Release Date(s)1955 (December 1, 2015)
Studio(s)United Artists (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: N/A
Director Sidney Salkow (The Last Man on Earth) was the kind of unassuming filmmaker whose solid but anonymous craftsmanship has kept him from being ranked with the greats in spite of its considerable pleasures. An all-around reliable journeyman, he was comfortable in just about every genre but at his most energetic when helming Westerns, whether for the big screen or small (The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Maverick). One of his best oaters, Robbers Roost (1955) is now available on Blu-ray in a solid transfer that nicely showcases Salkow’s modest but valuable talent.
The premise, taken from Zane Grey’s novel, shares a few similarities with Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars and Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, both of which would come along a few years later. (It also shares things in common with the various sources that inspired those two films, like Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest.) A tough stranger (George Montgomery) rides into a Western town looking for work, and finds it for a cattle rancher who has hired two rival gangs to look after his herd. The rancher’s theory as that the two gangs hate each other so much that neither will let the other steal the cattle, a belief that grows increasingly questionable as a variety of double-crosses – many orchestrated by the mysterious stranger – pile up. There’s also a love interest, the rancher’s sister (Sylvia Findley), and an amiable cowhand who slowly emerges as the chief villain (Western stalwart Richard Boone). And of course, the stranger has a secret reason for wanting to get involved, which snap the entire story into sharp focus when it’s revealed.
All of this adds up to a fast-paced, highly entertaining character-driven action film populated by an endless series of superb character actors (among them Peter Graves and Tony Romano). Salkow stages the action with clarity and concision and a beautiful sense of pace, ratcheting up the tension subtly but steadily throughout as the characters’ loyalties shift and the betrayals accumulate. The psychological chess game that goes on is reminiscent of the best films of director Budd Boetticher (Seven Men From Now, Ride Lonesome, Comanche Station), which were being made with Randolph Scott (and, in the case of The Tall T, Robbers Roost’s Richard Boone) at around the same time. Salkow’s film doesn’t quite reach the sublime artistic heights of Boetticher’s work – it lacks the complex moral and philosophical underpinnings – but it’s fast, fun, and thoughtful in its own way.
It’s also quite visually beautiful on its low-budget terms. Far from a top of the line studio Western, the independent production was shot on Eastmancolor, which has a slightly grittier look than its glossy Technicolor cousin. Ace director of photography Jack Draper (who also shot Boetticher’s The Bullfighter and the Lady), makes the most of Eastmancolor’s properties, alternating saturated colors with deep, rich blacks and creating a sort of film noir in color – the nighttime interiors are particularly expressive, and even some of the daytime interiors have a brooding, haunting quality. Kino Lorber’s transfer is mostly faithful to Draper’s palette and sense of contrast, though the source print itself is a bit too run down to warrant an “A” for the disc; the mono audio track gets the job done as well. There are no extras aside from a few unrelated trailers for other Kino Western titles.
- Jim Hemphill