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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Johnny Reno



1966 - Dir: R.G. Springsteen - Cast: Dana Andrews, Jane Russell, Lon Chaney Jr., John Agar, Lyle Bettger, Tom Drake, Richard Arlen, Robert Lowery
 
In spite of the title this is not a spaghetti western, but a sixties Hollywood product looking over its shoulders to the psychological town westerns from the fifties (High Noon, Warlock, etc.). It paints a non too flattering image of a western town, with a lone lawman standing up for justice, a moody atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia, and a background story of racial prejudice.

Dana Andrews is an aging marshal on his way to Stone Junction, to see an old flame. He is ambushed by two men on the run for a posse, who think he's after them. He kills one of them and bring the other to Stone Junction, where he's told that the fugitive has killed a young Indian. He is now forced to protect him against the townspeople, who are afraid the Indians will raid their town. 

Leonard Maltin calls this a laughably clich├ęd western, but it's quite alright if you can overlook some of its flaws, like a low budget and an aging cast. Actually the main problem is the romantic subplot involving Jane Russell who wears, during the entire film, a mask of boredom where once was her pretty face. But the script is well-written, first giving the townspeople a good excuse for their behavior (we understand their fear for an Indian attack), then showing them from their most despicable side when it becomes clear that racist feelings where the cause of what has happened (Yes, Bad Day at Black Rock had its influence too). The finale is particularly well handled.

Johnny Reno was part of a series of low-budget westerns produced for Paramount by A.C. Lyles in a period that the American western went through a crisis. Veterans like John Ford and Anthony Mann were in the twilight years of their career, while the names of Eastwood and Peckinpah were still relatively unknown to large audiences. These days Lyle is in his nineties, but still working in the business. His most recent work was as consulting producer on the HBO series Deadwood.
 

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