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"From His Leather-Tough Skin To His Cold-Steel Guts He Was All Cast Iron -- ...and then he began to crack!"
Tag line for The Iron Sheriff
Sterling Hayden was particularly adept at playing characters on the edge of collapse, whether the desperate criminals in The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and The Killing (1956) or the demented military officer in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). In this 1957 Western, he's a sheriff forced to arrest his own son (Darryl Hickman) after the boy is implicated in a stagecoach robbery. The more he fights to prove the boy's innocence, the more evidence piles up against him.
Hayden had a very busy year in 1957, with six films in release and four television appearances. It wasn't that he loved acting so much. For the most part, he hated it. But he needed the money to support his true love, sailing, and pay for a series of expensive divorces from second, third and fourth wife Betty Ann de Noon. As a result, after starting out as one of Paramount's most promising stars of the '40s, he was now making low budget films for independent producers like Jerome C. Robinson. In his own words, "I started at the top and worked my way down."
Not that The Iron Sheriff was some throwaway production. Director Sidney Salkow was an expert at directing action, having worked in B movies steadily since he turned to directing in 1936. He had directed and written several entries in Columbia's Lone Wolf series, starring Warren William, and had already moved into television, where he would specialize in directing Western series like The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp and Maverick. Although interiors for the film were shot at the KTTV Studios in Los Angeles, he also took the company to the Ray Corrigan Ranch in Simi Valley and the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth for location shooting. While Salkow kept the action moving, writer Seeleg Lester injected a surprising amount of serious thought into the script, focusing as much on Hayden's moral crisis as on riding and shooting. Primarily a television writer, Lester wrote The Inheritors, a two-part episode that stands as one of the highlights of The Outer Limits' brief run.
Although Hayden was the only "name" actor in the film's cast, it was packed with talent. The standout supporting roles went to John Dehner, as the slick lawyer Hayden hires to defend his son, and Hickman, as the son. Dehner is best known for playing Doris Day's boss on the last two seasons of The Doris Day Show. He started his career as an animator for Walt Disney before becoming a Peabody Award-winning radio journalist. His rich baritone voice earned him a good deal of radio work, most notably as Paladin in the radio version of Have Gun - Will Travel. As a character actor, he made numerous film and TV appearances, most often in villainous roles in Westerns. In 1957 alone, he appeared in three Westerns and played a Utah sheriff in the film noir The Girl in Black Stockings (1957). Hickman had been a child performer since the late '30s, most memorably as the disabled child murdered by sister-in-law Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven (1945). He moved into television in the '50s, doing three guest appearances on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, playing the older brother of the title character, played by his own brother, Dwayne Hickman.
The two main female roles in The Iron Sheriff were played by Kathleen Nolan (billed as Kathy), later the star of the hit comedy series The Real McCoy and the first female president of the Screen Actors Guild, and Constance Ford, a New York stage actress who worked extensively on live television in New York. She moved to Hollywood in the mid-'50s, eventually returning to New York in the '60s, where she became a major star on soap operas. Among her best soap roles were murderess Eve Morris on The Edge of Night and Ada Lucas Davis Downs McGowan Hobson on Another World, a role she played for 18 years.
Director: Sidney Salkow
Producer: Jerome C. Robinson
Screenplay: Seeleg Lester
Cinematography: Kenneth Peach
Score: Emil Newman, Ernest Gold
Cast: Sterling Hayden (Sheriff Samuel 'Sam' Galt), Constance Ford (Claire), John Dehner (Roger Pollack), Kent Taylor (Phil Quincy), Darryl Hickman (Benjamin 'Benjie' Galt), Walter Sande (Marshal Ellison), Frank Ferguson (District Attorney Holloway), King Donovan (Leveret), Kathleen Nolan (Kathi Walden), I. Stanford Jolley (Eugene 'Gene' Walden), Marjorie Bennett (Nettie Holcomb), Byron Foulger (Jed - Court Clerk)
By Frank Miller