Thunder Over the Plains (1953)

28 10 2008

Another solid western from André De Toth. It’s not as great as Day of the Outlaw, but it does have the advantage of featuring Randolph Scott. It’s visually a far cry from that film, if only because it has the disadvantage of being in color and the academy ratio – a usually deadly combination for westerns. Still, the story here is enough to carry the film. I usually don’t put much stock in the narrative, especially not when it’s westerns, but I find the character complex too intriguing. Scott is a sheriff patrolling his home state of Texas. His emotions are caught in-between standing up for the independence of the citizens and fufilling his duty as a marshal.

This does sound like pretty standard western fair, if only for the fact that the protagonist’s duty is directly interfering with his emotions, but Scott’s character walks the line too tightly that it makes the film a joy to watch simply be trying to assess every single decision he makes. As one could predict, he ends up being hated by the town’s folk and the law, which sort of points towards the “me against the world” concept that is further developed in De Toth’s Riding Shotgun. In a way, this film is just a warm-up for that film, in which Scott is quite literally beaten around by every character.

There’s some uniquely positive traits for this film, though. Specifically the relationship between Norah Porter, the wife of Scott’s character, and Captain Bill Hodges. It becomes very obvious once Hodges is introduced that he’s going to pursue a relationship with Norah Porter, but it still is a bit surprising once he acts upon his feelings. In every other western, the “affair” usually occurs between the hero and a woman who is neglected by her husband. Scott’s character does neglect his wife, though, but only to pay the bills, I suppose. I guess the potential for this subplot was a lot more exciting than it actually turned out, but then again, I’m not watching westerns to see shrill, sleazy melodrama.

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