Tuesday, August 9, 2022

#2,797. Yuma (1971) - Clint Walker Westerns Triple Feature


A 1971 Made-for-TV western starring Clint Walker, Yuma gets off to a familiar start. Sent to Yuma to clean up the town, Marshal Dave Harmon (Walker) barely has time to put his badge on before two drunk brothers, Rol (Bing Russell) and Sam (Bruce Glover), come barreling into town on a stolen stagecoach. Harmon attempts to arrest the brothers, at which point the hot-headed Sam draws on him, forcing the new Marshal to shoot him dead.

Turns out Rol and Sam are the younger brothers of Arch King (Morgan Woodward), a cattle driver and an important man in the territory. Naturally, Arch won’t be too happy to hear his brother Sam is dead, and folks figure Harmon will go the way of the other marshals, who haven’t stayed in Yuma for more than a week.

It’s certainly not an original storyline: a lawman crosses a powerful individual, setting up a showdown between the two. But then things in Yuma take an unexpected turn when Saunders (Robert Phillips) and Army officer Captain White (John Kerr) break into the jail house and free Rol, only to shoot him in the back - with the Marshal’s gun - when he runs out the front door. Saunders, who works for local businessman Decker (Barry Sullivan), hopes to pin Rol’s death on Harmon as well, but doesn’t realize that Andres (Miguel Alejandro), a young Mexican runaway who Harmon has been helping, was asleep on the jailhouse floor and heard the whole thing (because he only saw Captain White’s boots, Andres can’t identify either man).

When Arch King rides into town, we expect there will be fireworks. But he and Harmon sit down and talk, and King gives Harmon one day to find his brother Rol’s killers, or he’ll hold him responsible. So, Harmon visits a nearby military base (the boots Andres saw could only be army issue), then the local native reservation, and each time learns a little something about Decker’s business dealings.

With the help of Julie Williams (Kathryn Hays), who runs the hotel, and Mules McNeil (Edgar Buchanan), whose freight company has lost business since Decker’s arrival, Harmon carries out his investigation, and it’s here that Yuma distinguishes itself. Walker delivers his usual fine performance as the straight-as-an-arrow Harmon, and I found myself genuinely interested in the mystery he was unraveling. While the “who” is never in question for the audience (we know Saunders and Decker are behind the whole thing), we don’t know the “why”, and there’s even a twist at the end that caught me by surprise.

Production-wise, Yuma is every bit a TV movie, with bloodless violence and limited locales, and while there are certainly tense moments (especially the opening with the drunk brothers), this isn’t an action-packed western. Still, thanks to Walker and the film’s intriguing (though admittedly over-plotted) story, I ended up liking Yuma more than I anticipated.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

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