In 1873, on the Gold Trail, Montana, the mysterious and controlling Dr. Joseph Frail arrives in the small town of Skull Creek with miners in a gold rush. Dr. Frail buys a cabin on the top of a hill and he sees the smalltime thief Rune wounded and chased by a mob that wants to hang him. Dr. Frail helps and heals Rune; but in return, he demands that the young man becomes his bond servant. The alcoholic healer and preacher George Grubb tells to the locals that Dr. Frail, who is an excellent gambler and gunfighter, is a devil and has a mysterious past but nobody gives attention to his words. Soon the stagecoach is robbed by thieves that kill the passengers but the coachman survives and three days later he reaches Skull Creek. He tells that the horses had speed down the hill with a young woman inside the stagecoach. The men organize a pursuit and the rude Frenchy Plante finds the Swedish Elizabeth Mahler burnt and blind. Dr. Frail and Rune take care of her and they learn that Elizabeth and...Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Scripts for western films of the 1950's often seemed to deflate the value of money disproportionate to its actual worth in the 1800s. The one-dollar-per-egg that Rune pays the Flaunces is equivalent to almost $20 each today. A cattle baron at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco wouldn't have paid those prices. Frail and Flaunce deflate the value of Elizabeth's brooch as maybe worth $20, but in 1870 that was the equivalent of $400. See more »
Dr. Joseph 'Doc' Frail:
Rune, this is Frenchy Plant. Never believe a word he says and never let him get behind you in the dark.
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After an unfortunate family incident, embittered doctor Gary Cooper changes his name (to Joseph "Joe" Frail) and moves to 1873 Montana. "Doc" sets up shop in the aptly named Gold Rush town of "Skull Creek" with handsome young Ben Piazza (as Rune) as manservant, after saving the robber lad from death by posse. A stagecoach attack quickly provides Mr. Cooper with another housemate, Swiss emigrant Maria Schell (as Elizabeth Mahler). Baked and blinded by the sun, Ms. Schell heals into an uncommonly beautiful woman. As you might expect, patient and doctor are mutually attracted. Why she and Mr. Piazza amount to naught is not explained. Creepy head-capped Karl Malden (as Frenchy Plante) provides villainy...
"The Hanging Tree" looms forebodingly as we learn more about Cooper's contrary character; it's a good role for the aging superstar, in one of his best later years performances. We may be meant to consider the love of Schell providing Cooper with a possible second chance as the main story, but much more interesting is how the story deals with ownership. Cooper "owns" both Piazza and Schell in saving their lives, but is challenged for the latter by Mr. Malden. The proof that Cooper is a good soul is conveyed early, by his tossing of the bullet he took from Piazza and his gift to the malnourished girl. And, "The Lucky Lady Mine" owners believe the ownership of material wealth will bring happiness. Delmer Daves directs beautifully.
******** The Hanging Tree (2/11/59) Delmer Daves ~ Gary Cooper, Ben Piazza, Maria Schell, Karl Malden
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