Rebel in Town is directed by Alfred Werker and written by Danny Arnold. It stars John Payne, Ruth Roman, J. Carrol Naish, Ben Johnson, Ben Cooper and John Smith. Music is by Les Baxter and cinematography by Gordon Avil.
The phrase a hidden gem gets used far too much, so much so I try my utmost to veer away from it if at all possibly. However, for fans of grown up Westerns then Rebel in Town is most assuredly a gem of a find for sure. Story is set just after the American Civil War in the town of Kittreck Wells. A family of Confederate soldiers (The Masons) have staged a robbery in a nearby town and need to go into Kittreck for water supplies. A turn of events will bring the family of outlaws into the life of ex Union soldier John Willoughby (Payne), a hard working family man, who still has a fierce commitment to rid the land of Confederate rebels.
It could have ended up as just another trite "B" Western message movie, but this is so much more, the quality of the writing is such that the script demands full attention. The effects of the Civil War are of course central, where the characters from both sides of the fence are here painted in rich colours. John Willoughby had a tenuous grip on post war forgiveness before his family is shattered by the arrival in town of the Mason family, but soon enough his thirst for revenge begins to tip him over the edge. The Mason family are not merely outlaw fodder, they are a complex bunch, each of the four brothers different in their own values and approach to life, but it's with the patriarch Bedloe (Naish) where the screenplay finds real strength. A God fearing man, he hates what his family has become, and although he clearly rules the roost, he is given to complete democracy, his boys always are given the vote on the decisions the family must make. The juxtaposition between the two heads of family, from different sides of the war, is intelligently thought out by the makers.
Added bonus here as well is the characterisation afforded Ruth Roman as Nora Willoughby. So often in "B" Westerns female characters are given to being love interests or a cause for macho posturing, not so here. Nora Willoughby is arguably the key character, she fights throughout the play to not only overcome her grief, but also that of her husband. She is relentless in her attempts to stop John from become a crazed revenge fuelled mad man, for she can see the bigger picture that her man simply can't. The other key character of note is Ben Cooper's Gray Mason, the younger of the Mason family and the family's conscience, his interaction with - via a plot development to integrate him with the Willoughby's - is a priceless commodity for the picture's dramatic worth. With characters of great substance it only then needs good performances from the actors to make it all work, and we get that. Even the smaller supporting roles are well held by director Werker, such as Marshal Adam Russel (James Griffith) who is calm and measured and a mile away from the caricature type of law men we get in the genre.
The look of the piece is terrific, Avil's black and white photography comes from the film noir stlyed playbook, which is most befitting for the story's psychological axis. Werker had dabbled in film noir, notably with the excellent He Walked By Night, so his instruction to Avil for the look on show is astute and makes sense. Action scenes are well staged, but it's with certain scenes where the pic soars high. The catalyst scene that sets the wheels in motion is boosted by an authentic recoil, which is great to see. Also attention grabbing is a corporal punishment section that should make you wince, while the father and son axis between John and his son Peter at the film's beginning begs for deeper thought once film reaches its closure. With a lovely print being shown on TCM-HD rounding out the bonuses, this is a super treat for Western fans and therefore comes highly recommended. 8/10
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