- Directed by William A. Wellman
- December 24, 1948 (US)
- Loosely adapted from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest
A group of outlaws on the run following a bank heist stumble across a young woman and her grandfather living in a ghost town.
Gregory Peck in a Western? You here that voice and you think cultured an intellectual and from my perspective he is a tough sell in a Western yet like many stars of the day he was in many Westerns and as was usual for Peck he killed it in this particular role. He was truly one of the greats of old Hollywood.
“Stretch” Dawson (Gregory Peck) and his gang of outlaws having just robbed a bank find themselves in an abandoned town whose population consists of the young and attractive Constance Mae or “Mike” (Anne Baxter) and her grandfather (James Barton). Why they are there all alone and how they managed to survive given that they are in the center of generally hostile Apache territory is the first of many mysteries and begins a game of cat and mouse between the two sides.
While there is some gun play, the story of Yellow Sky is very much about the characters trying to outsmart each other after the outlaws learn the duo has a nice stash of gold as well as surviving the issues greed can bring. There is a tension throughout this movie. Grandpa and Constance Mae are worried about surviving at the hands of this dangerous band of outlaws. Interestingly they are continually outwitted by the smooth-talking grandfather. This movie is carried by the characters and dialogue.
Greed is not the only thing making the situation dangerous. To make matters worse-and this is set up fairly early in the film-these outlaws have clearly not seen a woman in a very long time and so when they come across the beautiful Constance Mae their lust mixes with their greed and makes matters much more dangerous.
One could assume that Stretch is the villain, but he is not. The somewhat dapper Dude (Richard Widmark) gets that honor. He undermines Stretch’s leadership as well as the deals Stretch makes with Grandpa in order to keep the peace, get gold, and everybody end up okay. In the end Dude’s goal is to leave with all the gold. Widmark makes Dude cold and almost reptilian as he works at his own goals and chips away at Stretch and the unity he once had in the gang.
Yellow Sky as a whole could pass as a revisionist Western though this pre-dates the official start of that Western sub-genre in 1968 by twenty years. Nobody here is that much of a saint with Stretch and Constance Mae being the closest to pure as the driven snow individuals as we can find in this story. No character is ridiculously evil or ridiculously pure. Some of the characters are tinged with casual bigotry but none of it is done in a way that would make someone cringe today.
From direction to script, this is a great film from start to finish. It’s not an actioner but it’s such a meaty story that it keeps you hooked from the beginning with absolutely no dead spots. You are held there with story and performances from a great cast that includes Harry Morgan as the outlaw Half Pint. Yes they all use nicknames in this movie.
Plot elements are sprinkled out during the course in the film and it all builds to an inevitable conclusion. My only gripe-and this is a minor one-is Stretch returning the cash to the bank which had been robbed at the start of the movie. I could certainly see him saving the girl and all the other stuff he did, but it seemed like a bit of a stretch (pardon that) to ride all the distance through dangerous territory to just return some stolen money.
Yellow Sky is a fantastic old Western. It’s not of the myth making variety but it is a solid story filled with drama that will keep you watching. Not only is this available in various forms on YouTube but you can easily purchase it as well. However you watch it I strongly recommend you do! This is a must-see for fans of Westerns and just good movies.