Friday, June 8, 2012
From the Rental Vault (1959): Good Day for a Hanging
But Ben's two latest passengers are a part of a gang that robs a bank. Gang members shoot the marshal when they're pursued by a posse and so Ben is asked to take on the badge again. This will become a problem because the one fleeing robber the posse managed to catch is Eddie Campbell (Robert Vaughn), who grew up with Laurie and who will be tried for the murder of the marshal.
Ben will have to face the difficulty of testifying against his daughter's childhood sweetheart, and later the town's disapproval of his determination to follow the law, even when the results may be distasteful. He himself grows increasingly disgusted with the spectacle folks will make over the death of a human being, even if that death comes from the due process of law.
MacMurray, as mentioned above, is more or less playing himself. Throw in Uncle Charley and you could have Steven Douglas just as easily as Ben Cutler. He's the bulwark for the less brave townsfolk, taking on the marshal role none of them wants and insisting on following the law when they want to demur. Vaughn is the other major player of the story, as his Eddie Campbell tries to manipulate people to escape his sentence. Although he would later be known better as a suave and sophisticated type, here he plays a thug with just enough good left in him to make his guilt not entirely clear. Laurie's kind-heartedness leaves her vulnerable to the doubts he creates and Vaughn shows Eddie playing with those doubts quiet skillfully.
Good Day for a Hanging examines some questions about the cost of taking a human life, whether legally or illegally. And it offers a couple of thoughts on what might happen when people have to take a look at the ultimate consequences of their decisions, both among those who choose to bear those consequences and those who don't. It's not truly top-flight -- there's a sequence with Edmon Ryan as Eddie's attorney that doesn't really go anywhere after being introduced, for example -- but it's a good example of a competent story, made with some thought and sketched out by a talented cast and crew.
Far better than you'd expect from the guy who directed Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, anyway.