September 18, 2017


Starring Robert Taylor, Richard Widmark, Patricia Owens, Robert Middleton, Henry Silva, DeForest Kelley. Directed by John Sturges. (1959, 89 min).

Never having seen The Law and Jake Wade prior to reviewing this disc (its first time on Blu-ray), the film was of personal interest to me for two reasons: John Sturges and Richard Widmark.

My appreciation for Sturges came pretty late in life, when I eventually noticed that his name popped up in a lot of old classics I've always loved, such as Bad Day at Black Rock, The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape, as well as kitschy potboilers like The Satan Bug and Ice Station Zebra. So whenever the chance to discover another one turns up, deal me in.

I've liked Richard Widmark since I was a kid, mostly from the types of movies that appealed to me at the time, like Rollercoaster, Twilight's Last Gleaming and The Swarm (really). Mostly a supporting player by then, Widmark was the go-to guy when a film required an antagonistic general or argumentative man-in-charge who exists to second-guess the hero. With a distinctive voice, weathered face and deadly serious stare, I enjoyed his performances immensely. But I had no idea at the time that he had a long, respected career in all sorts of roles, most notably bad guys. When I eventually watched him in Kiss of Death, his delirious, unhinged performance was amazing.

"Boop! Got yer nose!"
The Law and Jake Wade doesn't rank among either man's greatest work, but it is a solid, briskly-paced and exciting western that provides a fine showcase for both.

Robert Taylor plays the titular character, a former bandit turned town marshal who's trying to leave his old life behind and set-up house with fiancée Peggy (Patricia Owens). Unfortunately, the man he used to ride with, Clint Hollister (Widmark), shows up demanding the $20,000 they stole from a bank the previous year. But, troubled by the death of a child during the robbery, Jake buried the money, and when he initially refuses to reveal where the it is, Clint and his new gang abduct Peggy. Now Jake is forced to lead the way through treacherous Indian country to retrieve it.

"C'mon, say it just one time...'He's dead, Jim!' Please!"
While the film isn't as sweeping as The Magnificent Seven or suspenseful as Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Sturges once again demonstrates his mastery of the western genre, presenting a compelling story with great economy (at 89 minutes, the film doesn't get the chance to where out his welcome). Taylor makes a stoic hero, but it's Widmark who owns this movie, instilling Clint with just the right amount of arrogance - along with a dash of depravity - to make him a menacing villain.

As westerns go, The Law and Jake Wade may not be a lost classic, but it's thoroughly entertaining and worth picking up by genre fans. Originally released just before Sturges went on a decade-long hot streak, it's an interesting little footnote in his career. 

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