Milland Goes it Alone
Ray Milland started his movie career back in 1929 but it wasn't until 1955 that he tried his hand behind the camera making his directing debut with western "A Man Alone". Now "A Man Alone" is not a bad western but it does have the feel about it of a director experimenting and trying to be different which is part of the reason why it ends up at times painfully slow. Take the first 30 minutes which focuses on Milland's character Wes Steele as he doesn't speak at all, it's certainly unusual for a western and maybe Milland thought he could get across more without dialogue but it doesn't really work. As such "A Man Alone" is entertaining to watch, in amongst what appears to be experimentation there is enough western cliches and western stalwarts such as Ward Bond to satisfy a western fan but you constantly feel that despite an admirable directional debut it could have ended up better in more experienced hands.
Having become stranded in the desert when his horse is injured notorious gunfighter Wes Steele (Ray Milland - The Thief) comes across a stagecoach which has been robbed and its passengers murdered. Tidying up the mess he finds, he takes one horse and releases the others and heads to the town of Mesa. But he finds himself immediately accused of the massacre as well as the shooting of a local businessman and ends up forced to hide in the basement of a house as a lynch mob go looking for him. Unbeknown to him the house belongs to the Sheriff Gil Corrigan (Ward Bond - Johnny Guitar) and his daughter Nadine (Mary Murphy) and luckily for him it is quarantined due to the sheriff being struck down with yellow fever.
So as already mentioned for the first 30 minutes of "A Man Alone" we are treated to Ray Milland showing off his skills gained early on in his career in silent movies and whilst it works and we understand what is happening it does feel a little experimental. It's not as if the other characters we meet are being silent, after we watch Wes Steele come across the robbed stagecoach and head into town we have all the other characters speaking just not Wes. And that causes the first major issue when he finds himself drawing on the town's deputy sheriff, a scene which just feels wrong because Wes doesn't speak, plead innocence or try and stop him peacefully, it's not like he could know he was going to have trouble when he reached the town.
These elements of being slightly experimental continue throughout "A Man Alone" and sadly at times it does spoil the flow of what is a reasonable western. I say reasonable western because despite a few plot holes the storyline is interesting, surprisingly well thought out as Wes finds himself unwittingly hiding in the Sheriff's house which is quarantined because of yellow fever. Elements such as this and the tangled web of lies which go on in the town, with several prominent towns' folk being in the pocket of Stanley, the bank manager makes it far more interesting and thriller like.
Yes it is possible to pick holes in this story and at times it feels like acting as director Milland misses out chunks of narrative in order to keep things moving forcing us to accept certain facts. But it works, it entertains and in typical western fashion we not only get a couple of gun fights and a fist fight but also a touch of romance as Wes and the Sheriff's daughter end up falling for each other. It maybe very cliche but this romance adds another layer of intrigue because we have the sick Sheriff having been very protective of his daughter suddenly having to face the fact that she is no longer his little girl.
Because "A Man Alone" was Ray Milland's first shot at directing there is a serious sense that he was on autopilot when it came to the acting, going though the motions to give us Wes Steele a notorious gunfighter who wants to put that all behind him and start afresh. It's not the most multi dimensional of characters and I just feel that maybe his head was focussing more on directing rather than making his main character real. Having said that and whilst I find it a little experimental it is impressive the sort of emotion which Milland could portray without saying a word during those first 30 minutes.
Aside from Milland well there are solid performances from the rest of the cast with both Ward Bond and Raymond Burr delivering cliche but believable characters in the shape of the Sheriff and the Bank Manager. Plus of course there is the lovely Mary Murphy who plays the sheriff's daughter Nadine, a character which could have been plucked out of any number of westerns, there to provide some beauty and the ubiquitous romantic subplot.
What this all boils down to is that "A Man Alone" is an average but also entertaining western which whilst feeling a little experimental in places as Ray Milland turned his hand to directing still works. It serves up pretty much everything you expect from this sort of western; crooked businessman, nice guy gunfighter, a beautiful blonde to give us a love story plus of course some gun fighting and brawling. But its strength is that whilst you know there will most likely be a happy ever after ending you are never entirely sure who will end up biting the bullet when everything is brought out into the open.