The Man with the Golden Rifle
If I was to say that "The Tall Stranger" is a series of predictable cliches with several western standards from bad blood between family, through to evil gun men and romance being crammed into the story you might think I am being disparaging. But I'm not, "The Tall Stranger" is entertaining and at just 81 minutes it's a pleasant watch but it is an average western with nothing to make it feel any different to the countless other westerns which were made during the 50's. It's the sort of generic western adventure that you can put on and watch whilst doing other things and not worry about having to focus fully on what is unravelling because everything is easy to work out and predict from who the bad guys are to who will ride off into the distance together when the movie ends.
Having been left for dead by cattle rustlers and a man with a golden rifle, Ned Bannon (Joel McCrea - Black Horse Canyon) is picked up by a wagon train of homesteaders and nursed back to health by the pretty Ellen (Virginia Mayo - Westbound). But Ned becomes suspicious of Mort Harper (George N. Neise) and his partner who are supposedly leading the wagon train for the homesteaders as not only does the trail they plan to take not exist they also seem to be heading for land belonging to Hardy Bishop (Barry Kelley), Ned's half brother who since the Civil War has wanted Ned dead.
As westerns go the storyline to "The Tall Stranger" is solid but also unremarkable thanks to it being for the most cliche. At the start we meet Ned Bannon who is left for dead in the middle of nowhere and you can guess that by the time the movie ends he will have come face to face with the man who tried to kill him, the man with the golden rifle. The minute he is taken and nursed back to health by Ellen who is amongst a group of homesteaders on a wagon train you can assume that there will be some form of romance. And when Ned meets Mort Harper it doesn't take a genius that he has ulterior motives leading the wagon train along a trail which Ned knows doesn't exist.
But despite all of this predictable ness it works and there are some nice touches to "The Tall Stranger" that perks up what feels very cliche. The element that the wagon train end up settling on land belong to Ned's half brother adds a nice element of bad blood between them and how the bad guys interlink, Mort Harper and the man with the golden rifle adds at least meaning to it all. It's not to the point that "The Tall Stranger" ever becomes clever or complex just well put together.
What it does mean is that in between all these cliche plots all revolving around Harper trying to take Ned's brother's land from him we have plenty of action. And most of this action takes the form of fist fights as Ned usually ends up in a brawl be it with his half brother Hardy Bishop or with Zarata, the man with the golden rifle who left him for dead. It's the generic sort of punch up you see in other westerns from this era and takes us from brawls in rivers to brawls in barn yards. Although all the action does build up to the expected big final battle which mixes the brawls with some entertaining gun fighting as well as featuring the movies one piece of ingenuity.
The thing about westerns from this era is that they felt like they were churned out on a production line and "The Tall Stranger" feels no different especially when it comes to the characters and actors. Joel McCrea gives us that solid nice guy hero in Ned Bannon, a completely cliche character if there ever was one and Virginia Mayo is the epitome of loveliness as love interest Ellen. As for the bad guys well George N. Neise goes for almost pantomime villainy as Mort Harper whilst Michael Ansara gives us a bit of bandito as Zarata. There is basically not a performance to write home about; just a case of actors delivering what was needed in this very average western.
What this all boils down to is that "The Tall Stranger" is basically what you would expect from a 1950s westerns as it works its way through a variety of western cliches with various 2 dimensional western characters. It's not terrible by any means, in fact it's entertaining but it is no more than another average 1950s western, the sort of which once filled the big screen.