This is my contribution to the 1947 Blogathon being organised by Shadows and Satin and Speakeasy. Please take a look at the great range of postings.
A rider gallops through the Western countryside – but falls from his horse, hit by a bullet. He is seen by a pair of passing Quakers, who go to his aid, but he is reluctant to accept their help, wanting to press on with his quest even if it kills him. That’s the starting point for Angel and the Badman, an unusually romantic Western starring John Wayne and Gail Russell as a couple who come from completely different worlds.
Director James Edward Grant also wrote the script, so this was clearly a film which meant a lot to him. It has an atmosphere all of its own, almost taking place at two speeds, with some fast-moving Western segments, such as a bar-room brawl, and some slower and more gently unfolding scenes in the world of the Quakers’ farmhouse.
The first feature produced by Wayne himself for Republic, this is a movie from the height of his career. Yet it probably tends to get overlooked compared to some of his others because, unfortunately, it has fallen into the public domain. This means there are some truly awful DVD copies around. The first time I saw the film, it was out of focus and gave me a headache. However, there is a good print which has been shown on TV in the UK, and the film has also been released on Blu-ray by Olive in region 1.
The opening scenes of the film have a heightened intensity which helps to create a romantic mood. After seeing notorious gunman Quirt Evans (Wayne) get shot, Quaker farmer Thomas Worth (John Halloran) and his daughter, Penelope (Russell) try to take him home to have his wound treated, but he insists he must get to the post office, where it turns out he intends to make a land claim. He forces the postmaster to serve him at gunpoint, but then literally faints into Penelope’s arms – a surprising moment of role reversal, though he does appear to snatch a kiss before passing out.
The father and daughter then gather him up and take him home, where Penelope nurses him, and swiftly starts to fall for her patient. While the oddly-named Quirt is still unconscious, Penelope starts to find out about his world from his fevered ramblings, which include the mentions of several women. When he wakes up, she is relieved to learn that he isn’t married and is soon declaring her love (more role reversal), but he isn’t sure that this woman and this world are for him. Especially as she demands that he gives up his gun. However, he lingers in the farmhouse and soon starts to fall under her spell, increasingly reluctant to go back to the life he knew before and fight his old enemy, Laredo Stevens (Bruce Cabot).
Both Wayne and Russell are excellent in the lead roles, but Russell possibly has the more difficult role, as she has to make Penelope good without being prim, religious without being pious. She manages this perfectly and even gives the character an occasional touch of mischief. While her character is an open book, Quirt is harder to get to know, as he has a complicated past which is only revealed slowly. Wayne and Russell went on to work together again in Wake of the Red Witch the following year, another romantic film, with a plot loosely based on Wuthering Heights.
As well as the central couple, there’s a good supporting cast, especially Harry Carey as Marshal “Wistful” McClintock, who is convinced he will get a chance to hang Quirt if he only waits long enough. Another quirky character is the postmaster, Bradley (Olin Howland) who is always claiming he is an old friend of Quirt’s. Irene Rich is also quietly endearing as Penelope’s mother, building up a jokey rapport with Quirt.
Made with a light touch, with many gentle and amusing scenes, the film nevertheless asks some tough questions, in particular about the risks of carrying guns. It does rather have its cake and eat it in that regard, though, since Quirt frequently manages to scare people with the knowledge of his shooting prowess, even when he isn’t actually levelling a gun at them.
The film clearly cast a spell on Johnny Cash, since he recorded a song about it, also entitled Angel and the Badman, on his 1991 album The Mystery of Life, which has lyrics recounting the plot. If you like Johnny Cash, I’d definitely recommend listening to the song, which really gets the mood of this film and the way it veers between two worlds.