Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend (DVD Review)13 Oct, 2014 By: Mike Clark
Available via Warner Archive
Stars Randolph Scott, James Craig, Angie Dickinson, James Garner.
Truth to tell, there’s really no shoot-out in this lukewarm but sporadically ticklish Randolph Scott Western, but you do get a punch-out or two once the baddies start to get theirs in piecemeal fashion in the later reels. Punch-out at Medicine Bend — how would that have looked on the marquee?
On my marquee downtown at the RKO Grand roundabout Memorial Day of 1957, Shoot-Out was deemed enough of a wobbly solo draw that someone in charge rightfully felt the need for a second feature, which meant looking around for preferably another Warner Bros. title to bolster the bill. In typically gonzo local fashion, someone came up with the idea to pair this black-and-white oater with Paris Does Strange Things, which was the title slapped on a truncated version of Jean Renoir’s color Elena and Her Men — the second Ingrid Bergman film to play U.S. theaters after her Oscar-winning comeback in Anastasia following scandal-engendered exile abroad throughout all of the 1950s. Medicine Bend and Paris: well, that’s covering the bases
In any event, this Scott lark rates a mention here through its accident of historically noteworthy casting: James Garner and Angie Dickinson have major roles when they were very young, though she gets higher billing and a somewhat larger role. A Union Army captain and two enlisted colleagues get mustered out and head for civilian life in Nebraska, where they arrive just a little too late to prevent the Indian massacre of a brother to officer Scott. Apparently, bum ammo purchased in nearby Medicine Bend resulted in rifles that fizzled out, and on their way to that town, Scott and his two subordinates (Garner and familiar-faced Gordon Jones, the actor died in real life just after playing a comic villain in John Wayne’s McLintock!) have their clothes stolen as they skinny-dip. If your sense of humor leans a certain way, you can’t watch this scene thinking about all those real-life gay rumors attached to Randy.
Saving the day is a band of Quakers who provide emergency garb, though hardly the kind this trio is used to wearing. But the disguise helps them when they get to town and discover their stolen horses and duds, and never let it be said that looking at Garner in a Quaker hat isn’t a sight. Working undercover, it doesn’t take the trio too long to figure out that the town and its corruption are run by a Mr. Big played by James Craig, another of those actors Hollywood mistakenly figured could be the new Clark Gable if someone just slapped a mustache on him.
The three begin working in Craig’s general store, a joint not likely to get too many Better Business Bureau kudos due to the way it treats its competition. When a nearby establishment undercuts them a little on the price of muslin, one of Craig’s lackeys finger-paints the garment with grease and knocks over a crate of eggs just for good measure. This is an especially caddish thing to do when this rival store’s clerk is pert and ladylike Dickinson, cast as one of those types who always buttons the top button on her dress. Though she had played a sexually rambunctious type who started some trouble for Richard Egan in the previous year’s Tension at Table Rock, the movies didn’t really know how to use Dickinson yet — but Howard Hawks’ time was coming with Rio Bravo before too long. For their part, Jones and Garner have a tough time maintaining Quaker discipline under Scott’s controlled watchful eye; the former keeps wanting to spike his buttermilk in the town saloon, while Garner has his eye on the joint’s trampy dancehall girl who really isn’t a trampy nightclub girl but one everyone simply assumes is one.
Except for his swan song in Sam Peckinpah’s magnificent Ride the High Country, this was Scott’s last screen appearance in a movie (and naturally, Western) not directed by Budd Boetticher, whose five-year string of predominantly gritty minor classics with the actor had already launched. As such, the light tone here is not unwelcome as novelty value goes, and Scott’s eye-twinkle as he pretends to be a man of piece is rather beguiling. Until, that is, he discovers a 30-foot pit that is destined to make some of the bad guys here to take what anyone would term a helluva bounce.