Scott gets Lawless with Lansbury
Having been Marshal for many years across many towns Calem Ware (Randolph Scott) is tired of having to deal with trouble on a daily basis and whilst his current position in Medicine Bend seems to be reasonably calm death still comes knocking most days as gun fighters arrive to try and kill him. Calem discovers that the arrival of the latest killers is not by accident as someone wants him dead. To make matters worse his estranged wife Tally Dickenson (Angela Lansbury) arrives in town and it stirs up old feelings as she left him because she couldn't cope watching him kill others in the name of peace.
"A Lawless Street" is another 1950s western and another movie which if all you are looking for is to watch some 50s western action will do the job. It has Randolph Scott delivering the same sort of upstanding character he played in many of his westerns, it has corrupt business men, hired guns plus a romantic angle all of which combine as it builds to an action fuelled climax. But whilst "A Lawless Street" works as simple western entertainment it also features moments of depth, subtle character developments, captivating camera angles which make you sit up and pay attention and if that doesn't then seeing Angela Lansbury as a western showgirl certainly will.
So as simple western entertainment "A Lawless Street" works as well as any other 1950s western and has all the expected ingredients. We have a couple of businessmen who see Marshal Calem Ware as the barrier to them turning the town into a gold mine and so are willing to do what ever it takes to get what they want which includes hiring killers to try and kill him. Throw in the fact that Calem after years of being Marshal across the territory is growing tired of it all; tired of having to deal with trouble and face death on a daily basis. Plus add in a romantic element which sees his one true love, his estranged wife Tally show up in town and you have on the surface a routine western which works through various set pieces till it gets to a final shootout.
And there is nothing wrong with that as "A Lawless Street" is solid enough but it does have some interesting elements which help to lift it from being just average. Director Joseph H. Lewis keeps things moving, throwing a split second of action at you when you're not expecting it and employing some unconventional camera angles or at least ones which are not the norm for a 1950s western. There is also the under explored cleverness of the storyline which sees businessman Hamer Thorne bring showgirl Tally Dickenson to town with an idea of marrying her unaware that she is in fact married to Calem but estranged due to the violent nature of his job. And then there is Calem himself a man who to everyone seems solid, happy and relaxed, he jokes with his landlady each morning and walks proudly to the jail, but then behind those close doors he is worn out, forced to seek solace in a cell right at the back where he can relax. It is these little things which help make "A Lawless Street" that little bit more interesting than many a 1950s western, especially for those who watch a lot of westerns.
Now ironically having mentioned that Calem is a man who hides his real feelings from everyone you have Randolph Scott delivering a very typical Randolph Scott performance. He is the morally upright man, the quick draw who is not afraid to fight even when the odds are stacked against him. But in a way that makes it even more interesting because in those moments of solitude when the real Calem is allowed to come out we get a different Randolph Scott, an almost vulnerable tired old man giving us the contrast needed.
And to be honest "A Lawless Street" is typically all about Randolph Scott as Calem and so whilst we have Warner Anderson, Wallace Ford and John Emery delivering solid performances they don't steal a single scene from Scott. The exception to that is Angela Lansbury as Tally Dickenson because it is Tally who struggles with Calem's life and we can feel that she loves him but can't deal with watching him shoot or brawl in order to keep the peace.
What this all boils down to is that "A Lawless Street" is a typical 1950s Randolph Scott western and as such is solidly entertaining as just a western. But it is slightly better than average because there are moments of depth, characters with extra layers and some different camera angles to stop it feeling like a carbon copy of countless other 1950s westerns.