The Fiend Who Walked the West
Cast & Crew
To gain access to the City Bank gold storage vault, bank robber Dan Hardy feigns drunkenness and then offers the teller a swig from his jug. Once the clerk opens the door, Dan knocks him unconscious, and the three other robbers, led by Paul Finney, sneak in the back and open the safe. As Dan enters the vault, the clerk regains consciousness, slams the door shut and then jumps through a window to alert the town. After struggling in vain to open the door, Finney and the rest of the gang flee, leaving Dan behind to be arrested. Later, Dan is on his way to trial in a prison wagon when his pregnant wife Elena and little daughter Janie come to see him at a way station. Dan, a poor rancher driven by desperation to robbery, assures Elena that Finney will take care of her in his absence. As the wagon continues on, Sheriff Frank Emmett offers Dan leniency if he will name his accomplices. After Dan refuses, Judge Parker sentences him to ten years in prison even though it is his first offense. Dan is locked in a cell with Felix Griffin, a psychopath who warns Dan never to touch him and has a "fetish," or a small glass animal. In charge of doling out food to the work crew, Felix goads Seidel, a burly inmate, into attacking him. One day soon after, Seidel collapses in agony, grabbing his gut, and dies. On the day of Felix' release, Dan anxiously asks the guard if any mail has come from Elena. Felix provokes Dan by commenting that his wife has probably moved in with another man, and Dan attacks him, violating Felix' prohibition on touching. As Felix leaves the cell, he cackles that he ground up his glass animal and put it into Seidel's food. In search of the stolen bank money, Felix rides to the Finney ranch and finds Finney's elderly, crippled mother there alone. After shooting her in the throat with an arrow, he removes her ring and then awaits Finney. When Finney arrives, Felix threatens to kill him unless he turns over the money, but once Finney reveals its hiding place, Felix blasts him in the back with a shotgun and then sets fire to the house. Felix's next stop is the Hardy ranch, where he finds Elena ill in bed. After Felix cruelly remarks that Dan is as good as dead and then propositions her, Elena becomes so agitated that she suffers a miscarriage. With Finney's money, Felix buys a house in town, and when Emmett and his deputy, Jim Dyer, question Felix about his financial windfall, Felix becomes incensed. Upon learning of Elena's misfortune, Emmett informs Dan that Felix visited the house just prior to her miscarrying. Fearing for the safety of his family, Dan finally agrees to name his accomplices in exchange for a pardon. After Dan mentions Finney's name, Emmett realizes that Felix killed him, stole the money and then made the murder look like an Indian raid. When it is discovered that the other two robbers were killed in a holdup, Dan is denied his freedom. Dyer and another deputy then are ambushed and killed by Felix, and Emmett, disgusted, wants to turn in his badge and mete out his own form of justice. Promising that Felix will be made to pay for his crimes, the judge stages a jailbreak for Dan so that he can obtain evidence of Felix' guilt. After escaping, Dan rides to Felix' ranch, where Felix lies that Finney was killed by the Indians and then invites Dan to spend the night. Once Felix leaves the room, Dan searches for evidence and find Ma Finney's ring with her initials engraved on the band. The next morning, Felix brings Janie and Elena to see Dan, and Dan pretends that Felix is his friend. Upset, Elena begs Dan to come away with her, but when he refuses, she denounces him and storms away. That night, Felix sadistically torments May, his housekeeper, and then boasts that he killed Finney, Dyer and Emmett. Training his gun on Dan, Felix begins to interrogate him. Dan then informs Felix that Emmett is still alive and that he killed the wrong man. Realizing that Dan's escape was a setup to apprehend him, Felix decides to exact revenge on Elena and orders May to tie up Dan. In reprisal, May strikes Felix with the rope, allowing Dan to overpower him. Later, at the trial, Felix' wily attorney discredits Dan's testimony, and after May testifies that the ring belongs to her, Felix is freed. Dan is pardoned and returns home to Elena. That night, a driverless wagon pulls up the house, and when Dan peers inside, he finds May, her neck broken. After sending his wife and daughter out of town, Dan visits Felix, who is wearing a mourning band for May. Grabbing Felix by the collar, Dan slaps him repeatedly, challenges him to a gunfight and leaves. That night, Felix is seated in the saloon, and as a chorus girl admires his ring, he spots Dan standing at the bar, watching him. After Dan slaps him, Felix, seemingly unarmed, agrees to meet him outside later with his gun belt. Just as Dan turns to leave, Felix pulls a pistol from his boot and shoots him in the back. Falling to the floor, Dan fires his gun, fatally wounding Felix. Some time later, Emmett visits a recovered Dan at his ranch. When the sheriff asks how Dan intends to spend his reward, Elena smiles and says that they have ordered a new herd of cattle.
Shari Lee Bernath
L. B. Abbott
Hugh S. Fowler
Harry M. Leonard
Walter M. Scott
Walter M. Simonds
Herbert B. Swope Jr.
Lionel R. Wheeler
The Fiend Who Walked The West on DVD
It's a curiosity at best, for die-hard western fans and for the chance to see Evans play a cowboy variation of Richard Widmark's iconic Tommy Udo role in Kiss of Death (1947). The Fiend Who Walked the West is a western remake of that great film noir, with Hugh O'Brian starring here as a bank robber, Daniel Hardy, sentenced to share the prison cell of a psychotic killer with an unlikely name: Felix Griffin (Evans). Felix is due out of prison soon, and he's determined to find Dan's share of the loot, no matter how many people he must kill to find it.
Indeed, Felix's lack of any qualms about killing or torturing other human beings, no matter their gender or age, coupled with his youthful, earnest manner, is what drives audience interest here. Evans is no Richard Widmark, and in fact he tries too hard to channel Widmark with a sneering laugh and Widmark's general vocal inflections, but he nonetheless makes Felix dangerously, and compellingly, unpredictable. Hugh O'Brian is fine but is not given a chance to do much more with his role than seethe, and play rage and revenge.
Fox changed the title of this film at the last minute from The Hell-Bent Kid to The Fiend Who Walked the West as a cockamamie attempt to make audiences believe this was a hybrid of western and horror, two genres that were experiencing a surge in popularity. Yet despite some brutal violence, Fiend cannot really be called a horror film. In fact, the story evolves more into a prototype for the thriller Cape Fear (1962), with the bad guy in each clearly a terrible villain, but smart enough to keep the police (i.e., sheriff) unable to pin anything on him legally, resulting in the hero having to ultimately defend his family all by himself.
In his 1994 memoir, The Kid Stays in the Picture, Evans wrote that the role of Felix was originally intended for Elvis Presley, who was interested but ultimately decided he didn't want to be compared to Richard Widmark. Steve McQueen was next offered the role, but he came to the same conclusion as Elvis. Evans was one of five actors who were then tested for the part, along with Anthony Perkins, Eli Wallach, Sal Mineo and Ray Danton. Director Gordon Douglas liked Evans and extracted a performance out of him that was good enough to interest famed broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, who put Evans on his TV news program "Person to Person" and declared Evans would become a big star. Scripts started to pour in for the young Evans, but then Fox changed the film's title, and just like that, the scripts stopped. As Evans wrote, "Changing the title changed my life, even though my reviews were an actor's dream. Time predicted that my 'exceptional performance will be long remembered.' It wasn't."
The vintage cover art for the new DVD gives a sense of how embarrassing the title -- and the marketing -- of this film really was. Evans' bug-eyed, exaggerated visage appears in green, making him look like a Martian out of a Tim Burton picture, and the tagline reads, "The kooky killer is on the loose!"
It's rather astonishing that a major DVD distributor in this day and age would release a pan-and-scan version of any movie, but here is Fox Cinema Archives issuing just such a version of the CinemaScope Fiend Who Walked the West. Furthermore, the picture quality is not exactly crisp, demonstrating that Fox continues to use decades-old TV masters for lots of these Archive releases, and isn't bothering to invest in cleaning many of them up. Fans should always keep this in mind when it comes to Fox Cinema Archives, though the pre-1950 titles are generally better in this department. But as stated above, The Fiend Who Walked the West is a curiosity for committed fans, and they will probably be able to overlook the technical deficiencies.
One final note: The scene in Kiss of Death in which Richard Widmark pushes an old lady in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs -- one of the most famous and brutal scenes of 1940s American cinema -- is not reproduced here per se, but a western variant is shown instead that is still quite shocking.
By Jeremy Arnold
The Fiend Who Walked The West on DVD
The working titles of this film were Rope Law, Quick Draw at Fort Smith, Quick Draw and The Hell Bent Kid. The Hell Bent Kid was also the working title of the 1958 Twentieth Century-Fox Film From Hell to Texas . Although a Hollywood Reporter production chart places Robert Adler and Hank Gobble in the cast and a Hollywood Reporter news item adds Georgia Simmons, their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Although the Variety review lists "Hardy's" wife as "Ellen," she is called "Elena" in the film. The screenplay for The Fiend Who Walked the West was a reworking of the Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer script for the 1947 Fox film The Kiss of Death (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). That screenplay was based on a story by Eleazar Lipsky. In 1995, Fox made another version of The Kiss of Death, directed by Barbet Schroeder and starring David Caruso, Nicolas Cage and Helen Hunt.
Released in United States Summer August 1958
Westernized remake of "Kiss of Death" (1947) directed by Henry Hathaway.
Released in United States Summer August 1958