Murphy's Guilty by Association
Having served time inside Bill Doolin (Audie Murphy), aka The Cimarron Kid, is going straight except whilst travelling on the train to Oklahoma it is held up by the Dalton gang who he once rode with and when they identify him Bill finds himself forced to rejoin as he accused of being in on the robbery. But whilst Bob Dalton (Noah Beery Jr.) and many of the gang including Bitter Creek Dalton (James Best) welcome Bill back not all are so happy, especially Red Buck (Hugh O'Brian) who dislikes the fact that Bill is so popular. But whilst Bill has to deal with Buck's jealousy he also has to deal with betrayal as they are lead into a trap forcing him to go on the run with his dream of starting a new life in Argentina with Carrie Roberts (Beverly Tyler) becoming a long shot.
"The Cimarron Kid" is only 84 minutes long but in those 84 minutes this little western, one of Audie Murphy's early movies, packs a heck a lot in. Now none of it is that original from former bad guys trying to go straight but forced to turn outlaw again to betrayal, romance and rivalry but very few westerns from the 1950s packs so much in and do such a good job of making it work. It works partly down to Audie Murphy making a fine lead actor but also because director Budd Boetticher makes it all flow taking us from one western movie cliche to the next without it feeling just a series of elements. And when it comes to the ending of "The Cimarron Kid" there is an entertaining but realistic twist, something you don't usually see in westerns from this era.
Now if you were to dissect "The Cimarron Kid" you would come up with a list of western clichés starting with the former outlaw forced to turn outlaw again because he is guilty by association. You then can add to this list the crooked railroad workers, jealousy, betrayal as well as romance as the number of cliches mount up. And when you haven't got story cliches visually you have more cliches from Bill demonstrating his gun skills to bank jobs and rail road robberies. The sheer number of cliche ideas and scenes is one of the things which takes you aback because we are talking about a movie which only lasts 84 minutes.
As such credit must go to writer Louis Stevens and director Budd Boetticher because they have managed to make all these cliches work coherently as a movie rather than just a disjointed series of familiar elements. The whole story grows as Bill goes from having to turn outlaw to dealing with the rivalry of Buck to his options running out as the Marshal and the Railroad Investigator close in on him. It's not that this is an original storyline which you are going to remember but you will be impressed by how it all links together with even the subplots in "The Cimarron Kid" surrounding smaller characters such as Bitter Creek Dalton and his girlfriend Rose becoming more important as the story progresses.
What you may remember when it comes to "The Cimarron Kid" is how good Audie Murphy is in the lead role of Bill Doolin because he really gets into character. On one hand he delivers the sharpness of an Outlaw who is quick with the guns but also bright when it comes to what they need to do but on the other he also gets across the soul of the character as being an Outlaw is not what he wants. It makes Bill a real character, someone we side with despite watching him lead robberies and becoming so focussed on stealing the money he needs to go straight. This also means that whilst "The Cimarron Kid" also features good performances from Hugh O'Brian, James Best, Beverly Tyler and Yvette Duguay it is Audie Murphy who commands your attention.
What this all boils down to is that whilst "The Cimarron Kid" features a storyline which is little more than a collection of western cliches it is nicely put together to create something which almost feels epic. And along with Audie Murphy delivering what for me is one of his best western performances "The Cimarron Kid" deserves to be better known.