The Badlanders (1958)

The Badlanders (1958) is a western revenge noir which bills as a bold reinterpretation of the timeless classic The Asphalt Jungle (1950) reimagined against the rugged backdrop of the Wild West.

In this cinematic tapestry, the echoes of the past reverberate across the sun-scorched plains, as the sins of the urban jungle find new life amidst the untamed frontier.

Drawing inspiration from its predecessor, The Badlanders makes moves to homage to the gritty realism and moral ambiguity that defined its predecessor. Yet, with a daring shift in setting and tone, the film breathes new life into the familiar narrative, imbuing it with a sense of vitality and urgency befitting the rugged landscapes of the West.

Indeed, the influence of The Asphalt Jungle reverberates hard throughout cinematic noir, inspiring a several imitations and reinterpretations that seek to capture the essence of its gritty realism and moral complexity. Among these, The Badlanders stands as a notable example, transposing the tale to the rugged terrain of the Wild West with a boldness and audacity all its own.

Yet, "The Asphalt Jungle's" legacy extends far beyond the confines of the Western genre, permeating the fabric of cinema itself with its indelible imprint. In "Cairo" (1963) and "A Cool Breeze" (1972), we see echoes of Huston's masterwork, as filmmakers across generations seek to emulate its ground-breaking approach to storytelling and character development.

Ernest Borgnine emerges in The Badlanders (1958)

In "Cairo," the exotic allure of the Middle East serves as a backdrop for a tale of intrigue and betrayal, echoing the themes of greed and desperation that define "The Asphalt Jungle." Similarly, in "A Cool Breeze," the urban landscape of 1970s America becomes a canvas upon which the complexities of human nature are painted with bold strokes of drama and suspense.

n the vast expanse of cinematic imagination, one finds the echo of a classic tale, transposed from the gritty alleys of noir to the sun-baked plains of the Wild West—a virtual homage to the notorious crime drama, "The Asphalt Jungle," by the illustrious John Huston. Based on the novel penned by W.R. Burnett, this reimagining stands as a testament to the enduring allure of the noir genre, even as it ventures into uncharted territory.

Set against the backdrop of turn-of-the-century Nevada and the rugged landscapes of 1888 Arizona, our narrative unfolds within the confines of Yuma prison, where two inmates, portrayed with gravitas by the formidable Alan Ladd and the indomitable Ernest Borgnine, find themselves unshackled from the chains of incarceration. Released into the wild frontier, their paths converge in the bustling mining town of Prescott, where destinies collide and fates intertwine.

Ladd's character, driven by a burning desire for vengeance against those who wronged him, sets his sights on the small mining community that once condemned him unjustly, while Borgnine's portrayal exudes a palpable sense of honor and redemption—a man determined to leave his criminal past behind. Yet, as they embark on a daring scheme to reclaim what is rightfully theirs, the specter of distrust looms large, casting a shadow over their tenuous alliance.

Enter Kent Smith, a figure of power and influence whose machinations threaten to derail their plans at every turn. As the plot unfolds, the lines between friend and foe blur, as alliances shift and loyalties are tested. Against this backdrop of intrigue and suspense, romance blossoms amidst the dust and turmoil, as Ladd and Borgnine find themselves ensnared in the allure of two captivating women, portrayed with grace and beauty by Claire Kelly and Katy Jurado.

With its pulse-pounding thrills, edge-of-your-seat suspense, and moments of amiable rough-house humor, this tale of redemption and revenge unfolds with all the grandeur of a classic Western epic. The stellar cast, led by the stoic presence of Ladd and the sensational performance of Borgnine, is complemented by a supporting ensemble of talented actors, each bringing depth and nuance to their respective roles.

Kent Smith in The Badlanders (1958)

But it is the masterful direction of Delmer Daves that truly elevates this cinematic journey to new heights. A maestro of the silver screen, Daves brings his trademark blend of visual flair and narrative prowess to every frame, crafting a spectacle that dazzles the eye and captivates the imagination. From the sweeping vistas of Tucson, Arizona, to the heart-pounding action sequences and tender moments of human connection, Daves's vision unfolds with breathtaking precision.

Kent Smith in The Badlanders (1958)

With its reasonably good cinematography, gaudy yet immersive Technicolor palette, and a stirring soundtrack that pulses with the rhythm of the frontier, this reimagining of The Asphalt Jungle stands as a weird testament to the enduring legacy of Delmer Daves and the timeless allure of the Western genre and its lack of capaicty to be mashed up with noir. 

As the credits roll and the dust settles, one thing is certain — this is a journey that will linger in the pillows and sleepy minds of audiences for years to come, a testament to the power of cinema to transport us to worlds of wakeful movie-watching sleep.

Imagine, if you will, a realm where the sacred rites of cinematic expression unfold, where the whispers of creativity mingle with the tangible essence of artistry. Here, within the hallowed sanctum of celluloid wonder, a profound enigma casts its shadow over the illustrious domain of colour film noir—a gem of unparalleled artistic endeavour, veiled in uncertainty and shrouded in mystery.

Widescreen filler Kent Smith in The Badlanders (1958)

In this enchanted realm, the actors—those valiant knights of the silver screen — find themselves burdened by an unspoken dread, as if shackled by the weight of expectation. Their movements are hesitant, their expressions veiled in a cloak of reticence, as they tiptoe on the precipice of artistic endeavour, wary of squandering their creative energies in a realm rife with perilous extravagance.

A palpable inertia pervades their performances, a haunting stillness that lingers like a ghostly fog, obscuring the vibrant potential that lies just beyond their reach. One cannot help but sense a poignant hesitancy, a reluctance to fully embrace the boundless expanse of the canvas before them—a canvas awash with the radiant hues of colour film, beckoning them to unleash their passions with unrestrained fervour.

Yet, amidst this conundrum lies the heart of the matter—the quintessence of film noir ensnared in a web of contradiction. The wide-screen panorama of artistic possibility stands in stark contrast to the intimate confines of the noir aesthetic—a world cloaked in shadows, where every whisper portends impending doom.

Marvel at the irony that pervades this discordant symphony, as fate conspires to trap film noir in a labyrinth of its own making. The monochromatic elegance of yesteryear, once a bastion of purity, now fades into obscurity, overshadowed by the radiant brilliance of modernity's technicolor tapestry.

And yet, amidst this turmoil, a yearning persists—a longing for the simplicity and grace of a bygone era, when shadows danced upon the silver screen with an allure unmatched by contemporary fare. It is a nostalgia that tugs at the heartstrings, a wistful remembrance of a time when creativity knew no bounds, and artistry flowed like a river of endless possibility.

The chief problem with it is not the direction, however, or even the acting. It’s the plodding writing (HUAC victim Richard Collins, using the original WR Burnett novel). The different strands of the narrative remain unintegrated, as it were. It is bitty and messy. Nothing surprising happens and the few attempts at laughs are flops. “Unless you want to see your own gravestone on your way to hell, you’ll be on the next stage. Now that leaves here tomorrow at sundown.” That’s about as near to “There’s a stage leaving at noon. Be on it” as you can get without being laughed out of town. Still, Daves was certainly a noted Western director and the movie had a couple of big stars to accompany Ladd: Ernest Borgnine (returning from Daves’s Jubal) and the great Katy Jurado, probably best remembered, at least by Western fans, for High Noon.

In this epic struggle of tradition versus innovation, old confronts new upon the canvas of history — a testament to the enduring power of artistic expression in the face of adversity and change. It is a battle waged with courage and conviction, as the soul of cinema stands at the crossroads of past and present, awaiting its fate amidst the tumultuous tide of progress.

Noir loses but so does the Western genre. From its slow slow setup to its unexpected shifts in tone and theme, the film deftly plods the labyrinth of human experience without even attempting much in the way of grace nor finesse.

At the heart of the narrative lies the intricate dance between Alan Ladd's enigmatic "Dutchman" and Ernest Borgnine's formidable counterpart, their tumultuous relationship laid bare in the opening scene — a volatile mix of animosity and mutual disdain that belies the deep-rooted connection simmering beneath the surface. United by circumstance and bound by fate, their journey takes them from the confines of prison to the depths of a mine, where they must confront the ghosts of their past and forge an unlikely alliance in the face of adversity.

Borgnine's transformation from a rough-hewn exterior to a beacon of compassion and humanity is a testament to the film's exploration of the human spirit—a journey marked by moments of tenderness and vulnerability, culminating in a love story for the ages. Katy Jurado's luminous presence adds depth and nuance to the narrative, her portrayal of a woman scarred by life's trials and tribulations serving as a poignant counterpoint to Borgnine's steadfast devotion.

Alan Ladd and Ernest Borgnine play if puzzled in The Badlanders (1958)

While the film's storyline may eschew traditional narrative structures in favor of a series of episodic adventures, it is the evolution of the central relationship that serves as the driving force behind its narrative arc. From hatred to loyalty, from animosity to unwavering friendship, the bond between Ladd and Borgnine serves as the emotional core of the film—a testament to the enduring power of human connection in the face of insurmountable odds.

Amidst the breathtaking backdrop of sweeping vistas and majestic landscapes, the film's location footage shines with a brilliance all its own, complemented by stunning cinematography and a rousing musical score that elevates the viewing experience to new heights. And in its portrayal of Mexican-Americans as steadfast allies in the struggle against injustice, the film offers a poignant reminder of the power of solidarity and the enduring strength of the human spirit.

In conclusion, while "The Dutchman's Redemption" may not adhere to traditional notions of storytelling, its rich tapestry of emotion and thematic depth make it a cinematic tour de force—an exploration of the human condition that resonates long after the final credits roll.

Richard Collins's masterful screenplay for "The Asphalt Jungle" draws its essence from the seminal novel penned by the esteemed W. R. Burnett, weaving a tale of intrigue and betrayal that captivates audiences with its raw authenticity and unflinching portrayal of the human condition.

Joining the ranks of this grit-teethed earthly cast are luminaries such as Anthony Caruso, Ford Rainey, John Daheim, and Adam Williams, each breathing in and out as they move and speak their way into their respective roles with a depth and nuance that elevates the film to the cinematic height of about three feet off the ground.

Produced by the visionary Aaron Rosenberg as part of his illustrious partnership with MGM, "The Asphalt Jungle" is a testament to the inherent risks and rewards of cinematic ambition. While the film may have fallen short of financial success, its enduring legacy as a masterpiece of the genre remains unquestioned — a timeless testament to the power of storytelling and the indomitable spirit of the human imagination.

At the core of  The Badlanders lies the pulsating rhythm of revenge, a theme as old as the frontier itself, yet imbued with a twist that sets it apart from the traditional Western fare. Here, justice is not meted out with a bullet, but with a daring heist — a bold act of defiance against those who have wronged the protagonists.

The narrative unfolds with a measured pace, gradually peeling back the layers of the characters' pasts to reveal the motivations driving their actions. Through a series of flashbacks and revelations, we come to understand the depths of their grievances and the lengths they will go to seek retribution.

As the plot thickens and alliances shift, the tension mounts to a fever pitch, culminating in a daring scheme to rob a gold mine and outwit the very forces of greed and corruption that seek to oppress them. Along the way, secrets are unearthed, loyalties are tested, and justice hangs in the balance, waiting to be claimed by those bold enough to seize it.

In the end, The Badlanders is no more than a mere revenge tale — it is not a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, and not a celebration of the indomitable will to fight for what is right in a world rife with injustice. And though the road may be fraught with danger and uncertainty, the promise of redemption beckons on the horizon, a beacon of hope amidst the shadows of the Wild West, which will never be noir, not in color, and maybe not without Robert Mitchum either.

The Badlanders (1958)

Directed by Delmer Daves

Genres - Western, Drama, Romance, Action, Adventure, Crime  |   Stylistic - Color Film Noir  |   Release Date - Sep 3, 1958  |   Run Time - 85 min.  | On Wikipedia

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