Monday, June 24, 2013

Forgotten Gem: Backlash

One of my favorite directors…in fact maybe my absolute favorite director…is John Sturges. I will not take the time to list all of the Sturges movies I like, but I am particularly fond of his westerns. Recently, I had the chance to catch one of his oaters that I haven’t seen before. Backlash, from 1956, is excellent! I had not heard of the film until I came across it on Encore Westerns, but I am glad I found it!

The movie stars (the underrated, in my opinion) Richard Widmark, joined by Donna Reed. I will not give too much away regarding the plot (no spoilers here), and will only say that the story revolves around Widmark searching for the man who left a group of men stranded. This man ran off with quite a sum of gold, leaving others behind to be slaughtered by Apaches. The search for this man, and the quest to learn his identity, is well handled and very suspenseful. In fact, the premise, and suspense that stems from it, has caused some reviewers to classify this film as a “psychological western.” This subgenre is known for building slow burning suspense, relying more on tension rather than scenes of action (the original 3:10 to Yuma is a good example). Backlash certainly has elements of this, but make no mistake, there is a ton of action in this picture! In fact, I was amazed at just how many gunfights there were. The film practically opens up with one, and never slows down. Widmark battles a band of gunfighting brothers, Apaches, hired gunhands, and a ruthless cattle rancher.

The film is only 90 minutes, and the story moves along at a brisk pace with little to no filler. It’s a lean, action-packed gem of a western with excellent pacing, an exciting story, and great acting. I am not sure why this movie is not more well-known, or why it has not received a wide DVD release. It is a forgotten treasure that every western fan should see. It’s just the type of movie I love, and while not a masterpiece of epic filmmaking or groundbreaking, I give it a perfect 5 stars out of five.

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