Hangman's Knot (August 10/04)
Randolph Scott made more than 100 movies in his long career, usually playing square-jawed heroes. Scott mostly appeared in Westerns, and Hangman's Knot is no exception. There's a little twist in that he's playing a character that's not exactly squeaky clean, but this is otherwise exactly the sort of role one would expect from Scott.
Hangman's Knot casts the venerable actor as Major Matt, the leader of a band of Confederate soldiers. As the movie opens, Matt and his crew are attacking a Union gold shipment - despite the fact that the war's been over for about a month (guess nobody bothered to tell them). Knowing full well he and his battalion will be hanged for murder, Matt decides to take some hostages and hole up inside a house while he thinks things over. It's not long before several bounty hunters show up, leaving Matt and the gang with little choice but to defend their newfound bunker.
The film isn't quite as predictable as it sounds, though Matt's relationship with one of his hostages (played by Donna Reed, of all people) is a bit tough to swallow. Fortunately, there's some real chemistry between the two actors, making their relationship a little more palatable. In terms of the film's action, it's just about what you might expect from a '50s Western (ie people clutch their chest and collapse upon being shot), though there's a fight sequence between Matt and one of his subordinates (played by Lee Marvin, in one of his first roles) that's surprisingly gritty.
Hangman's Knot is surprisingly fast-paced for a film of this sort, and though there's an almost incoherent rain-soaked battle towards the end, the film essentially remains entertaining throughout.