The Deadly Companions (Sam Peckinpah / U.S., 1961):

The basis lies in Sam Peckinpah's thorough dilation of his television work (The Rifleman, The Westerner) to fit the widescreen. Brian Keith walks into a saloon and spots Chill Wills doing the hanged man's dance atop a barrel, he cuts him down and they take off to a nearby town, joined by cardsharp Steve Cochran; there are hints of Treasure of the Sierra Madre in the trio and a whiff of Some Came Running in the hero's untouchable hat (hiding a stitched-on scalp), Ride the High Country, The Wild Bunch and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid are predicted in the first 10 minutes alone. The town's bar doubles as church on Sundays, the parson (Strother Martin) comes in for a drink but instead leads the gossipy congregation onto hymn-singing ("If they are going to Heaven, let's you and me not go," says the dance hall's son). Riders are silhouetted against a golden sunset, though Peckinpah seeks the seedy appetites behind the pose -- Wills rubs himself thinking of the gold in the bank, Cochran eyes Maureen O'Hara, Keith nurses a mystery vendetta. Peckinpah's technique here is a matter of rapidly proliferating ideas in a condensed style, rather like Bu˝uel in The River and Death or Corman in Five Guns West; the elusive salvation of its main gag (Keith aiding O'Hara's search for a cemetery deep in Apache country after his faltering arm accidentally puts a bullet in her boy) is sustained, only the pasted-on score betrays an apprentice work. The editing was (mis)handled by the producers, who made mincemeat out of the final shootout, yet the desert still holds such sights as the Indians driving the conquered stagecoach into the stream, and O'Hara alone with shotgun in a cave, awaiting a predator. Above all, the need to pursue extremes -- "I always did go for high stakes," Cochran says, the Peckinpah aesthetic. With Will Wright, and Billy Vaughn.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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