The Era of Duryea
Almost everything about "Ride Clear of Diablo" screams out 1950s b-western, from Audie Murphy starring as a young man looking for revenge for the murder of his father and brother to a corrupt businessmen and sheriff in cahoots with some outlaws. You can even throw the fact that "Ride Clear of Diablo" sees Audie Murphy and Susan Cabot paired up again for the romantic subplot. But there is something which makes "Ride Clear of Diablo" that little bit more entertaining and that is Dan Duryea as Whitey Kincade because not only does Duryea deliver a scene stealing performance but the actual character is more interesting the norm. As such you watch "Ride Clear of Diablo" and it plays out like you would expect but with the scenes which feature Duryea standing out.
Railroad surveyor Clay O'Mara (Audie Murphy - Gunsmoke) receives news that his father and brother have been killed by cattle rustlers and so leaves Denver to return to San Diego seeking revenge. Having persuaded the Sheriff to make him a deputy Clay heads off to Diablo where to everyone's surprise manages to arrest notorious outlaw Whitey Kincade (Dan Duryea - Winchester '73) and in doing so finding himself with an unlikely ally as Whitey grows fond of the plucky Clay. It is Whitey who insinuates that those Clay may believe he can trust are the ones he must fear the most as time and again he evades being killed whilst also falling for Laurie Kenyon (Susan Cabot - The Duel at Silver Creek), the Sheriff's niece.
So from a storyline point of view "Ride Clear of Diablo" is not that special, it is probably impossible to count how many westerns have a storyline built around a son or brother looking for revenge and this is just another one. And much of what is in this 50s western is cliche, from corrupt businessmen and the law in cahoots with outlaws to a romantic love interest. So it is pretty predictable as slowly Clay discovers the truth till eventually we have the big action climax just before the cliche romantic happy ever after ending. As I said "Ride Clear of Diablo" is very typical and so to tell you any of this isn't a spoiler because it is obvious as soon as the set up in place.
What makes "Ride Clear of Diablo" more interesting springs from the character of Whitey Kincade as he takes a shine to young Clay. Again this isn't something new, there are a lot of westerns where the good guy and bad guy become friends but the comical way in which Whitey almost looks out for him, realising he is being used by the Sheriff with the expectation that someone will kill him is entertaining. And as such much of that entertainment comes from Dan Duryea who makes Whitey larger than life, a laughing maniac who takes some sort of pleasure from danger. From his first encounter with Carl in the Diablo saloon as Carl out draws him to when he holds back the Loweries before allowing them to give chase he enjoys playing a dangerous game.
It means what whilst Audie Murphy is the handsome young star of "Ride Clear of Diablo" he is continuously outshone by Duryea, which I don't think he minded because he looks like he enjoys the scenes he shares with Duryea. And in a way Duryea's scene stealing performance is a good thing because the rest of the performances and characters are distinctly average, the same as you can see in numerous other westerns.
What this all boils down to is that "Ride Clear of Diablo" is in many ways just another 1950s western where a son is looking for revenge for murder. But thanks to a scene stealing performance from Dan Duryea it ends up more entertaining and memorable than most 50s westerns.