Twilight Time Heads West With ‘Warlock’

Twilight Time is a classy little label bringing older, often forgotten films onto Blu-ray for enjoyment by the masses — and by “masses” I mean up to 3000 people per title as that’s what they limit their releases too — and they’ve tackled all manner of genres along the way. Westerns are a personal favorite, and they’ve introduced me to a few over the years that I had previously missed including Hour of the Gun (1967), Lawman (1971), and From Noon till Three (1976).

The label released two more last month — Bandolero! (1968) and Warlock (1959) — and while the former is mild entertainment the latter is a classic of the genre. Keep reading for a look at this new release from Twilight Time.

Warlock (1959)

The small mining town of Warlock, Utah has a problem in the form of rowdy cowboys prone to acts of violence. Their boss has no respect for the minimal law presence, so the town hires a gunman named Clay Blaisedell to be their personal marshal. It works, at least temporarily, but soon the gang’s leader Abe McQuown pushes back into town anyway. Johnny Gannon leaves the criminal life behind and becomes town deputy, but his desire to do things by the book clashes with Clay’s more immediate and permanent methods. Violence ensues, allegiances shift, and soon the stage is set for showdowns that seem guaranteed to leave bodies in the dirt.

Director Edward Dmytryk (Murder My Sweet, 1944) and writer Robert Alan Aurthur (All That Jazz, 1979) adapt Oakley Hall‘s novel into a dramatically thrilling western pitting familiar characters and tropes against the uncertainty of human behavior. The setup suggests expected plot turns that never quite come as instead we’re given fresh actions and choices made by characters motivated by ideas as varied as honor, revenge, and love. We also get a friendship that on its surface is an unexpected bond between two morally ambiguous gunmen, but it becomes more interesting and progressive in its possible subtext.

The main conflict here involves Clay’s (Henry Fonda) perceived persona as a gunfighter only interested in dealing death to those who challenge him.

It’s well-earned, but as his time in Warlock passes and he falls in love with a young woman who’s agreed to be his bride, he grows less inclined to meet those expectations. Johnny (Richard Widmark) has found his true calling as a lawman, but the only way he can make it work — the only way he believes it can be — is through strict adherence to the law. His grasp of authority leaves him at odds with Clay even as they each have their own ongoing challenge from Abe and his lackeys, but an even bigger problem is building in an unlikely place.

Clay’s best friend and business partner, Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn), has been along for the ride for a decade, and he views their partnership as something worth protecting.

The suggestion — and it is mere suggestion — that Tom’s feelings for Clay go beyond friendship seems at once both unfamiliar for the genre and wholly understandable. Westerns are most typically stories about men working out varying degrees of aggression against other men, and while women are there as comfort and reward it’s those other men with whom they form the strongest bonds. This reading of Clay’s and Tom’s relationship isn’t necessary (or even necessarily correct), but it adds an added pathos to the film’s eventual outcome.

Warlock is available directly from Twilight Time.

Rob Hunter: "Rob is great. He likes movies. He writes about them. And he's a good person."