is a fascinating yet frustrating CinemaScope Western, almost unique in the genre for being based on a literarily respectable novel--Oakley Hall's 1958 recasting of the Wyatt-Earp-in-Tombstone legend. As adapted by TV dramatist Robert Alan Aurthur, the tale focuses on three men: the elegant gambler/gunfighter/lawman-for-hire Blaisdell (Henry Fonda in the Earp part); his lethal partner and creepily possessive best friend Morgan (Anthony Quinn as a variation on Doc Holliday); and Johnny Gannon (Richard Widmark), a ranch cowboy more burdened with scruples than his fellow rowdies, who have made the silver-mining town of Warlock their violent playground. To reclaim their community, the townsfolk strike a bargain with the devil they don't know--Blaisdell--in hopes of being delivered from the devil they do, the cowboys and their cold-blooded boss McQuown (former MGM juve Tom Drake in the Ike Clanton role).
Fonda's and Widmark's characters evolve intriguingly; Blaisdell affords Western aficionados early hints of Fonda's badman Frank in Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, while Widmark's Gannon reforms, becomes town deputy, and has to go up against not only his old cronies but the hired marshal. Sad to say, despite its three strong leads and a script full of shootings, sadism, and no end of betrayals, the movie keeps bogging down from too much undigested backstory, too much talk, and Edward Dmytryk's flatfooted direction. Even the redoubtable cinematographer Joe MacDonald, who so stunningly shot John Ford's Earp-in-Tombstone classic My Darling Clementine 13 years earlier, disappoints with bland, featureless lighting better suited to a TV show. Speaking of which, future Star Trekker DeForest Kelley plays the only other McQuown rider with a conscience. --Richard T. Jameson