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,Along the Great Divide

Ben's Top Pick for March

Along the Great Divide (1951) - March 25

Less than a minute into Along the Great Divide (1951), Raoul Walsh, the director, gives us a clear indication of the kind of man Kirk Douglas plays--a U.S. Marshal willing to forego pipin' hot beans in the name of justice.

The movie opens as one of Douglas' deputies rides up to tell the Marshal a lynch mob is about to hang a man they believe is a killer. Douglas, looking intense (it is Kirk Douglas, after all), is immediately striding to his horse, ready to ride and put a stop to this lynching by posse. But first, another deputy, played by John Agar, tells Douglas they should eat. "I got them beans fixed real nice," says Agar. Douglas looks at Agar with disdain and kicks dirt on the beans-- these boys will ride now.

Then we get a treat--the cattle rustler about to be hanged is Walter Brennan. Douglas gets there just in time, with the noose already around Brennan's neck. "Drop the leather," Douglas says to the member of the necktie party about to whip the horse out from under Brennan. And with that, Kirk Douglas utters his first line ever in a Western.

Though Douglas made nearly 20 Westerns, he didn't enjoy making his first one. Blame it on working with Raoul Walsh. In his candid autobiography, Douglas describes Walsh as a "brutal man" and an alienating director. Douglas says Walsh would call "cut" without even watching the scene. Then, when the production would fall behind schedule, Walsh would simply tear pages from the script to get back on track. "Critics always talk about how Raoul Walsh movies have such great pace," Douglas writes. "They have great pace because he was always in such a hurry to finish them." Needless to say, they never worked together again.

Along the Great Divide is part of a neat little sub-genre--more like a mini subgenre. Brennan becomes Douglas' prisoner while Douglas and his men take him across the desert to Santa Loma, where he'll stand trial. So this fits into the impressive list of "transporting-a-prisoner or witness to a second location movies," a list that spans from film noir (Narrow Margin [1952]) to Westerns (3:10 to Yuma [1957]). It also includes a number of solid movies, ranging from fun (Clint Eastwood starring in and directing The Gauntlet [1977]) to cool (Terrence Stamp in the British production, The Hit [1984]) to intense and underappreciated (Harrison Ford in The Fugitive [1993]).

Along the Great Divide--starring a steely, romantic and carb-watching Kirk Douglas--is a worthy addition to the list.

by Ben Mankiewicz

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