Bad Day at Table Rock
"Tension at Table Rock" is quite an intriguing western because it combines a variety of western standards. The introduction gives us the gunman who wants to move on from his past and go straight, this leads into a bit of "Shane" style story as we have a young boy idolising this man. That carries on and we get an issue with a town where cowboys who arrive via the cattle drive strike terror into the population and the town's sheriff has struggled to control the town since something which happened in his past. You can add to that a romantic conflict as the wife of the sheriff finds herself drawn to the former gun fighter and as I said you have a lot of different western storylines going on. And to be honest it kind of works, director Charles Marquis Warren does a nice job of building each standard leading one into the other and because there are so many it certainly makes it feel like it wants to be more than just your run of the mill western. But having so much going on is also its downfall because it means each element is delivered in a similar manner to what had been done in other westerns and so never really serves up anything new.
After being arrested but also pardoned for the murder of his best friend, gun fighter Wes Tancred (Richard Egan - Love Me Tender) decides to turn his back on his past and try to go straight but is forced to not only travel miles away from any town where he is known but take on an alias. At an outpost he meets a father and son and once again finds himself drawn into trouble when 3 cowboys show up to try and rob the stagecoach. With the father killed in the gunfight Wes takes the young boy, Jody Burrows (Billy Chapin - A Man Called Peter), to Table Rock to live with his Uncle Sheriff Fred Miller (Cameron Mitchell) and his wife Lorna (Dorothy Malone - Young at Heart) but again finds himself drawn into trouble as the Sheriff has become weak since a bad encounter and with cowboys from a cattle drive heading to town is forced to stick around to help out.
To be honest the opening to "Tension at Table Rock" is a little messy as you are not entirely sure what is going on till we see Wes Tancred get arrested for shooting his friend Sam, an act of self defence but because of Sam's jealous wife is seen as murder. This sets up the issue that when Wes does get a pardon from the Governor, and I am still unsure why, he finds himself cursed for being known as the man who shot his best friend in the back, there is even a ballad which follows him about. But this does bring in the first western standard of Wes wanting to move on from the past, taking on an alias and trying to go as far away as possible from where he is best known.
So having established the former gunfighter wanting a fresh start we then get the next element, what is basically the "Shane" element as a young boy Jody idolises Wes, or at least who Wes tells him he is and this leads to him heading to the troubled town of Table Rock. And as already mentioned director Charles Marquis Warren does a very good job of leading us from one western standard to the next with us learning all about the Sheriff of the town who due to his past is now a nervous wreck. And of course this also sets up the sheriff's wife who falls for Wes and he for her with the Sheriff aware that feelings run strong between them.
But the trouble is that whilst Warren does a grand job of taking us from one story element to the next none of them end up being any more than what had been done before. It's a case that each element is effective but nothing more and whilst having so many different elements makes "Tension at Table Rock" feel more than just your run of the mill 50s western it is its downfall because none of them get the attention they deserve. As such when young Jody comes to idolise Wes we understand why but the emotional depth of this, the fatherly aspect as Wes grows fond of Jody doesn't really manifest itself.
But whilst there could be a call for less is more the acting through out "Tension at Table Rock" is on the money. Richard Egan as Wes gets across the element of a man who is tormented by his past and bitter at how people judge him due to a lie whilst young Billy Chapin gets across the enthusiastic idolisation of a young boy. Then there is Cameron Mitchell as Sheriff Fred Miller whose personal torment is visible through his constant nervousness whilst Dorothy Malone brings a wonderful romantic conflict as his wife Lorna, in love with her husband but wishes he was still the man she once knew a man like Wes. And to be honest these are just the main characters as all the supporting cast deliver top performances be it the deviousness of Edward Andrews as Kirk or Angie Dickinson who is basically the epitome of a betrayed and jealous woman as Cathy. Yes there are moments of over acting but there are very few 1950s westerns which doesn't have a bout of over theatrics.
What this all boils down to is that "Tension at Table Rock" is a far more interesting movie than I expected and it is down to the fact that it has so many different western standards combined into this one story. But whilst all these elements make it a much more interesting storyline and a well acted one it is a case that less is more as none of these story elements are dealt with in a different way to what we have seen in other westerns.