SHOWDOWN (1963) has extensive location shooting around Lone Pine,California at the foot of the Sierras. Because it was shot inblack-and-white, however, ostensibly to save money, the picturesquelocations are not seen to their best advantage the way they are inMurphy's color westerns from that era (e.g. HELL BENT FOR LEATHER andSEVEN WAYS FROM SUNDOWN, both 1960). Color cinematography would havegiven us something interesting to look at during the laboredproceedings. It's a low-budget affair with a contrived script providedby "Bronson Howitzer," a curious pseudonym for Ric Hardman, a writer ofTV westerns. The plot is one of those routine potboilers about a groupof outlaws holding the hero and various people hostage in hopes of abig payoff. At too many points in the script, people engage inuncharacteristic behavior in order to keep the basic situation intact.Two innocent cowboys, Chris (Audie Murphy) and Bert (Charles Drake),are detained after a drunken saloon fight and chained to an outdoorpost alongside desperate outlaws in a town that doesn't have a jail.When the outlaws break free, the two friends inexplicably flee insteadof staying and trying to explain their situation. Bert (Charles Drake)even steals some banknotes, which he then uses to bargain for his andChris's life after the outlaws grab them. Each subsequent chain ofevents arises from the outlaw boss (Harold J. Stone) letting one friendor the other go off on his own on a mission involving the money, eventhough no self-respecting gang leader would place such trust in hishostages or let them go off on their own so easily. These outlaws areneither very tough nor very smart.<br><br>Things get more complicated when Bert's purported girl, a saloon singernamed Estelle, enters the picture. She has a couple of dramatic scenes,including an extended monologue, that must have made the actress(Kathleen Crowley) quite happy but tend to slow the movie down. Onlywhen Chris is on his own against the remaining gang members in ruggedterrain does the picture get interesting. Unfortunately, there are notenough of these scenes to save the movie. Murphy's very good in apatented role as a decent ordinary guy caught up in the machinations oflawbreakers, but he would have been better in color and with a morethought-out script. There's a sense here that the production was just abit on the hurried side.<br><br>Strother Martin plays a town drunk and L.Q. Jones plays a silent memberof the gang. Both are among the town's prisoners chained to the samepost early in the film. They're seen in shots together but don'tinteract. These two actors would make a memorable team six years lateras the squabbling "gutter trash" bounty hunters Coffer and T.C. in SamPeckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH.<br><br>According to "No Name on the Bullet: A Biography of Audie Murphy," byDon Graham, Murphy was quite upset when he learned that SHOWDOWN wasbeing filmed in black-and-white and almost stopped working. "I'm notgonna act," is how he put it. The producer eventually talked him intofinishing the movie, but Murphy vowed, "This is the last picture I'mgonna do in black and white." It was.<br><br>(Regarding the filming of Lone Pine locations cited in the firstparagraph, I should stress that those landscapes can look absolutelybreathtaking in black-and-white when captured by a mastercinematographer. Just look at classic movies like LIVES OF A BENGALLANCER (1935), CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (1936) and HIGH SIERRA(1941), to name three. But we're simply not going to see images likethat in the kind of rush job we get in SHOWDOWN.)
Chris Foster and Bert Pickett are two drifters who are passing through the border town of Adonde. There, a drunken Bert gets into a brawl at a card game and punches the town sheriff.Chris tries to help Bert get away but the sheriff arrests both men.The town doesn't have a jail and the sheriff usually chains the prisoners by the neck to a wooden post in the town square.Bert and Chris, wearing iron collars around their necks, are chained to the post. Also chained to the same post are the town drunk and the violent gang of famous wanted outlaw Lavalle. The outlaws have more to lose than Bert and Chris who only have to serve a few days chained to the post.Therefore, Lavalle and his men start digging around the post to free themselves.Unfortunatelly, they also force Bert and Chris to participate in the escape attempt.
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