The Badlanders (1958)
The Asphalt Badlands
You know, there's not a rich man that doesn't want to be richer - Dutchman
To my shame I have never watched John Huston's "The Asphalt Jungle" so although I know that "The Badlanders" is a western remake I can't say how much of a remake it is or which one is better. Although having watched "The Badlanders" I can only imagine that "The Asphalt Jungle" has to be the superior as at its best "The Badlanders" is I'm afraid a solid but average western. It almost at times feels tired, working its way though a storyline yet struggling to find the heart and emotion of it and it's only the performances from Alan Ladd, Ernest Borgnine and the beautiful Katy Jurado which gives it any life.
Following their release from Yuma prison Dutchman (Alan Ladd - The Black Knight) and John McBain (Ernest Borgnine - The Vikings) go their separate ways. Dutchman heads for the town of Prescott where as a mining engineer he was framed and sent to jail. There he decides to extract revenge by swindling the land and mine owners by stealing and selling them back their own gold. When McBain also shows up looking for work he convinces him to help out as the land once belonged to him before he was cheated out of it. With dynamite man Vincente (Nehemiah Persoff) they set about staging the robbery of an abandoned mine but will they be double crossed again?
At it's heart "The Badlanders" is a revenge movie, a western about exacting justice in one form or another, the difference between this and so many is that the justice is not murder but robbing a gold mine and swindling the owners. It starts as we meet two convicts Dutchman and McBain as they are about to be released from Yuma, there's no friendship between them in fact the animosity between them is tangible but it doesn't take much to work out that they will end up working together especially after about 20 minutes when we are told about the back story of both men through a less than subtle narrative.
What basically follows is not that exciting, Dutchman, an engineer who knows his way around the mines talks McBain into helping him rob an abandoned mine of its gold all in an act of revenge. The trouble is that it is not exciting, the danger of Dutchman, McBain and a Mexican explosives man setting up an explosion in a rickety old mine shaft lacks the tension, the edge of the seat danger or the whiff of adrenalin which it screams out for and of course "The Badlanders" wouldn't be a western if it didn't deliver a big final shoot out which is just as lacking in excitement.
The main storyline doesn't bode well and to be honest the added romantic sub plots add little to the movie, although there is a tenderness and sweetness to the romance between McBain and the beautiful Mexican Anita. In fact it's this romance which turns McBain into more than just a flat character, showing various shades to his character from sweet and kind through to angry and violent.
What though saves "The Badlanders" from being completely dull and unmemorable is the trio of Alan Ladd, Ernest Borgnine and Katy Jurado. Alan Ladd who was edging towards the tail end of his career shows a calmness and confidence in his performance making the character of Dutchman easy to watch, although at the same time it feels like Ladd is coasting through some of the more dynamic scenes. And Ernest Borgnine is as solid as ever playing the muscle, McBain, but the added romantic storyline allows the character to be more interesting and as such Borgnine shows a decent acting range in a rather limited movie. Plus of course there is the stunningly beautiful Katy Jurado who may over act at times but just has to flutter those eyes to win you over.
What this all boils down to is that "The Badlanders" is a solid, mildly entertaining but overall average western. It suffers because those moments of danger and drama are just not exciting and good performances from Alan Ladd, Ernest Borgnine and Katy Jurado can't make the storyline any better.
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