Welcome and a few words about Yellow Sky (1948)

I enjoy talking about  TV and movies with my friends.  I often get asked for recommendations.  I am responsible for getting many of my friends hooked on TV series that I think would suit their tastes.  I consider it a calling of sorts.  So, I thought I would start a blog that  answers the question “What is Ann watching?”

I enjoy classic cinema from all genres and all eras.  Here are my thoughts about Yellow Sky (1948), a western starring Gregory Peck, Richard Widmark (a favorite of mine for the uninitiated, try this link) and Anne Baxter.

Poster

Yellow Sky or “Honour Among Thieves” as I like to think of it is Richard Widmark’s 1st western and a strong entrance into the genre. Although he is the main baddie, he manages to break away from the maniacal sociopath role that defines much of his early work.  I have read that this film can be considered Western Noir, because the hero is flawed and the subject matter dark.

The story is straight forward enough. Gregory Peck (Stretch) is the leader of a gang of thieves which includes Richard Widmark (Dude) and the rest dubiously named Half-pint, Lengthy, Walrus, and Bullrun. I think a ridiculous nickname is all you need to be a member of this gang.  They lose Jed during the first act’s bank heist getaway (probably because his name was the most normal sounding one) and stumble upon prospectors, Ann Baxter (Mike) and her Grandpa in a ghost town named Yellow Sky. Being men of greed, the gang figures out that there is gold to be had and the prospectors are hiding it.

I have a personal fondness for this film because it was one of the first Widmark films that I watched as a child. I was at home with my Mom with a 9″ black and white TV; she liked Gregory Peck and detested Widmark. I really enjoyed Widmark’s performance (an early act of rebellion perhaps) then as much as I do now. I too had a hard time seeing Peck in a villainous role at the time, but I have subsequently seen him in Duel in the Sun where he was quite detestable so I know he is capable of true villainy on screen.

But not in this film; Peck is not the worst of the lot.  Widmark stands out as a pragmatic bad guy. He is driven by greed, and does not lust after the girl as the rest of the gang does. He just wants the gold and he wants all of it.  Unfortunately for the gang, Mike and Grampa have Apache friends near by who are willing to help.  I love Walrus’ line when he sees the Apaches in the distance “We’re sure gonna be mighty rich corpses”. The final showdown is good and is similar to the one in High Noon.

The dialogue in this film is pretty good. My biggest complaint ***SPOILER ALERT*** is the Hollywood cliche that implies that women like men to treat them poorly. Stretch accosts Mike in a manner that can only be described as sexual assault. She does her best to fight him off, but she is disadvantaged by almost a foot in height. When Peck releases her, she has the presence of mind to comment on his body odour (which must be pretty bad after traversing the desert for days to get to Yellow Sky). She also finds her pistol and “parts his hair with a bullet”. I love the references to this incident, when Grampa (he gets some of the best one liners) states that few women can miss their target so well, and on purpose.  But the good lines are not monopolized and Peck gets a chance when he comments on how he combs his hair around the new part she gave him. Despite all this, sparks fly because, after all he is tall, dark and handsome and Gregory Peck for crying in a bucket!  Somehow, the facts that he tried to rob her of her hard earned gold and assaulted her, no longer bother her. GRRRR!

Otherwise, it is a pretty enjoyable film with strong performances by Peck, Baxter and Widmark. I can recommend it to  anyone who doesn’t mind a black and white movie. The dialogue is memorable, the plot is not too far fetched. As an added treat, Henry Morgan (for all you TV M*A*S*H fans) co-stars in his first of many movies alongside RW.

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