With "Thunder Over the Plains" being a Randolph Scott western I had certain expectations and to be honest they weren't exactly high as Scott over the years starred in a fair few ordinary oaters. So I am pleasantly surprised to say that "Thunder Over the Plains" is more than just another 1950's western thanks to director André De Toth who takes a semi typical western storyline and fills it with atmosphere. At times it is intense whilst others beautiful but it brings to life not only the story but the performances of the actors with Scott delivering for me one of his best performances.
The year is 1869 and Texas is not part of the Union with Carpet Baggers running riot and local rebels doing their best to rob them whilst eluding the Federal Army. Proud Texan Captain David Porter (Randolph Scott - The Man Behind the Gun) finds himself having to go against his own people and protect those who are capitalizing on other's misfortune whilst also going after rebel gang leader Ben Westman (Charles McGraw). When a man who informed on the Westman gang is murdered Porter doesn't believe it was Westman but is ordered to capture him leading to events which make Porter a wanted man too.
"Thunder Over the Plains" only lasts 82 minutes but you can divide those minutes into 3 storylines. There is the story of David Porter who being born a Texan finds himself in conflict over protecting those who are swindling his kin. Then there is the story of Ben Westman and being set up for the murder of a man, a crime he didn't commit which leads to Porter trying to prove him innocence. And then there is further complications involving the newly arrived Captain Bill Hodges who flirts with Porter's young wife Norah who is struggling with their life where she is not liked. These storylines interweave in such a way that you are not spoon-fed the storyline but have to pay attention and watch it evolve; not that it is complicated to follow but certainly requires you to watch to work out where things are going.
But that is not the only thing which makes "Thunder Over the Plains" stand out because unlike many a Randolph Scott western this is quite an intense movie. There is none of that usual lightness and humour, in fact Scott has such an intense look on his face for much of the movie you sometimes wonder if it is the same actor who smiled his way though so many other westerns. That intensity comes from great camera work combined with surprisingly the absence of score as numerous close up shots of actors have an unsettling silence to them making it all incredibly edgy. Having said that there is a score often used in general shots and is that general sort of western melodic background music which fills up so many westerns.
Now as already mentioned Randolph Scott delivers a surprisingly intense performance and whilst there are some cliche elements to his character he rarely lets the intensity of his performance drop. But then in truth all the performances in "Thunder Over the Plains" is of a high standard with Phyllis Kirk bringing emotion to her role as Norah Porter as she struggles living with the hatred of the locals. And then there is Lex Barker as Captain Bill Hodges who seems to enjoy playing the evil young Captain who relishes killing and a general dislike of Porter's authority as well as having an eye for his wife.
What this all boils down to is that "Thunder Over the Plains" is a Randolph Scott western but not an ordinary one by any means. It is a surprisingly intense western with director André De Toth making what is a routine sort of drama far more interesting.