Fleeing Fred Faces the Facts
"Face of a Fugitive" is a surprising western and it's not just because is stars Fred MacMurray who whilst he made a few westerns is best known for his Disney movies. Nope this western despite being little known is better than average, it has a well thought out storyline, a surprisingly exciting shoot out, plenty of drama as well as a cliche touch of romance. And in all honest whilst you know how things will inevitably turn out the journey to that outcome and some clever moments lifts things into not only being enjoyable but also a western which deserves to be better known.
Forced to go on the run when the Deputy Sheriff escorting him to jail is shot, Jim Larsen (Fred MacMurray) uses the alias Ray Kincaid and heads to a town where he hopes he can start again. But unfortunately for him the town's Sheriff has been alerted to his escape and along with his deputies are on the hunt, except they don't know what Jim looks like giving him some breathing space till the wanted posters arrive. But Jim's life becomes complicated when he falls for widow Ellen (Dorothy Green) who just happens to be the sister of Sheriff Mark (Lin McCarthy) and with Mark in over his head with a lawless businessman and his heavies Jim is going to have to decide whether he tries to make a run for it before they discover who he really is or help Mark in a fight which he has no chance of winning on his own.
Now on one hand "Face of a Fugitive" does feel like a cliche bit of western tosh as we are introduced to Jim Larsen who is being taken by railroad to face trial. The fact he is a bad guy is quickly forgotten as it's not him who kills the deputy escorting him and we soon realise he has a soft side, chatting to a young girl he meets on a train. He may have ulterior motives for getting info from the chatty Alice Bailey but there is almost a fatherly kindness as he travels with her. It means that Jim who then calls himself Ray Kincaid becomes the good guy on the run for a murder he didn't commit and as we learn quite a decent chap.
The western cliches continue when they reach a town where both Alice and Ray get off, we quickly get the first murmurings of a romantic cliche and we also discover that a local businessman is making trouble with no respect for the law. But in a way it's how it connects everything which helps make "Face of a Fugitive" a bit special; young Alice's mother is Ellen who takes a liking to Ray and he to her and she just happens to be the sister of the town sheriff Mark who not only has to deal with this lawless businessman but also on the hunt for the murderer of the deputy sheriff except he doesn't know what he looks like yet. And that is an important part as Mark is waiting for the wanted posters to arrive on the train, sometime over the next few days, allowing Ray to be able to walk around with out a problem but with the knowledge he has only so much time to leave before his true identity is known. But this leads to the issue of Mark blocking anyone from leaving the town with deputies posted on all the exits making Ray's life in harder, does he shoot his way out killing two innocent deputies or does he find another way.
But "Face of a Fugitive" is more than that because having grown fond of Emma, Ray also grows to like Mark who we learn was pressured into becoming the Sheriff. And so when trouble really kicks off between Mark and the local businessman Ray has to decide whether he should help or making his leave, having offered his services as a Deputy and finding himself manning an exit all on his own. The outcome of which is inevitable but because the story builds from that first point where Jim is innocent in the murder of a Deputy to whether he stays or goes is quite entertaining. You can pick holes in it but it draws you in to Ray's dilemma and his feelings for both Emma and Mark.
Now whilst all of this is going on "Face of a Fugitive" is sparse on action, there is the drama of Jim's escape with the unwanted aid of his brother Dan but after that it seems lacking. That is until the big final climax which sees the drama and action shift to a nearby ghost town with buildings which are not only rotting but are also dark. And that is another important point as whilst there is plenty of gun fire going on you also have a twist that the dark makes it hard to see who is being shot at.
Now in a way the actual characters are western cliches as well, we have the pretty woman who Ray falls for, the Sheriff who is an upright man but in way over his head as well as the troublesome local business man and his gang of heavies plus of course are tall, dark and handsome hero who says little but is brilliant with a gun. But whilst cliches they work with the likes of Dorothy Green, Lin McCarthy, Alan Baxter and James Coburn putting in entertaining performances especially Green who has a touch of the Maureen O'Hara about her.
Of course it is Fred MacMurray at the centre of all this and he delivers this quiet character who seems always to be thinking of his next move. It's a good performance because not only do we warm to Ray we are interested by him, will he be good with a gun when the time comes, will he even stay or go and how will he handle falling for Ellen. Because of this atmosphere of not being entirely sure of what he will do he draws us in to everything he does.
What this all boils down to is that "Face of a Fugitive" is a pleasant surprise and for such a little known western it is much better than I expected. The way it draws us in to the story and builds it to its inevitable outcome is pretty decent and although it is short on the ground when it comes to action those few scenes are pretty decent. The sad irony of it is that whilst a pleasant surprise and a lot better than you probably expect with Fred MacMurray delivering a very good performance it is sadly not that memorable.