So why ain't The Law and Jake Wade any better than it is?
Ironically, some of the problem comes from Taylor and Bowers' work, despite their proven talents and accomplishments. Taylor plays Jake Wade, a former outlaw turned town marshal now on the straight and narrow. Out of loyalty to an old friend and fellow outlaw, Widmark's Clint Hollister, Wade breaks Hollister out of jail in a nearby town the day before he is to be hanged. The pair separate, with Wade warning Hollister to stay away and Hollister telling Wade he wants the money from the last job they pulled, which Wade has buried for good and hasn't touched since. Hollister turns up in Wade's new town, complete with their old outlaw gang, and demands Wade take them to the money. In order to ensure his compliance, they have taken Wade's fiancée Peggy (Patricia Owens).
As mentioned above, part of the problem is Taylor. When Jake Wade was released in 1958, he was 47 and looked quite a bit older. He's hard to buy as a serious interest for the 33-year-old Owens, and for much of the movie seems to be sleepwalking through his part. Bowers' script, adapted from Martin Albert's novel, meanders and leaves plot holes and undone threads all over the place. For some reason the outlaw Wexler, played by a pre-Star Trek De Forest Kelley, has a special hatred for Jake, but not only do we never learn why, we never see that amount to anything. Wade himself seems kind of an idiot -- he tells Hollister not to follow him but gives him one of his own horses which trails him right back home. An escape attempt had an obvious flaw that anyone could see coming. Hollister and a newer member of the outlaw gang, Rennie (Henry Silva) face off but that tension never goes anywhere either.
The best part of the movie is Widmark, whose Hollister is an obvious sociopath but a far more likable character than the hero Wade. It's OK for movie villains to be more interesting than the hero; it happens a lot. But when we find ourselves kind of wishing Hollister would come out on top, if for no other reason than Peggy seems more likely to survive the movie in his company than dunderhead Wade's, then something's gone wrong somewhere.
Sturges had no problem making terrific movies out of old, familiar story elements, but he doesn't seem to have had the luck here. From it's head-scratching title (what "the law" has to do with Wade's actions at any point is never clear) to its boring none-too-bright hero to its sloppy plotting, The Law and Jake Wade is a movie happily to be rented rather than bought.