Lawman (1971) Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, Lee J. Cobb, Robert Duvall, Sheree North Movie Review

Lawman (1971)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Burt Lancaster in Lawman (1971)

A Flawed Lawman

When a group of drunken cowboys shoot up the town of Bannock they accidentally and unknowingly kill one of the locals. It is why renowned gunman and the sheriff of Bannock, Jered Maddox (Burt Lancaster) rides in to the town of Sabbath alone to arrest the gunmen despite knowing that even if he succeeds the corrupt judge back in Bannock is likely to let them off with a menial punishment. Despite this the men of Sabbath including Sheriff Cotton Ryan (Robert Ryan) and wealthy rancher Vincent Bronson (Lee J. Cobb) are not going to play ball with each of the men on his list prefering to try and kill Maddox rather than surrender.

By the 1970s the western genre was in decline, the days of recycling the same old stories had passed with audiences wanting more than just simplistic tales of heroics in the face of corrupt landmen and officials. "Lawman" is one of those 1970s westerns which attempted to bring more to the genre both stylistically and with a greater focus on the characters and their flaws. The thing is that whilst audiences might have appreciated this attempt to do something a little different back in the 70s when watched now it seems heavy handed in trying to focus on the flaws of the characters.

Robert Ryan in Lawman (1971)

So what do I mean? Well we have lawman Jered Maddox who despite knowing the judicial service is flawed will go ahead and uphold the law even if that means killing men to do so. We also have Laura Shelby who is utterly devoted to Maddox despite not being together and longs for him to seek sense when it comes to his job, yet for all her love for him it is not recipricated in the same way. Then there is Sheriff Ryan who knows he is a weak man just trying to live a quiet life. And I could go on because "Lawman" is full of familiar actors such as Lee J. Cobb, Richard Jordan, Ralph Waite and Robert Duvall all of which have significant even if they are not big parts to play. But as I said it feels as if at times it is trying too hard to build characters and as such at times the dialogue heavy nature of scenes gets too much.

That sense of trying too hard also extends to the stylistic flourishes which director Michael Winner employs. To put it simply you will get a scene where it starts off with this great look and a great camera angle which is rich in depth and detail. But then the camera will shift around smoothly on a track to give another angle and it will pan out or in and the end result is rarely a shot as good as the first one. Time and again a scene features great set ups shots but because the camera is trying to be fluid with it moving position it over does it.

What this all boils down to is that "Lawman" is still an entertaining and visually arresting movie which I am sure if you only watch the once you will be impressed with. But when watched more than once issues begin to appear with it all coming down to trying to force the differences in this movie so that the dialogue at times ends up feeling heavy handed whilst the constantly changing camera angles become annoying.