One of the advantages that later Westerns have over some of their mid-century counterparts is the use of color -- the blue sky, green rolling hills, snow-capped mountains and so on. But black-and-white movies like Yellow Sky can use their grayscales just as effectively, and Yellow Sky cinematographer Joseph MacDonald skillfully uses the unmatched combination of light and shadow B&W movies can offer to make you not miss the color at all. Three-time Oscar nominee William Wellman directs his tightly-wound story in the middle of a desolate ghost town (a wrecked Tom Mix-era set) and the even more desolate Death Valley.
And his top-level cast keeps this loose adaptation of The Tempest clicking along nicely. Gregory Peck plays the outlaw leader Stretch, who seems to have taken to robbing banks after the end of the Civil War because he doesn't have much desire to do anything else. Stretch will have to confront the idea that he can lay claim to nobility of character while making a living stealing from others. The always enjoyable Richard Widmark brings his trademark charming psychopath to life as the band's lieutenant, Dude. The rest of the outlaws, including a ridiculously young-looking Harry Morgan, are more or less stock characters, but they fit into their parts well. Anne Baxter, who at the ripe old age of 25 already had 20 movies and a Best Supporting Actress win for The Razor's Edge under her gunbelt, makes the granddaughter "Mike" a much richer and deeper character than The Girl often is in a lot of Westerns. She understates it just about perfectly, apparently saving up all of her hamminess for her work in The Ten Commandments seven years later.
Although their spread had been slowed by World War II, color movies were becoming common by 1948, the year Yellow Sky was released. But many directors preferred black and white moviemaking, and not simply because it cost less -- some felt that the limitations imposed by the lack of color pushed them into making creative choices that improved their movies. Yellow Sky is a prime example of a movie that thrived within the limited color scheme and put quite a few movies with more expansive palettes to shame.