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Woman They Almost Lynched (Blu-ray Review)

9 Feb, 2015 By: Mike Clark

$24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars John Lund, Brian Donlevy, Audrey Totter, Joan Leslie.

About 45 years after seeing it at the Museum of Modern Art during an Allan Dwan retrospective, I’ve never quite gotten over the sight of Audrey Totter in leather pants causing a lot of mayhem for saloon owner Joan Leslie in what is only the second-weirdest feminist Western (though it’s set on the Missouri-Arkansas border) that Republic Pictures managed to release in a two-year period. No wonder Totter is a cult actress; she’s quite the sartorial vision here.

As hinted, Woman — which has no “The” in the title, a frequent Republic gimmick dating at least back to the ’40s — isn’t as gloriously loopy as the following year’s Johnny Guitar, though it has the same secondary player (Ben Cooper) playing a fresh-faced gunman, in this case one named Jesse James. But for a quickie that was probably shot in a couple weeks, it’s kind of out there — even to the point of its first-billed lead (John Lund) having a fairly small role and its fourth-billed performer (Joan Leslie) being the center of the story. There’s even a border town mayor here’s who’s not just a woman but a portly woman at that. (Roy Rogers, who had recently wrapped his long Republic tenure a year earlier, never had to put up with this kind of thing.) Like the bar in Sergeant York that straddles wet and dry real estate with a dividing line down the middle (a concept that captured my imagination as a kid when I first saw the Gary Cooper perennial), the Ozark mountain town here evenly splits Union and Confederacy territories, and the mayor has her hands full. I always had the sense that a lot of the Republic Pictures demographic, which was heavily rural, was still fighting the Civil War.

In an all-star (character) cast that includes not just Jesse but also William Quantrill (as in “Raiders”), his wife Kate (that’s Totter) and gunfighter Cole Younger, Leslie’s character is the focus after she arrives in town from Michigan to visit her long unseen saloon-owner brother (Reed Hadley, who indeed really looks like the physically ill guy he’s supposed to be playing after his health goes to hell once Kate dumps him). Leslie’s bro quickly gets himself killed, forcing her to take over the joint — and at one point she gets into one of those hair-pulling gal-vs.-gal brawls that we rarely see in the movies anymore. Eventually, the two women patch things up, but that’s getting ahead of the story.

Brian Donlevy, who’d already played the marauding Quantrill in the nifty Audie Murphy Western Kansas Raiders, returns here for more burning and looting, while Lund is a somewhat mysterious character forced by circumstances to fatally plug Hadley. Lund’s career went into mystifyingly quick decline after getting out of the gate semi-spectacularly with To Each His Own, A Foreign Affair and the cult comedy supreme Miss Tatlock’s Millions — and by this time, he was relegated to mostly standing around in a Dixie oater from Republic dominated by the women in its cast. Even so, this glorified ‘B’-pic has an elusive “something” going for it, and Andrew Sarris even wrote a piece on it in the early ’60s (reprinted in Confessions of a Cultist) where he lauded Woman at the expense of several other more highly touted movies that he had seen recently in the same two-week-or-so period. Those leather pants will do that for you.


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