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The Deadly Companions

For his first shot at directing a feature length western, Sam Peckinpah was a mere hired gun. A former dialogue coach turned scenarist, and as the creator of the hit TV series The Rifleman, Peckinpah had a personal morality that was very much at odds with Hollywood boilerplate and a devotion to realism that was years ahead of its time. In 1960, his weekly series, The Westerner had ended after only one critically-lauded season. When series lead Brian Keith was cast in a western feature, The Deadly Companions (1961), Peckinpah got himself attached as director, albeit in the service of producer Charles B. FitzSimons. The brother of actress Maureen O'Hara, FitzSimons saw the project as a vehicle for O'Hara and resisted Peckinpah's attempts to sculpt the script by Albert Sidney Fleischman into something on which he could hang his own hat. (During preproduction, Fleischman turned the work-in-progress into a novel, titled Yellowleg, a reference to the protagonist's backstory as a Union soldier during the Civil War.) Peckinpah finished the $500,000 indie feature in only 21 days but lost final cut to FitzSimons, resulting in a finished film that fell between the visions of its collaborators. To FitzSimons' chagrin, critics of the day panned The Deadly Companions but praised Peckinpah as a filmmaker to watch - Peckinpah's next film was the majestic Ride the High Country (1962).

By Richard Harland Smith

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