and "Ride the High Country" (1962) with Joel McCrea (a coin was flipped to see whether Scott or McCrea would receive top billing, and Scott won despite having a slightly smaller role) ... his long fistfight with John Wayne in "The Spoilers" (1942) was frequently cited by critics and the press as the most thrilling ever filmed; they were fighting over Marlene Dietrich ... another smash hit film together that same year called "Pittsburgh" (1942) once again with Dietrich, Scott and Wayne --- Daniel Webster defines "Legend", as being a notable person, or the stories told about that person exploits --- well by the time Randolph Scott made his best films he had long established himself as a legend in the film industry --- they say practice makes perfect, if that is true by 1958 at 60 years of age he was the master with these oaters from the 50s ... "The Cariboo Trail" (1950), "The Nevadan" (1950), "Colt .45" (1950), "Santa Fe" (1951), "Sugarfoot" (1951), "Fort Worth" (1951), "Man in the Saddle" (1951), "Carson City" (1952), "The Man Behind the Gun" (1952), "Hangman's Knot" (1952), "Thunder over the Plains" (1953), "The Stranger Wore a Gun" (1953), "Ten Wanted Men" (1954), "Riding Shotgun" (1954), "The Bounty Hunter" (1954), "Rage at Dawn" (1955), "Tall Man Riding" (1955), "A Lawless Street" (1955), "Seven Men from Now" (1956), "Seventh Cavalry" (1956), "Decision at Sundown: (1957), "Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend" (1957), "The Tall T" (1957), "Buchanan Rides Alone" (1958), "Ride Lonesome" (1959), "Westbound" (1959), "Comanche Station" (1960) --- Scott's age seemed to matter little, they only came to see another Randolph Scott film and always got their money's worth --- Scott's films were good and getting better becoming classics --- so if you ever wonder "What Ever Happened To Randolph Scott", just rent or purchase one of his films and you'll see he's never left us.
2. Donna Reed (aka: Donna Belle Mullenger)
Date of Birth: 27 January 1921 - Denison, Iowa
Date of Death: 14 January 1986 - Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California
3. Claude Jarman Jr.
Date of Birth: 27 September 1934 - Nashville, Tennessee
Date of death: Still Living
4. Frank Faylen
Date of Birth: 8 December 1905 - St. Louis, Missouri
Date of Death: 2 August 1985 - Burbank, California
5. Lee Marvin
Date of Birth: 19 February 1924 - New York, New York
Date of Death: 29 August 1987 - Tucson, Arizona
6. Jeanette Nolan
Date of Birth: 30 December 1911 - Los Angeles, California
Date of Death: 5 June 1998 - Los Angeles, California
7. Roy Huggins (Director/Writer)
Date of Birth: 18 July 1914 - Litelle, Washington
Date of Death: 3 April 2002 - Santa Monica, California
Hats off and thanks to Les Adams (collector/guideslines for character identification), Chuck Anderson (Webmaster: The Old Corral/B-Westerns.Com), Boyd Magers (Western Clippings), Bobby J. Copeland (author of "Trail Talk"), Rhonda Lemons (Empire Publishing Inc), Bob Nareau (author of "The Real Bob Steele") and Trevor Scott (Down Under Com) as they have rekindled my interest once again for Film Noir, B-Westerns and Serials --- looking forward to more high quality releases from the vintage serial era of the '20s, '30s & '40s and B-Westerns ... order your copy now from Amazon where there are plenty of copies available on VHS, stay tuned once again for top notch action mixed with deadly adventure --- if you enjoyed this title, why not check out VCI Entertainment where they are experts in releasing B-Westerns and Serials --- all my heroes have been cowboys!
Total Time: 81 min on DVD ~ Sony Home Video ~ (6/15/2004)
on 16 June 2014
This beautifully shot western gets off to a good start pitting the 28 year old Lee Marvin against the 54 year old Randolph Scott. This tension engages you throughout the film until they fight it out with each other. Before that point we see a beautiful Donna Reed in blue costume and lipstick, as well as a well-groomed Jeanette Nolan looking very Victorian. It is a masterclass in colour grading, costume design and hair and make-up.
on 27 May 2011
The cover to the DVD of Hangmans Knot is misleading as it makes the film look like a romantic western, it is not. The film is a western in the style of an action thriller.
Randolph scott along with Lee Marvin and others find them selvelves in the aftermath of the civil war in a very difficult situation that ultimately leads them to taking hostages and being surrounded in a house with no way out without getting shot. This siege situation is the main bulk of the story and is played out well for tension as we get to know the various characters. Loyalties are not certain within the house or outside and certain hostages may be helpful or a hindrence.
The film looks great, especially the action packed opening and the rain soaked ending where theres lightning breaking trees in half as the characters fight to survive.
A great scene is a long brawl between Lee marvin and Randolph Scott which must of been painful to film.
on 16 August 2013
We are RS fans and like most of his movies. Not the standard of the Ranown cycle but still very good. Good print for an old movie.
A unit of Confederate soldiers out on a special mission attack a Union troop that is carrying a cargo of gold. The idea being that the gold will be used to better the Confederate cause, but upon finding a barely living Union survivor, they learn that General Lee has surrendered and the war finished a month prior. The men, now guilty of murder outside of war regulations, are hunted by suspect deputies, taking a stagecoach hostage and holing up at a stage line way station, inner conflicts and murderous thieves are the order of the night.
Incredible to think that this fine Western was the only effort to have been directed by Roy Huggins; because it's exactly that, damn fine. He would go on to direct notable work in TV such as The Virginian, The Rockford Files, Maverick and The Fugitive, but it seems that he wanted to put down a marker that he could in fact direct a feature length film, and although it only runs at a respectable 80 minutes, he must have been real satisfied with the finished product. Huggins is backed up by genre legend Randolph Scott in the lead role of Major Matt Stewart, with Scott providing the sort of performance that reminds us of his excellent work for Budd Boetticher in Ride Lonesome, The Tall T and Comanche Station etc. Donna Reed (lovely as ever), Lee Marvin (another fine loose cannon job), Richard Denning and Frank Faylen all beef up the cast, and although some of the other supporting players do not quite shine so bright, they do, however, earn their corn and don't harm the movie.
The film itself is structured real well, we open with a fantastic sequence as the "Rebs" attack the Union troop, with Charles Lawton Jr's photography expertly capturing the Lone Pine vista in Technicolor glory. From here we are centred inside the way station in what at first appears to be your standard Rio Bravo set up, this set up could easily have failed if the characters inside the building were dull and very uninteresting. Thankfully Huggins, who wrote the story as well as directing it, gives us characters of interest with little offshoots of conflicts to further enhance the plot. This makes for a tense build up until we lurch towards the inevitable showdown where the rouges gallery of thugs outside-who want the gold at any cost to life-plot with hungry menace.
It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, as some B movie traits and budgetary tone downs are evident, but the quality is still impressively high. From the direction and photography to the performances of the leads; Hangman's Knot is an essential viewing for the discerning Western fan. 8/10
on 29 July 2015
One of the best Westerns I've ever seen, knocking spots off overblown rubbish like 'High Noon' and 'Rio Bravo'. Is this a B-movie? Perhaps - but what of it? I've rarely seen a movie with Scott (or, say, Audie Murphy) that I didn't enjoy. This is well up to the standards set in the fifties by Mann, BB, de Toth and Selander.
on 3 September 2014
"Just what it says on the tin"