Dalton Trumbo's screenplay is built around the surreptitious kiss between Ethan Edwards and his sister-in-law in The Searchers, so Robert Aldrich opens with gunslinger Kirk Douglas riding into Mexico and finding Dorothy Malone in the front porch of her ranch, then rides Red River until he arrives at The Tarnished Angels, also with Malone and Rock Hudson. Hudson is a lawman looking for Douglas, but out in the desert hanging is a "long-term proposition," there's plenty of time for chummy hostility over the course of a cattle drive toward the frontier. The Civil War is a fresh scar, Malone's besotted husband (Joseph Cotten) is revealed as a variation of Eddie Albert's military coward in Attack and is promptly dispatched; the family pooch sniffs out Douglas' cockblocked vibes and gets nearly throttled for the trouble, but fresh-faced kitten Carol Lynley, Malone's teenage daughter, is less leery of the black-clad rascal's philosophy. The vistas are open, the relationships are claustrophobic: every character is knotted with backstory, Douglas aims to revive his old affair with Malone but she refuses to live up to his restricting memory of her as a young innocent, Aldrich dissolves to the arched remains of a dilapidated Mexican church, where the widow ponders the codes of the West, "babies being born, women burying their dead." Bandits are introduced in triple profile and vanquished amid a sandstorm, for the real drama lurks in the icky punchline awaiting the characters on the other side of the Rio Grande, set up in the outdoors party where Lynley pops up in yellow dress and no shoes, then dropped onto Douglas' lap as he heads out to his rendezvous with Hudson. The sunset, lyrically perverse, is the genre's in the face of the modernist dusk, with Aldrich gazing at the Western horizon and seeing Leone as clearly as he saw Peckinpah in Vera Cruz -- the whistling cowboys were certainly noted by Ennio Morricone, Bertolucci jotted the showdown down verbatim for his Once Upon a Time in the West outline. With Neville Brand, Regis Toomey, James Westmoreland, and Jack Elam.
--- Fernando F. Croce