More Jake Wooden than Jake Wade
As a director John Sturges knew what his audiences wanted, that was action and adventure and be it an a western or a war movie that is what Sturges delivered. But at the same time he also delivered movies which were more than just visual entertainment they had storylines, not complex master pieces but ones which kept you as interested in what was happening as entertained by the big action scenes. As such "The Law and Jake Wade" is very much your typical John Sturges movie because right from the start it is flowing with action and adventure yet it also has a reasonably decent storyline which makes all the action interesting. It's by no means Sturges's best western but with a good performance from Richard Widmark it works.
Having once been outlaws together Jake Wade (Robert Taylor) helps Clint Hollister (Richard Widmark - Broken Lance) escape from jail, repaying the similar favour which Clint once did for him. But whilst Jake hopes that it is it and returns to his new life as Sheriff of another town, Clint wants more and he wants the money which they stole in their last job together. Along with his gang Clint takes Jake and his fiance Peggy (Patricia Owens) hostage, forcing Jake to lead them to where he says he stashed the money and in to trouble in the middle of Indian territory.
Whilst the opening has a certain amount of ambiguity going on as we watch Jake Wade go and break his old buddy Clint Hollister out of jail it doesn't take long for "The Law and Jake Wade" to basically explain itself. We may think that Jake is a bad guy but we soon discover that he is in fact a sheriff from another town who once was bad, who rode with Clint and his gang and who in debt to Clint for saving his life is settling an old debt. Job done, well not at all because what "The Law and Jake Wade" is about is Clint wanting the money that they stole in their last job together and he along with his gang will do anything to recover it. And so what we basically get is Jake and his fiance Peggy being taken hostage and ridden across country to the place where Jake says he buried it.
Now to be honest that doesn't sound the most brilliant of movies and to be honest whilst there is the ambiguous start there is little complexity to it. But it is a reasonably solid storyline as along the way we learn all about the history between Jake and Clint, meeting up in war, becoming robbers and how Clint saved Jake from being hung. Plus we also learn why Jake left the gang and chose to bury the money rather than keep it. It may not be the most in-depth storyline but it gives everything which happens a purpose and why there is both respect and mistrust between Jake and Clint.
But as already mentioned the "The Law and Jake Wade" is a John Sturges movie and as such it does feature plenty of action and adventure. With Jake and Peggy basically taken hostage, forced to take Clint and his gang to the buried treasure there is a breathtaking escape attempt with them sliding down a sandy mountain side and of course being a western there is some Indian action as they find themselves in an abandoned town surrounded by them. But the best action is the inevitable battle between good and bad, Jake and Clint as they go one on one in a gun fight. To be honest I've seen more impressive action in a John Sturges movie but what is dished up here is still entertaining.
Now the only real negative is when it comes down to the casting is as whilst Patricia Owens does an okay job as love interest Peggy and Henry Silva is menacing as young gang member Rennie "The Law and Jake Wade" is all about Robert Taylor as Jake and Richard Widmark as Clint. Now Widmark does a brilliant job of playing the baddy with a confidence which actually draws us to him, he's fearless and clever and despite being bad is also surprisingly charming. But sadly as Jake Wade Robert Taylor comes across as being stiff and too proper which feels simply wrong especially when he is at one time meant to have been a bad guy. What this means is that it is Widmark who steals every single scene and breathes life into things when it is edging towards being dull thanks to Taylor's stiffness.
What this all boils down to is that "The Law and Jake Wade" is an entertaining 1950s western but one which ends up just average. It has everything you expect from a John Sturges movie with action and adventure as well as a reasonable storyline but it is let down by the performance of Robert Taylor as Jack Wade. Taylor's stiffness spoils things and whilst Richard Widmark steals every single scene he is in it is not enough to make "The Law and Jake Wade" either above average or memorable.