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

To dilate television work for the widescreen is a mighty task, Sam Peckinpah avails himself of Ford's leading lady and cinematographer and ventures into the desert. The ex-Union sergeant (Brian Keith) strolls into a cantina to see his old foe (Chill Wills) tottering on a barrel with noose around the neck, they ride out of town accompanied by the grinning dandy (Steve Cochran). (The first ten minutes predict Pat Garret & Billy the Kid's shattered mirror and Cross of Iron's harmonica tyke, the rest proceeds as a rough draft for Ride the High Country.) The Gila City saloon covers up its nudes on Sundays to double as church, the parson (Strother Martin) leads with a hymn but the congregation is more interested in the courtesan (Maureen O'Hara) in their midst, "they smell brimstone every time I walk by." The faulty shooting arm leaves a dead child, the journey to the dusty Siringo graveyard is a hard tale of vengeance and penitence. Frontier myths and their seamy underbellies, silhouetted figures beneath Pathécolor skies and Wills in mangy fur coat rubbing himself against a cactus. The technique is one of rapidly proliferating ideas within compressed arrangements, rather like Buñuel in El Río y la Muerte or Corman in Five Guns West, only a pasted-on score hints at studio interference. Hatred is the force that drives and deforms ("You got to be careful it don't bite you back"), the untouchable hat from Some Came Running is adduced to conceal a stitched-on scalp. A work of many images (sloshed Apaches driving a conquered stagecoach into a stream, O'Hara in cave with shotgun and marauder), plus already the director's need to pursue extremes: "I always did go for high stakes," declares the cardsharp, the Peckinpah aesthetic. With Will Wright, Peter O'Crotty, and Billy Vaughan.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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