Best of the Badmen (1951)
Just Some Average Badmen
"Best of the Badmen" is the sort of cliche western which as a western fan you watch for what it is but it leaves no lasting impression. Now what that means is that we have another western which whilst serving up characters with recognizable names messes about with facts to deliver an entertaining but unoriginal drama which delivers equally recognizable and unoriginal cliches.
Major Jeff Clanton (Robert Ryan - Born to Be Bad) finally tracks down the Quantrill Raiders and persuades them to surrender rather than die in a pointless gunfight. But having taken them back to the army barracks in Breckenridge things kick off as Matthew Fowler (Robert Preston - North West Mounted Police) of the Fowler Detective Agency wants him to hand over certain outlaw members so that he can claim the reward for them leading to Jeff killing one of the Fowler deputies. Arrested and sentenced for murder by a kangaroo court set up by Fowler Clanton manages to escape and join forces with the Quantrill gang who want to bring Matthew Fowler down. What the gang members don't know but Clanton does is that the pretty Lily (Claire Trevor - Farewell My Lovely) who sings at the saloon in Quinto where they stay is in fact Fowler's wife who wants to get away from her husband.
So as already mentioned "Best of the Badmen" is one of those westerns from an era where they dominated the big screen and where they would deliver a story around characters with recognizable names. As such we get introduced to such people as Jeff Clanton, the James brothers, the Younger brothers and Curley Ringo all well known western characters. But what we also get is a story which whilst might draw on the history books is certainly manufactured so that it is not factual.
As to the actual story well it isn't bad, we have outlaws who are the good guys and a detective agency which are the bad guys and in the middle Jeff Clanton determined to get revenge on Matthew Fowler for trying to have him killed. But whilst the basic idea is okay what in truth is delivered is little more than a familiar 50s western with familiar elements from romance to betrayal, comedy to gunfights. And sadly none of it really sets the world alight feeling very familiar to action and drama you could see in any number of westerns which whilst not bad makes it forgettable.
As for the acting well it is as familiar, ordinary and cliche as everything else about the movie with Robert Ryan delivering handsome and upright as Jeff Clanton whilst Claire Trevor is attractive as Lily. The closest it gets to being fresh is in the casting of Robert Preston as Matthew Fowler because he almost gives us some Dick Dastardly style evil but never quite pulls it off.
What this all boils down to is that "Best of the Badmen" is just another western from the 1950s, the sort which was churned out because young audiences enjoyed cowboys. There is nothing stand out about this movie but for western fans it is passable even if it is also forgettable.
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