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The offbeat Good Day for a Hanging (1959) is one of eight westerns Fred MacMurray made between 1955 and 1959. Like several other leading men of the '30s and '40s - such as James Stewart, Clark Gable, Joel McCrea and Robert Taylor - MacMurray entered a western phase late in his career. Western roles suited these actors who were getting grayer, harder, and more grizzled-looking. Cheaply and efficiently made, MacMurray's westerns weren't on the level of some of the others (mainly because his weren't directed by the likes of Anthony Mann, Budd Boetticher or Andre De Toth) but they're better than average efforts nonetheless.
In this one, MacMurray captures a sheriff's killer (Robert Vaughn) and brings him into town for trial, only to discover that the townsfolk don't believe him to be guilty and don't want him punished; Vaughn successfully seduces them with his debonair charm. Variety said of the film that "MacMurray has a rather solid role but invests it with authority and interest... Not altogether successful, but it is several notches above its modest budget class."
While making his westerns, MacMurray also had the opportunity to co-star with Barbara Stanwyck for a fourth and final time in Douglas Sirk's There's Always Tomorrow (1956). At the end of the cycle, he acted in two wildly different but important films: The Shaggy Dog (1959), one of the biggest hits of his career, and The Apartment (1960), one of the best movies of his career.
Co-star Robert Vaughn, at 26 years old, was on the verge of very big things himself at this point. He had been appearing in all sorts of television shows and had only a handful of big-screen outings under his belt. His next two features, however, would be major: for The Young Philadelphians (1959), he received an Oscar® nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and a year later he played one of The Magnificent Seven (1960). Not bad! Not long after that, Vaughn would land a huge television role on The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Variety had praise for the rising star: "The audience will spot Vaughn as a psychopath the first time he twitches across the screen, but it is easy to see how he could confuse those in the [film]. There is 'Method' in his madness, too, which makes him an unusually interesting young actor."
Incidentally, the trade paper also commented critically on the use of color in this picture:"The 'Columbia Color,' as it's billed, has a tendency to be rather over-rouged, reducing the impact of what is essentially a realistic melodrama. Black-and-white would have suited this picture better."
Director Nathan Juran started his career as an art director. As such, he won an Oscar® for How Green Was My Valley (1941) and worked on several great Anthony Mann pictures. As a director, he was best known for fantasy films such as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and Jack the Giant Killer (1962).
Co-star Bing Russell, who plays a character named George Fletcher, was the father of Kurt Russell.
Producer: Charles H. Schneer
Director: Nathan Juran
Screenplay: Daniel B. Ullman, Maurice Zimm; John Reese (story)
Cinematography: Henry Freulich
Art Direction: Robert Peterson
Film Editing: Jerome Thoms
Cast: Fred MacMurray (Marshal Ben Cutler), Maggie Hayes (Ruth Granger), Robert Vaughn (Eddie 'the Kid' Campbell), Joan Blackman (Laurie Cutler), James Drury (Paul Ridgely), Wendell Holmes (Tallant Joslin), Edmon Ryan (William P. Selby), Stacy Harries (Coley), Kathryn Card (Mrs. Molly Cain), Emile Meyer (Marshal Hiram Cain).
by Jeremy Arnold