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The Bounty Hunter (1954)

 
 

The Other Bounty Hunter

Randolph Scott as Jim Kipp in The Bounty Hunter (1954)

You have to give Randolph Scott a lot of credit because he starred in a lot of what can only be called stereotypical, low budget 50s westerns, the sort that you can guess what will happen before the movie even starts. Yet Scott always managed to make them entertaining despite the low budget, simple storyline and often the hack job in the editing room. "The Bounty Hunter" is one of these movies I am talking about as whilst we get a storyline about feared bounty hunter Jim Kipp going after 3 violent train robbers it basically works to a formula of Randolph Scott being the handsome hero who gets the baddies and also the girl. There is a certain amount of intrigue as to the identity of the trio of villains because it is unknown but being a western b-movie it doesn't deliver the tight storyline to explain, instead we have cliche scenes, a bit of mystery and out of nowhere are hero Kipp works it all out. In fact if you watch "The Bounty Hunter" expecting something clever and brilliant you could easily end up laughing but accept it's a western b-movie and it becomes entertaining.

Legendary bounty hunter Jim Kipp (Randolph Scott - The Man Behind the Gun) is approached by the Pinkerton detective agency to go after 3 violent criminals who a year earlier robbed a train, killed the train drivers and then evaded capture. The trouble is that their identities are unknown and all Kipp has to on is the direction they headed in and the fact they have not spent any of the money they stole. Following the trail Kipp arrives in a rough town full of criminals where he tries to lure out the trio of train robbers by digging around in people's lives.

Randolph Scott and Dolores Dorn in The Bounty Hunter (1954)

There is a formula to "The Bounty Hunter" as we are introduced to Jim Kipp as he shoots and kills a man he is after, we immediately realise that he is ruthless, a good gunman, one who has his own moral laws but most interestingly we learn that he enjoys his job something which is explained later on when he meets the a pretty woman called Julie. It immediately sets up the cliche situation of Kipp being the hero despite having killed. What follows on from there is actually an interesting situation as Kipp is hired to track down and bring in 3 violent train robbers either dead or alive except their identities are unknown; he has just the slimmest of details to go on. It's a clever idea because it means rather than Kipp going guns a blazing after 3 desperados he has to out smart them and draw them out and when he rocks up into a town with a fair few desperados who recognize him as the feared bounty hunter it's not that straight forwards.

The trouble is that whilst a clever and frankly enjoyable idea it's never used to its full potential. We get the scenario that various people could be one of the robbers; it could be Bill Rachin the hotel owner who walks with a limp or maybe the suspicious young man who is on edge when Kipp walks in the saloon. We get all of these if you like red herrings and expect Kipp to some how draw the real robbers out whilst watching his back in a town where many despise him. Except we don't really get that, we do get a bit of cleverness but its a case where everything falls into place relatively quickly for Kipp as the robbers eventually panic. And of course at the same time being a western b-movie there is a touch of romance as Julie the daughter of the town's Doctor falls for the handsome and much older Kipp.

What this really all means is that "The Bounty Hunter" is very much a series of the expected from the romance through to the action and sadly the action feels wrong because of a hatchet job in the editing room. For the most the brutality of the gun fights is missing because you rarely see anything, especially early on and to be honest all the action is done in very short bursts. It sadly feels cheap even a little cheesy and is one of the reasons why if you watch "The Bounty Hunter" looking for some series western action you will end up laughing.

As for the acting well to be honest Randolph Scott plays a variation on the character he played in so many westerns. So as Jim Kipp he is tall, charming, handsome, dangerous but also at the same time a gentleman and it sort of works because by being so he makes Kipp respectable, more than just a paid killer. What doesn't so much work is that the majority of the cast end up being forgettable with maybe the exception of Ernest Borgnine who does a reasonable job of fleshing out his 2 dimensional character. And you have to say that whilst Dolores Dorn is beautiful as love interest Julie Spencer the fact that Scott was 36 years older makes it feel very wrong.

What this all boils down to is that "The Bounty Hunter" is one of those very safe, formulaic 50s westerns which delivers everything you expect but nothing more. In a way it's a shame as the storyline of a bounty hunter going after 3 unknown train robbers and having to draw them out is a good idea except it's never really worked and instead we get the cliche western with Randolph Scott playing the handsome hero who gets the baddies and the girl.

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