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Burt Lancaster is excellent as the title character, a pitiless, unbending marshal out to arrest seven cowhands who left a dead man in the wake of a drunken tear, in this stoic, modern take on a classic Western theme. He confronts a rancher baron, trigger-happy gunmen, and the cowardly hypocrites of a frontier town: the usual bunch of Old West types sculpted into intriguing character by a crack cast. Robert Ryan brings a sad dignity to his former gunfighter tamed into a meek town marshal, and Lee J. Cobb is introspective and thoughtful as the aging cattleman weary of his life of violence: "It took guns to take this land, guns to keep it, and guns to make it grow.... Each time we bury the cost." Robert Duvall, Albert Salmi, and a young Richard Jordan (as an idealistic cowpoke whose sense of honor gets a workout in the complex conflicts) also star.
The first American feature by British director Michael Winner (who went on to make numerous tough Charles Bronson pictures, including the first three Death Wish movies) is lean and tough, with a streak of "passing of an era" melancholia, but surprisingly old-fashioned. The hard-edged, unsentimental violence, arid, austere look of the picture, and distracting overuse of zoom shots mark it as an unmistakable product of the early 1970s, but it's not so much cynical as sorrowful in its clash of ideals, and never less than clear-eyed in the presentation of harsh frontier realities. --Sean Axmaker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
This is a fascinating film. What makes it so is the reaction everyone has to such an unbending, uncompromising man. The townspeople are not behind Lancaster because the men he wants to take in all work for a very important town leader that has done much to support and help the town grow. The town boss, played with complexity by Lee J. Cobb, admits his men did wrong, but wants to "negotiate" a kind of deal with Lancaster.
Lancaster is not a negotiator. He is a killer with a star on his chest.
This is the other interesting aspect of this film: as the Lancaster character tells an idealistic cowboy, "a lawman is a man-killer. That is his business."
All in all, a tough, lean Western with an unusually hard edge. Lancaster's ice-blue eyes dominate the film, with great performances throughout by, notably, Lee J. Cobb, Robert Ryan (as an aging gunfighter looking for an easy slide), and Robert Duvall. The writing is excellent, also, with many memorable lines that say a lot with few words.
A little-known Western but, in my opinion, one that wouldn't be out of place in any discussion of the all time greats of the genre.
The direction, on the other hand, his a bit hit and miss for me. While the mood and atmosphere created by Winner are almost perfect, his "Bad 70s TV Action-Zoom Cam" gets in the way, with the camera zipping everywhere but where it ought to be. Much of this film called for more subtle camera motion, and the abuse of the zoom lens effect permanently marks the film as a product of its time.
On the plus side, the aging gunfighters depicted by Lancaster, Cobb, and Ryan, the feeling of changing times, and the sense of a closing chapter in the history of the West are all spot on. It called to mind moments in "The Magnificent Seven" or another Lancaster film, "The Professionals", in which the day of the gunfighter has all but ended, leaving the few remaining with a stuggle to find their place.
Ryan and Cobb are equally good here, but Ryan probably gets the edge. His character shows the gunfighter coming to terms with modern times by giving in and becoming part of them. Cobb depicts the will to change if only events would allow it. Lancaster is the embodiment of justice in the Old West, and change is resisted.
Familliar faces pop up here and there, with Ralph Waite (Pa on "The Waltons") and John Hillerman (Higgins of "Magnum, PI") both in minor supporting roles. Waite plays one of the bad guys (in muttonchops!), while Hillerman is a citizen in the background. Hillerman's western accent is British instead, which is probably why he got only two lines in this one.
A good, solid western, set in a stark evaporating frontier town just before 1900, the film is a keeper.Read more ›
But his appearance in Sabbath causes considerable hostility among the townsfolk, because they owe their livelihoods to that same bunch, led by Lee J. Cobb, and are unwilling to give it up. Lancaster, unsurprisingly, is unmoved. Therein hangs this solid, almost psychological, sagebrush saga.
Lancaster, as usual, is brilliant in his role of an efficient, cold-blooded lawman, and Cobb is equally special as the leader of the group of cowboys being sought. This is not your typical good guys/bad guys saga: what happened in Bannock was a tragic accident, and Lancaster may be pushing his authority a bit too far. Robert Ryan, always one of the better and more overlooked actors in Hollywood, gives one of his greatest performances as Sabbath's aging, pragmatic marshal.
Probably Michael Winner's best film as a director, LAWMAN was shot on location in central Mexico and has some stark photography by British cameraman Robert Paynter, giving it a look not out of place in a Sam Peckinpah or Sergio Leone film. It is violent in places, but it makes for very good viewing, especially for those who appreciate westerns of this type.
Most recent customer reviews
While Burt was not a staple in westerns, he does a good job in this movie. The story line is a bit different but seems to work well. Worth a look.Published 2 months ago by Michael B. Neuman
Superb acting, superb directing, superb dialogue. . . feel free to read my rave of the version with the same cover, ASIN 079283853X. Read morePublished on July 15 2004 by Matthew Drummy
First, the caution: the "widescreen" VHS version is a sham! It doesn't show you the actual original widescreen film, it simply chops off the top and bottom of the... Read morePublished on July 14 2004 by Matthew Drummy
I was very disapointed with this film "LAWMAN" and not because of the film itself, but because of the sound quality of this DVD. Read morePublished on July 1 2004 by Peter Skurka
The plotline is simple. Jarrod Maddox (Burt Lancaster), is an aging lawman, still extremely capable, who arrives in town and gives notice that the men involved in a killing will... Read morePublished on May 3 2003
burt lancaster as a well focussed no non- sense marshal
reminded me of the sci fi movie terminator with a western flair. Read more
What are the adjectives that describe Burt Lancaster's character in this western. Tough, steeley, deadly, honest, dedicated and incorruptable come to mind. Read morePublished on July 5 2002 by Dennis C. Clements
This is a great violent western. Lancaster proves he
can step up and be just as tough as Eastwood and Wayne.
The action is superb. Western fans-Don't miss this one!
Burt Lancaster is the epitome of TOUGH as the unyielding paragon of western justice, Marshall Jered Maddox. Read morePublished on Jan. 29 2002 by Cory D. Slipman