The Hangman


1h 26m 1959

Brief Synopsis

A marshal nicknamed "The Hangman" because of his track record in hunting down and capturing wanted criminals traces a robbery suspect to a small town. However, the man is known and liked in the town, and the citizens band together to try to help him avoid capture.

Film Details

Release Date
May 1959
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the short story "Pull Your Freight" by Luke Short in Riders West (publication undetermined).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 26m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Synopsis

After a deputy U.S. Marshal is killed tracking the four outlaws who robbed a Wells Fargo stage, Marshal Mackenzie Bovard, known as "The Hangman" for his relentless tenacity in the line of duty, manages to capture three of the gang. Two hang, and the third, Zimmerman, awaits his death sentence. Mac is desperate to catch the fourth outlaw, John Butterfield, before Zimmerman's execution, so that Zimmerman, the only remaining eye witness, can identify his accomplice. Because Mac does not know what Butterfield looks like, he travels to Butterfield's old cavalry station, Fort Kenton, hoping that someone there can identify him. There, the colonel refuses to allow Mac to take one of his men to the town where Butterfield is rumored to be living, but the colonel's aide tips off Mac that Butterfield's ex-girl friend, Selah Jennison, might help him. Mac finds Selah performing back-breaking labor in the fort's laundry, but despite her wretched circumstances, she defends Butterfield and refuses to help. Believing that every person has a price, Mac leaves her a ticket to Butterfield's town and promises $500 if she joins him there. He travels alone to the town and rents two hotel rooms, then visits the local sheriff, Buck Weston, who is impressed with Mac's reputation and promises to help him. Over lunch, Buck chides Mac for his cynical outlook, but Mac insists that everyone can be bought. Mac is shocked, therefore, when Selah does not appear on any stage that day. When Mac learns that local freight driver Johnny Bishop fits Butterfield's description, Buck informs Mac that Johnny is one of the most beloved men in town, but Mac is sure he is the right man, and mistrusts Buck, whom he assumes is under Johnny's control. That night, Mac confides to Buck that he is returning to the fort briefly to pay off Selah, who has restored his faith in humanity by not accepting the job, but Mac is then chagrined when she arrives on the night stage. Furious, he treats her roughly, not realizing that Selah has come to warn Butterfield, who is indeed Johnny. In the morning, Mac, Selah and Buck watch as Johnny protects his friend Pedro Alonzo by beating up the much larger Murphy, after which Selah claims that Johnny is not Butterfield. Disbelieving her, Mac arranges for her to cross Johnny's path the next morning, so the outlaw will greet her and give himself away. Although Mac does not trust Selah, when he hears nosy Amy Hopkins mock Selah's dress, he gives the girl money to buy clothes. Later, Selah secretly warns Johnny of Mac's plan, and although Johnny's pregnant wife Kitty begs him to flee, he asserts that he is tired of running and did nothing but hold the horses for the outlaws, whom he did not realize were committing a crime. The next day, Mac's suspicions are once again aroused when all the men in town, except Johnny, stop to whistle at Selah in her new dress. He decides to enlist the help of Johnny's one enemy, Murphy, and later comes upon Selah bathing in a pond. There, she informs him that she ended up in desperate circumstances when her soldier husband died without a pension, after which Butterfield protected her. Later, Buck, who is falling in love with Selah, asks her to stay in town, but she demurs and later, not knowing that Mac has rigged her door so that he can hear her leave, sneaks over to Johnny's house. Mac follows her as she warns Johnny that Murphy is going to double-cross him. While she talks to Johnny, Pedro spots Mac and shoots at him, grazing his arm. By the time Selah returns to the hotel a furious Mac is there and, calling her a "floozy," handcuffs her to him to keep her in her room. When he leaves in the morning, however, Selah steals the handcuff key and then cuffs herself to him, ensuring that he cannot go after Johnny easily. When Murphy, on his way out of town, says Johnny and Kitty were last seen at the freight yard, they rush there, trailed by an angry Buck. However, Mac cannot find them anywhere, and it is not until he has searched all the wagons that he deduces that Murphy, in the end more loyal to Johnny than Mac, must have double-crossed him and spirited the Bishops away. When Buck refuses to chase Murphy, Mac swings Selah onto a horse with him and takes off. They soon catch the wagon and knock out Murphy, after which Johnny surrenders. At dinner that night, Mac offers the reward money to Selah, who calls him "hangman" and irately informs him that Johnny is innocent. Mac follows her to her room, where he apologizes and explains that he became a lawman after his brother was murdered and no one else was brave enough to capture the killers. Having lived a lonely life of chasing criminals, Mac now wants to retire to California to be a lawyer. Selah falls into his arms, crying, as Mac tells her to start over with a good man like Buck. Meanwhile, Johnny's friends have planned a jailbreak, and soon smash the jail's back window. As Johnny flees on horseback, Mac runs into the street and trains his gun on him, then deliberately shoots into the air, allowing Johnny to escape. The next morning, as he readies to leave town, Mac asks Selah what she plans to do next. Buck answers that he has asked her to marry him, and when Mac asks her for her response, Selah apologizes to Buck and announces that she is headed for California, with Mac.

Film Details

Release Date
May 1959
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the short story "Pull Your Freight" by Luke Short in Riders West (publication undetermined).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 26m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

In March 1957, Los Angeles Times announced that Paramount had bought the Luke Short story "The Hangman" and was considering starring James Cagney in the film. According to modern information, Short's story first appeared under the title "Pull Your Freight" in Riders West, but the date of that publication has not been determined. The story was later published as "The Hangman" in a short story compilation entitled Iron Men and Silver Stars (Greenwich, CT, 1967).
       By August 1958, Hollywood Reporter stated that Inger Stevens was being cast as "Selah Jennison" and that, because Edward Dmytryk was busy shooting Warlock (see below), Michael Curtiz would also take over as the producer and director of The Hangman. Although Hollywood Reporter also noted in August 1958 that W. R. Burnett had been hired to work on the screenplay, Dudley Nichols is the only writer credited onscreen. An April 1959 IHR news item stated that John Ashley was to record the film's title song, but no such song is included in the final film. Reviews for The Hangman were generally poor, with both Variety and Hollywood Reporter criticizing the filmmakers for including two scenes of Tina Louise bathing.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1959

Released in United States 1959