While passing through the town of Bannock, a bunch of drunken, trail-weary cattlemen go overboard with their celebrating and accidentally kill an old man with a stray shot. They return home to Sabbath unaware of his death. Bannock lawman Jered Maddox later arrives there to arrest everyone involved on a charge of murder. Sabbath is run by land baron Vince Bronson, a benevolent despot, who, upon hearing of the death, offers restitution for the incident. Maddox, however, will not compromise even though small ranchers like Vern Adams are not in a position to desert their responsibilities for a long and protracted trial. Sabbath's marshal, Cotton Ryan, is an aging lawman whose tough reputation rests on a single incident that occurred years before. Ryan admits to being only a shadow of what he once was and incapable of stopping Maddox. Maddox confides to Ryan that Bannock's judicial system is weak and corrupt, and while he's doubtful that anyone he brings back will suffer more than the ...Written by
Some scenes were shot in the same Western location town as Howard Hawk's final film, Rio Lobo. Michael Winner says in his biography that both crews of both films met in the middle of the western town, as in a western showdown, but without guns. See more »
When Vernon Adams (Robert Duvall) first aims down on Maddox (Burt Lancaster) with his rifle from above, Maddox is riding away from him up a long draw. Immediately afterward, Maddox is still traveling up the draw and looks up and sees Vernon in front of him and above him aiming down at him. The positions switched 180 degrees. See more »
This movie stands out as one of the best of a subgenre that doesn't have a lot of great movies representing it. The Post-Western Westerns starting coming out in the mid-sixties until Westerns were hard to come by during the mid-seventies.
These "modern" westerns are distinguished by turning the "white hat good guy" and "black hat bad guy" on their ear. The good guys are not only not perfect, but ruefully flawed, and the bad guys are often people who made mistakes along the way and would not be a threat to society if they were left alone. Examples of other "modern" westerns are Unforgiven (The Clint Eastwood movie), Hang 'Em High (notice a pattern- another Eastwood movie), and Dances With Wolves.
Lancaster's Marshall Maddox is doing his job, but at this stage in his career, he is a walking, talking, killing machine who is ready to kill anyone who gets in his way, and some people who want very much to get out of his way. He is typical of the modern western. Where older westerns emphasized clear moral and ethical boundaries, modern westerns portray a world much less certain and easy to navigate. A world full of shadows and lots of gray ambiguities.
This is a perfect representation of how people felt in 1971. This is a very good film.
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