- Directed by James Edward Grant
- February 15, 1947 (United States)
A dangerous outlaw encounters a Quaker family with a beautiful young daughter whose love begins to change him.
Angel and the Badman is a classic Western starring the legendary Western icon John Wayne. This is one of those movies that gets better with each viewing. The first time around you enjoy the good story but the second you start noticing more bits and pieces of the film. It is a movie with a great deal packed in it.
Wayne stars as Quirt Evans (where do they get these names from?) who is taken in by a Pennsylvania Quaker family living in the American West. Quirt is a dangerous man with a strong code by which he lives. Wayne had the potential to do good acting. I have said that plenty of times. And as I have also said many times directors allowed his star power to carry the film to profitability. Not enough of them forced him to use his talent.
Here The Duke is great as Quirt Evans-a less than virtuous individual whose total crimes probably outweigh those that he is just suspected of. During the film Quirt 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.
Quirt is nursed back to health by the Worth family-specifically their daughter Penelope (Gail Russell)-who quickly falls for him, but Quirt is a love ‘em and leave ‘em type and he’s most assuredly intent upon leaving once he gets a little lovin’ here. Something though keeps drawing him back to Penelope.
Quirt is willing to use Penelope for a harmless little romantic affection to pass the time until he moves on but something keeps him staying at the homestead beyond his time of 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 is a sinner and with a spirit as strong as his own.
Angel and the Badman is about the power of love and faith and how it can change a person. Penelope’s unwavering love and the trust that comes along with it of this stranger that she meets, it is something he has never experienced and it moves him. And the faith aspect touches Quirt as well. The message of non-violence that this family conveys is the antithesis of his lifestyle but as he sees the peace that it has brought them he begins to realize the way he has been living might not be best.
In the context of the film, one could view Quirt as an odd answer to some of the Worth Family prayers. Most notably their issue with the neighbor who is preventing the water from coming to the family farm. Quirt rides to a neighboring ranch that has been preventing water from flowing to the Worth homestead where he has been staying. Mr. Carson (Paul Hurst) is aware of who Quirt is. Quirt uses his intimidating reputation to convince Carson to not only allow water to flow but to come speak with his neighbors which in turn causes Carson to see them as friends and neighbors that he can willing work with.
And what’s a John Wayne movie without some of his friends in it? It is as much of a given as the sun rising. The standard appearance of Bruce Cabot cannot be overlooked as he plays Laredo Stevens who is Quirt’s main nemesis in this film.
There is only one real villainous role of Cabot’s that I liked and that was as the main bad guy in The War Wagon. He’s not bad as Laredo Stevens but as of this viewing there might’ve been a half dozen other actors I would’ve cast before choosing him. I do give him props though in his first moments on screen with Wayne. The banter between the two is excellent. They play well off of each other in that moment and a lot is implied but not necessarily said. Whatever beef is between them gets set up so that only one of them will come out alive.
In the scene Laredo and his men track Quirt down to Penelope’s family farm. Being nonviolent they do not allow weapons in the house. As a bit of a compromise by Penelope’s father (John Halloran), Quirt’s weapon is unloaded-something Quirt is ignorant of as Laredo approaches and enters the home. When he does realize that his weapon is useless it is too late to load the gun so Quirt 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 called 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.
We also have Harry Carey Sr. as Marshal Wistful McClintock (seriously who comes up with these names?). Marshal McClintock is an old Indian fighter who is keeping a watchful eye on the dangerous Quirt. I’m left with a feeling he doesn’t necessarily want to do harm to Quirt but he believes firmly if Quirt keeps on his path that he’s going to have to hang him. By the end of the film McClintock realizes that Evans has changed and will no longer be a problem to anyone and that any past transgressions should be forgotten about.
Through the course of Angel and the Badman there are moments when you can see that Evans is changing but he is also fighting strongly against that change and the reality of changing upsets him. He takes up with some showgirls/prostitutes. This was done in ‘47 so you could not out and out say ‘hookers’ on the big screen but it’s seems like that’s what they were essentially. Whatever they are supposed to be Quirt realizes he would rather be with the virtuous Quaker girl than with these women who would give it up to him with very little effort. There’s a future with her but not one with them.
Visually things are communicated to the audience. At the end of the film after Quirt has come back to the farm from carousing with the women he’s wearing a black hat but in the following scene he is wearing a white hat while standing behind the plow. It is a little nice symbolism showing that he is gone from bad to good. Then once Penelope is hurt the hat goes back to black indicating he’s gone dark again. He is filled with anger at Laredo for what he did.
My major complaint about this film is the music. It’s got that melodramatic movie serial music to it and I am just I’m not a fan of it in this instance. It’s a minor flaw in comparison to a great story with great characters and great performances. Jane Russell turns in a fine performance and Wayne is in pretty good form here.
Angel and the Badman is a classic Western. It’s not heavy on the action but definitely heavy on story and acting. Wayne does fantastic in his first main starring role. I highly recommend this one!