Robbers' Roost (Blu-ray Review)21 Dec, 2015 By: Mike Clark
Stars George Montgomery, Richard Boone, Sylvia Findley, Peter Graves.
It would be a stretch to call George Montgomery the Harrison Ford of his day — but like Ford, his skills extended to making good furniture in real life (not that Ford has had to fashion too many cabinets lately for a moonlighting gig). Once married, though not eternally, to Dinah Shore, Montgomery had a rep as something of a tomcat, and when one sees him here opposite the obscure but gorgeous Sylvia Findley, one can only hope. Otherwise, this more-fun-than-I-expected Zane Grey adaptation is mostly a “guy” thing full of familiar ’50s faces to Boomer fanciers of Westerns, and it ranks as one of the better entries in a slew of Montgomery ‘B’s I remember from my formative years: Battle of Rogue River, Gun Belt, Fort Ti, Masterson of Kansas, Gun Duel in Durango and all the others that gave film crews a few box lunches and location work. I also recall the actor’s short-lived Saturday night NBC series “Cimarron City,” opposite both onetime noir queen Audrey Totter and that occasional member of John Wayne’s stable who changed his name from real-life Robert Errol Van Orden to John Smith. Such is life.
Brandishing a normally disreputable United Artists Eastman Color look that manages to work for the film when it comes to expressive costuming, Roost casts Montgomery as a man of mystery who’s still transparent enough to have a wanted poster of himself hanging downtown in the unfamiliar burg to which he’s just ridden (and by the way, the downtown isn’t much). Still, few seem to notice it or put A-and-B together — and, besides, he makes a good first impression by assisting a local who’s getting cheated at cards (Richard Boone — as always, getting more out of role than was written). Montgomery doesn’t say much but needs a ranch gig, and Boone knows where there is one. It’ll give him something to do while he pursues his main goal: finding a man with a scar on his chest — a plot particle that isn’t divulged for a while but still not much of a spoiler.
The boss man who’s hiring is confined to a wheelchair (he’s good old Bruce Bennett from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, as well as the original and much superior version of Angels in the Outfield). Bennett’s unconventional philosophy is to hire rival work crews who hate each other on the sight, figuring that they’ll work so hard competing with each other that they won’t get distracted. This scheme probably wasn’t going to work under any circumstances — and certainly doesn’t once his distractingly slim and redheaded sister (Findley) arrives from the obligatory “back East” to make it seem even lonelier in the all-male bunkhouse. She’s certainly not the one with the scar on her chest, but complete pro Montgomery represses himself from checking — which is more than some of the others are likely to do. They include Peter Graves (around the time he was appearing in TV’s “Fury”); Leo Gordon (who’d just had the lead in Don Siegel’s sleeper and long-future Criterion Blu-ray release Riot in Cell Block 11); and Warren Stevens (a year before Forbidden Planet). Also hanging around is a tough-luck suitor (William Hopper, who was Hedda’s real-life son, the actor who played Natalie Wood’s father in Rebel Without a Cause the very same year and also a soon-to-regular on TV’s “Perry Mason”).
As for Findley, she’s a mystery. IMDb.com says she died in 1989 and was somehow 50 or 51 when she made this (which has to be a whopper mistake unless this is the only Western ever shot in Shangri-La). She appeared in only one other feature (a minor role in 1954’s very hard to see Black Tuesday, with Edward G. Robinson) and, truth to tell, doesn’t seem to have been much of an actress. But to quote another redhead (Red Barber) re her appeal in the looks department, “Oh, doctor.”
Without making too much of what, after all, was a May opener destined for drive-ins, the movie is mild fun and looks fairly handsome on Blu-ray in a no-frills kind of way. I like how it doesn’t flinch from having Montgomery shoot the top of Stevens’ ear off as a kind of prelude to working together (you see the blood on the latter’s hand when he rubs the wound), and Findley comes up with a good way to help out Montgomery at the end in the dispatching of some bad dudes. The disc jacket is also risibly lurid (George, what exactly are you doing to Findley in the lower extremities of your clinch, given that guilty look on your face?). Fox filmed Grey’s story before in 1932 with George O’Brien and Maureen O’Sullivan, though it’s mostly off the radar these days. A year after this newer version, director Sidney Salkow churned out a minor trash amusement of my childhood called Gun Brothers (with Lita Milan as squaw “Meeteetse”), which you have to figure was a step down.