The Gunslinger Pays the Piper

Rory Calhoun on Dawn at Socorro (1954)

Gunfighter and professional gambler Brett Wade (Rory Calhoun) has survived many things in his life, always having to have eyes in the back of his head and a gun on his hip. But after a gun fight with the Ferris clan leaves him needing some doctoring Brett finds himself with something else deal with as he is diagnosed with tuberculosis. Deciding that he wants to live his final days in peace he leaves town for Colorado, stopping off in Socorro, New Mexico along the way. But whilst Brett is in town hoping to talk Rannah Hayes (Piper Laurie) from becoming a saloon girl he finds that his recent gun fighting troubles won't let him go quietly.

He's damaged goods and after a life of hard living wants to live a quiet life, retiring from living with a gun in his hand. She's damaged goods, dumped at a saloon by a man who calls her a jezebel. And then there are those who refuse to let the man go peacefully, forcing him to continue to live life by the gun when all he wants is the quiet life. I have lost track of the number of westerns I have watched which have used those three elements; wanting us to side with the shootist who wants out but will never be able to quit his tough guy ways. As such story wise "Dawn at Socorro" is ordinary just spinning the familiar elements together in an entertaining but typical way.

Piper Laurie in Dawn at Socorro (1954)

It is the same when it comes to the acting and characters as Rory Calhoun, Piper Laurie as well as others such Alex Nicol whilst all consistently entertaining are nothing out of the ordinary. It is a case that for western fans these characters, like the storyline, will make you think of other movies which have similar.

But what "Dawn at Socorro" has is a style which lifts what is ordinary into the realms of being a bit more interesting. The cinematography of Carl E. Guthrie not only does a nice job of capturing the expanse of the open range during travelling scenes but also the detail of a saloon which has seen plenty of action. And there is a tonal warmth to all the close ups, a glow and a softness which makes the characters more appealing than expected, although Rory Calhoun's Brett Wade must be the healthiest looking man with tuberculosis going. Plus for those who enjoy noir elements will enjoy the opening narration from a doctor who tells us what happened but in a newspaper hack sort of way.

What this all boils down to is that "Dawn at Socorro" is a good looking and entertaining western from the mid 50s. But it is also a western which tells a familiar storyline and as such for western fans offers up little in narrative which they won't have seen before.

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