- Directed by James Edward Grant
- February 15, 1947 (United States)
A dangerous man is nursed back to health and sought after by a young Quaker girl. Eventually he finds himself having to choose between his world and the world she lives in.
Angel and the Badman is a classic Western that took me a little too long to get to watching. It is not an action-adventure film with lots of gunfights but rather a quieter story about a man who through the love of a woman changes and finds a better way to live. He is confronted with the reality that the easy way is not the best way.
John Wayne plays the titular badman who is named Quirt Evans (old Westerns used odd names for their characters) while Gail Russell, for whom I understand this was a rare Western appearance, plays young Quaker woman Penelope Worth (the name just screams “pure”) whom Quirt falls for and who eventually causes him to change his ways.
John Wayne had the potential to do good acting. I have said that plenty of times. And as I have also said many times too many directors allowed him to carry the picture to profitability based on his star power alone. They got lazy. Not enough of them forced him to use his talent. Here he is pretty good as Quirt Evans who is a less than virtuous individual whose total crimes probably outweigh those that he is just suspected of. During the course of the film his character is fighting changing because there is a part of him that does not wish to change. He is comfortable leading a life that will end at the end of a hangman’s rope. Change is not something he seeks.
You get a good feel for his internal struggle as at first he is willing to use Penelope for a harmless little romantic affection to pass the time until he moves on but something keeps him staying there beyond his time for recuperation. He is used to charming less than virtuous women and this chased individual who is attracted to him, and he attracted to her, is a bit of a mystery. They are opposites with she as pious as he a sinner and with a spirit as strong as his own.
In my opinion it is a bit of a cliché in Wayne’s movies that he and the first woman he meets fall madly in love, but it is what it is. However here it is not a passionate romance from the start. She is a virtuous woman, and they keep her as such throughout the film though she is willing to bend or even break her own rules to keep her love safe from the law or perhaps even himself.
At first Penelope appears to be drawn to Quirt simply because he’s a dangerous individual. I guess it is true that every woman likes a bad boy, but she sees something more in him than just the bad boy. She finds a charming and thoughtful individual who eventually comes to reciprocate the same level of feeling that she has.
As Quirt begins to change, in what is perhaps his first genuinely selfless act in his life, he rides to a neighboring ranch that has been preventing water from flowing to the Worth Family ranch where he has been staying. A simple use of Quirt’s obviously intimidating reputation convinces the rancher (Paul Hurst) to not only allow water to flow but to come speak with his neighbors which in turn causes that rancher to see them as friends and neighbors that he can willing work with.
And what is a John Wayne movie without Bruce Cabot showing up? It is as much of a given as the sun rising. He was pretty good as the villainous Laredo Stevens. I think this here was one of his better performances in a Wayne film. Laredo came off as a genuinely bad individual and not just someone doing the bad thing because they were supposed to. He was a threat for Quirt and not just an obstacle.
Other than himself and Laredo, Quirt’s main nemesis in this film is old Indian fighter named Marshal Wistful McClintock (Harry Carey Sr.) who now patrols the territory. He suspects Quirt of being involved in some stuff, but he cannot quite prove it yet. Penelope’s obfuscation of the truth to protect Quirt does not go unnoticed by the marshal who as I said cannot quite prove anything he suspects. By the end of the film though McClintock realizes that Evans has changed and will no longer be a problem to anyone and that any past transgressions should be forgotten about.
Angel and the Badman is a quieter film and was something different in comparison to other Westerns of the time. There were no duals or Native American attacks featured here. While there was minimal gunplay, it was not about shootouts or bad guys but rather about personal change. The characters engaged in games of cat and mouse rather than throw punches or blurt things out.
One of the best examples of this is when Laredo and his men track Quirt down to Penelope’s family farm. Penelope and her family are Quakers from Pennsylvania (Go PA!). Being nonviolent they do not allow weapons in the house. As a bit of a compromise by Penelope’s father, Quirt’s weapon is unloaded-something he is ignorant of as Laredo approaches. When he does realize that his gun has no bullets it is too late to load it so he is forced to bluff his nemesis who has come for Quirt’s claim on some property. Quirt negotiates a $20,000 payment with $5,000 that Laredo brought along being viewed as a down payment. Laredo leaves but not before challenging Quirt to come for it if he has “the nerve.” The scene was threatening and tense and all done through fine acting and not physical action.
Angel and the Badman was also not only the first film produced by John Wayne but also the first one that he starred in. He and director James Edward Grant created an entertaining and character driven story. The dialogue is amazing and the cast just clicks perfectly.
Angel and the Badman is not an action film but rather a slow and steady drama about a man changing his ways and the woman that helps him to a better path. It has a good script and fine performances by all involved. This is definitely watch it for not only the Western fan but the movie fan too!
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