Hangman's Knot (1952)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Randolph Scott and Claude Jarman Jr. in Hangman's Knot

A Conflicting Western Conflict

The war maybe over but there is still conflict going on, that sort of sums up "Hangman's Knot" quite nicely because it ends up focussing on the conflict between groups of people. That has probably made it sound quite deep where in reality it isn't, it is in fact just another 1950s western starring Randolph Scott as a Confederate soldier and if I tell you one of his co-stars is the attractive Donna Reed you can assume there is something quite standard about this western drama. But whilst standard, because we have various conflicts going on it plays out quite nicely packing a lot in to just 81 minutes.

Oblivious to the fact the war has ended Major Matt Stewart (Randolph Scott - Sugarfoot) leads his men on an ambush of a Union wagon to steal their gold, but is left with a dilemma when he discovers that the war has ended. Deciding that there best choice is to take the gold and hand it over to the South Stewart and his men find themselves being hounded down by a group of men masquerading as deputies. After being chased across country and having taken control of a stagecoach, Stewart, his men and their hostages end up being pinned down in a Station out post with little option but to bide their time until they can work out a way of getting out of there, hopefully alive.

Lee Marvin and Randolph Scott in Hangman's Knot

"Hangman's Knot" basically comes in 3 parts with the opening being quite eye catching as we watch Maj. Matt Stewart lead an ambush on a Union wagon containing gold, oblivious to the fact that the war is over. It is a good series of opening action scenes which build as we have horse chases till eventually Maj. Stewart, his men and some hostages from a stage coach are pinned down in a Station outpost by the men masquerading as deputies who are really just after the gold. And of course with Stewart and his men pinned down at some point we will have a guns a blazing attempt to escape. In reality it is not the most original of stories because the whole element of a group of people pinned down and having to bide their time has been done many times.

The thing which makes "Hangman's Knot" more interesting is the various conflicts which are going on. In Stewart's group he continually finds himself locking horns with Rolph Bainter who is trigger happy and Stewart often has to step in before he ruthlessly kills someone. We also have the conflict between Stewart and the people he takes hostage as whilst he tries to explain that when they stole the gold they thought the war was still going on some of them think he is lying. There is also conflict going on between the men masquerading as deputies as they all have different view points on how to get Stewart and his men and more importantly the gold leading to trust issues. But we also get the softening of conflicts because whilst stagecoach passenger Molly initially detests Stewart and his men for what they are begins to believe him and warm to him. Yes that is a cliche subplot which means Randolph Scott ends up with an attractive young woman but hey ho it's what you got in so may of Scott's westerns.

All this conflict and the action which regularly crops up makes "Hangman's Knot" a little bit better than just your average 50s western. And as such you do find yourself wondering who will manage to survive being pinned down by the deputies especially when tempers flare between Stewart's men.

But then whilst we do have this interesting conflict element going on the majority of the performances are rather ordinary. Donna Reed is simply lovely as Molly whilst Claude Jarman Jr. is a bit innocent as the young Jamie who has never killed a man before and of course we have Randolph Scott as Maj. Stewart a good guy despite the initial gold robbery. The one stand out performance comes from Lee Marvin as the trigger happy Rolph and that is purely down to his character being the most dangerous, always ready to have a go and do some evil.

What this all boils down to is that "Hangman's Knot" is a standard 50s western starring Randolph Scott but one which is entertaining because it is full of conflicts and some surprisingly good action scenes. It won't leave you with any lasting memory but with lee Marvin stealing many a scene it does feel a little better than so many of Scott's westerns.


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