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Edward Dmytryk's first film as a director, after rising through the ranks at Paramount from lowly messenger boy to film cutter, was the western The Hawk (re-issued as Trail of the Hawk 1935), shot in five days at Monogram Studios. Despite getting his foot in the industry door with a shoot-em-up, Dmytryk would return only sporadically to the genre over the course of his forty year career - but when he did saddle up it was often in the company of actor Richard Widmark. Widmark had swiftly attained leading man status in the wake of his own film debut, as psychotic gunsel Tommy Udo in Henry Hathaway's Kiss of Death (1947), but was compelled by his contract with 20th Century Fox to accept a lower billing in Dmytryk's Broken Lance (1954), in which he was cast as the oldest son of autocratic cattle baron Spencer Tracy. The mercurial Minnesota-born actor bristled at his low billing (he would emerge from his Fox contract a year later as a free agent) but formed a lasting professional relationship with Dmytryk that continued with Warlock (1959) and Alvarez Kelly (1966).
Widmark had originally been cast in Warlock as Clay Blaisedell, a steel-eyed gambler/gunman in the Wyatt Earp mode who is hired to restore order to a frontier town plagued by cowboy criminality. By Widmark's suggestion, that part was offered instead to Henry Fonda (then serving out a two-picture deal with Fox) while he settled for the less flashy role of reformed road agent Johnny Gannon, whose stab at redemption compels him to sign on as Warlock's duly-sworn deputy sheriff. (The acutely status-conscious Widmark did retain first billing.) To add more testosterone to this adaptation of Oakley Hall's source novel, a finalist for the 1958 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Anthony Quinn was slotted in as Fonda's crippled helpmeet (whose slavish devotion to his "super-human" friend borders on a bro-mance of Brokeback Mountain  proportions) while the cadre of owlhoots plaguing Warlock was fleshed out by such promising studio players as Stanley Kubrick regular Joe Turkel, future Batman villain Frank Gorshin, Star Trek's DeForest Kelley and 2001: A Space Odyssey's Gary Lockwood, who speaks nary a word in his film debut.
After a decade as little more than eye candy for RKO and Warner Brothers, Dorothy Malone was enjoying more interesting roles as she matured beyond ingnue status. She had excelled in a string of minor but impressive crime films (Pushover  for Columbia, Loophole  for Allied Artists and The Fast and the Furious  for American International Pictures) and had taken home an Oscar® for her work in Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind (1956) when she was cast in Warlock as Lily Dollar, Widmark's love interest, vengeful showgirl. Although they make persuasive lovebirds onscreen, the pair came to blows during shooting. When Malone slapped him twice in rehearsal, Widmark's response was to punch his leading lady and call her "a no-talent bum." Dmytryk had his actors repair to their respective dressing rooms to cool off but called them back to shoot their scene before the tension between them had dissipated completely. After Dmytryk captured his scene and called cut, Widmark burst into laughter when he saw that cinematographer Joseph MacDonald had hung up a pair of boxing gloves on the set, along with a sign reading "Hail the Champ!"
Producer: Edward Dmytryk
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Screenplay: Robert Alan Aurthur (screenplay); Oakley Hall (novel)
Cinematography: Joe MacDonald
Art Direction: Herman A. Blumenthal, Lyle R. Wheeler
Music: Leigh Harline
Film Editing: Jack W. Holmes
Cast: Richard Widmark (Johnny Gannon), Henry Fonda (Clay Blaisedell), Anthony Quinn (Tom Morgan), Dorothy Malone (Lily Dollar), Dolores Michaels (Jessie Marlow), Wallace Ford (Judge Holloway), Tom Drake (Abe McQuown), Richard Arlen (Bacon), De Forest Kelley (Curley Burne), Regis Toomey (Skinner).
C-121m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
by Richard Harland Smith
Richard Widmark: A Bio-Bibliography by Kim R. Holston (Greenwood Press, 1990)
Henry Fonda: A Bio-Bibliography by Kevin Sweeney (Greenwood Press, 1992)
Edward Dmytryk biography, American National Biography, Volume 26 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Oakley Hall obituary by William Grimes, The New York Times, May 16, 2008