Dean Martin is a total prick in director Arnold Laven’s 1967 western Rough Night in Jericho.
Starring as Alex Flood, a former lawman who has set himself up as the boss of the town of Jericho, Martin plays against type, and is downright ruthless in the film. It’s to his credit, though, that, even when we hate what his character is doing, the famous crooner still brings enough charisma to the part that we can’t take our eyes off of him.
Backed by his hired guns, including Yarbrough (Slim Pickens), Flood rules Jericho with an iron fist, and prides himself on owning 51% of damn near every business in town.
Fed up with Flood’s reign of terror, longtime resident Molly (Jean Simmons) writes to retired sheriff Ben Hickman (John McIntire) and his former deputy Dolan (George Peppard), asking for their help. Unfortunately, Hickman is shot and injured (by Flood) on his way to Jericho, leaving Dolan to assess the situation on his own.
Unlike Hickman, Dolan doesn’t seem interested in taking on Flood or bringing down his empire. But when he falls for Molly (who is also a former lover of Flood’s), the callous deputy may just change his mind.
While it has the look and feel of a classic Hollywood western, Rough Night in Jericho is a lot more violent than many of its predecessors. In the opening scene, before he ever says a word, we watch Flood ambush the stagecoach carrying Ben Hickman to town, shooting the unsuspecting lawman in the leg from a few hundred yards away.
Immediately after this, Yarbrough informs Flood (who just arrived back in Jericho) that one of their hired guns was killed by a shop owner. The merchant did it in self-defense (the gunman was roughing him up at the time), but Flood and his men march on the jail anyway, where the shopkeeper is being held, and demand that deputy Jace (Don Galloway) turn him over. When Jace refuses, Flood orders one of his lackeys to climb onto the roof with some dynamite, and tells the deputy he will blow the jailhouse sky high. Jace backs down, and the store owner is lynched.
It’s a brutal opening few scenes, but the violence only escalates from there. At one point, Dolan and Yarbrough get into a fistfight that is positively vicious; and one poor guy even gets a shotgun blast to the face… at close range!
I’m not going to say that Dean Martin gives his strongest performance as Alex Flood. There are times he seems to be phoning it in. Still, his character is the film’s most interesting. We may not like him (we don’t, actually), but damned if he isn’t a lot of fun to watch. A scene in which Flood and Dolan are playing cards is especially engaging.
Peppard and Simmons fare better, delivering solid performances. Simmons is especially outstanding as the iron-willed Molly, a widow who isn’t afraid to stand up to Flood. She was the only one, in fact, who tried to prevent the shopkeeper’s lynching. Slim Pickens is also good as Yarbrough, Flood’s second-in-command and a guy who is pretty handy with a bullwhip, while McIntire is appropriately grizzled as the aged lawman trying to help Jericho out of a jam.
A movie with the look and feel of a 1950s western that takes a very late ‘60s approach to its story, Rough Night in Jericho is a winner through and through.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10