ROUGH NIGHT IN JERICHO
Director: Arnold Laven - Cast: Dean Martin, George Peppard, Jean Simmons, John McIntire, Slim Pickens, Don Galloway, Richard O'Brien, John Napier
A bizarre western, if only for casting good old Dean Martin as a villain without any redeeming qualities. It was marketed with the tag line "Who says they don't make Westerns like they used to?" suggesting that this was an old school western with all the classic ingredients. It is, but it isn’t. The story about (the lack of) law and order in a small western town, sounds like a fifties western, but the level of violence is more in accordance with the early seventies. When a man in a white shirt is shot his blood runs on the shirt like wine on a napkin, another man is shot in the face, Jean Simmons is beaten up and almost strangled and a hand-to-hand combat between Peppard and Pickens is of a particularly nasty kind.
Martin’s character, Alex Flood, is an ex-lawman gone bad; he is determined to have total control over the town, and therefore wants to own at least 51% of every local business, including the stagecoach line conducted by Molly Lang (Jean Simmons), but Molly refuses. Hell breaks loose with the arrival of two men: Marshall John McIntire (called to town by Simmons) and his best friend, a former lawman turned gambler (George Peppard).
Some have suggested the movie was influenced by the spaghetti westerns. True, Dino’s town bully acts more like a Mafia Boss than a regular western heavy but the year of production, 1967, seems a bit early for a movie to be under the influence of the Italian western (A Fistful of Dollars was released in ’66 in the US as far as I know). Moreover the spaghetti westerns were not known for excessive bloodletting. The American western didn’t need the Italians to become dirty.
Rough Nigh in Jericho was written by Marvin H. Albert, who adapted his own novel to the screen. The script offers an interesting line-up of characters, played by first rate actors, but they remain largely underdeveloped. McIntire is shot in the leg early on and is therefore confined to a bed for most part of the movie and Simmons is only there because the movie needed a female character. Peppard is quite good as the ex-lawman gone astray, now looking for redemption, but Dino’s simply not the right man to play a ruthless villain. Off-beat casting can be effective but it takes a director like Leone to turn a kind-hearted actor like Henry Fonda into the incarnation of evil. Arnold Laven is no Leone.
Nor is he a Peckinpah, for that matter. According to Peckinpah’s biographer David Weddle, Laven and Peckinpah were old acquaintances. Laven had been one of the producers of the TV-series The Rifleman (for which Sam wrote a couple of scripts and directed some episodes) and he had also directed The Glory Guys, scripted by Peckinpah. As far as I know Peckinpah had no hand in Rough Night in Jericho, but towards the end there’s a protracted action sequence with Martin’s men trapped in a town street by the townspeople waiting for them on the rooftops, that will remind many of us of the opening massacre of The Wild Bunch. I’m quite sure Peckinpah saw it and was inspired by it. But don't get over-exited. As said Laven is no Peckinpah. Rough Night in Jericho is an okay watch, but it's no Wild Bunch.
* Rough Night in Jericho is available on You Tube. Apparently the version is cut but oddly enough it seems to leave all the violence intact. I had not seen the movie in a while and have no idea what’s missing.
* For the Laven-Peckinpah connection see: David Weddle, If they move, kill ‘em, New York 1996, p. 136-138 and p. 146-154