There's something so satisfying about a no-nonsense, beautifully-filmed western. A couple of likeable stars, good supporting players, stunning locations. The Hired Hand (1957) is that kind of movie: a briskly paced, efficiently filmed story that speeds lightly through its one hour running time. It's now available on DVD from Warner Archive.
Anne Francis steps into the saddle as Ellen Beldon, a widow who is about to be the first woman to be hung in Texas history, for the murder of her husband. He claims of innocence have been ignored..
She's rescued from jail by her uncle and his ranch hands and races across the border to her old ranch home in New Mexico. There she is safe, because the governor has decreed that she was unfairly tried and he will not allow extradition.
Beldon's father-in-law isn't willing to let her go though. He hires gunslinger Gil McCord (Rory Calhoun, who also produced the film) to kidnap her and bring her back over the Texas border where he can legally make an arrest. The mercenary McCord goes undercover as a ranch hand to get close to Beldon and quickly captures her. She strikes him as decent though, and once he hears her story, he knows he must try to save her life.
It's a simple story and not bound to provide any real surprises. That can be easy to forget though, because the Lone Pines, California locations make the production seem grander than it is. I've been watching a lot of films made there lately, and the purity and fresh feel of the expansive vistas and snowy mountain peaks always thrill me. Here director Ray Nazarro tends to humble his players, by showing how small they are in the face of all that natural grandeur.
Rory Calhoun and Anne Francis are remarkably appealing actors. I've often felt they both deserved greater fame and acclaim, but in enjoying their performances here, I've decided that they weren't meant to achieve that level of stardom. They have acting chops and charisma, but no matter how lost these stars may become in their roles, they always seem like the most gorgeous couple in a small town high school.
They're the prom king and queen, who decide they're going to go to Hollywood to break into the movies. That aura makes them all the more endearing, if not larger than life. I think there are a lot of stars like that: beautiful, charming people who appear more accessible because they are closer to the earth than the greats.
I found it interesting that three of the leading men would soon move on to television, because the production could easily have been a one-hour drama on the tube if a few corners were cut. Calhoun stayed with the western genre for two seasons on The Texan. Ranch hand Chuck Connors would embark on a legendary run as The Rifleman and Vince Edwards, who plays Ellen's shifty brother-in-law, would find his greatest fame starring in the medical drama Ben Casey.
For another take on The Hired Gun (1957), check out Laura's great review at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.