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USA 1961
Directed by
Sam Peckinpah
90 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Deadly Companions

Although Peckinpah’s first feature is in its broad strokes quite routine it has enough bite to, at least in hindsight, indicate the director’s bent. Brian Keith, doing a pretty good facsimile of John Wayne, plays a character In the immediate post-Civil War period who when the film opens saves a card cheat named Turk (Chill Wills) from being hung. He then leads Turk and his gunslinger compadre, Billy (Steve Cochran), who nickname him Yellowleg to the next town by telling them there is a bank they can rob. Once they get there someone is already robbing the bank and in the melee Yellowleg accidentally kills the young son of a dance-hall floozie, Kit Tilden (Maureen O'Hara). When Kit decides to bury her son next to his dead father in an abandoned town that can only be reached by crossing Apache territory, Yellowleg offers to be her escort and presses Billy and Turk into helping.

What makes the film distinctive are two things. Firstly some of the story elements are unusually dark for a standard Western (the script is by A.S. Fleischman from his own book but I have no idea if anything was contributed by Peckinpah), Thus Turk is a crazy Confederate deserter who once tried to scalp Keith’s character and who dreams of setting up his own state (rather unfortunately called Freedonia the same name given to Rufus T. Firefly’s dominion in the Marx Bros' Duck Soup, 1933) run with Indian slaves; Yellowleg is scarred physically and psychologically and bitterly set on revenge; there’s the dead child;  and an attempted rape of Kit by Billy. Secondly, Peckinpah’s directorial hand, aided by cinematographer William Clothier, is quite evident is giving the otherwise quite standard production its grit although as the film was produced by Maureen O'Hara's brother, Charles B. Fitzsimons and O'Hara and Brian Keith were fresh from co-starring in the box-office success of Disney's The Parent Trap released earlier the same year, he was presumably hired as jobbing director.

Apparently O'Hara did not like his style (rather bizarrely though Peckinpah manages to get her clothes off in two scenes) and indeed the film was eventually taken from him, something which presumably explains the film’s rather twee and anti-climactic ending. The Deadly Companions will be of most interest to Peckinpah buffs but as Western it is solid enough fare.




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