Angel and the Badman (James Edward Grant, 1947)

John Wayne and Gail Russell

John Wayne and Gail Russell

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.

Angel and the Badman 4The 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 invalid awakens - Wayne and Russell with Irene Rich

The invalid awakens – Wayne and Russell with Irene Rich

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.

John Wayne - Angel and the Badman - 1947 - & Gail RussellAs 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.

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34 thoughts on “Angel and the Badman (James Edward Grant, 1947)

  1. Fine write up of a very good film, Judy. It’s another example of a well judged Wayne performance, which a lot of people will still argue doesn’t exist, and Russell was a good actress as well as a great beauty.

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  2. A film that I have seen and enjoyed. It’s been a while and now I want to rewatch it. Thanks for the info about Johnny Cash recording a song about the movie. I didn’t know that he had done that.

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    • Jenni, the Johnny Cash song is on Spotify if you have access to it, and I think it is also on Youtube. I really like it. Thanks for the nice comment.

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  3. I saw this film many years ago and really don’t remember much other than thinking it was odd. I was probably too young to think about the themes it brings up. Should give it another type. Interesting pick!

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    • John, I’d be interested to hear what you think if you do see it again. I think it is quite odd, not like anything else I’ve seen – but I love its oddness!

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  4. I have a quirky fondness for this film, mainly, as you point out, for how it negotiates between the “two worlds” of the violent gunfighter and the pacifist Quaker; and also for lovely Gail Russell. She’s so straightforward and guileless in her role – it’s not polished acting, but her sincerity and unaffected poise carry the picture. Plus I’ve always like the ending, Quirt declaring he’s going to become a farmer and riding off to live a better life. I like the optimism!

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    • “Sincerity and unaffected poise” is a perfect description for the way Russell plays the role. I also think Wayne does a great job – it struck me today, thinking about it a bit more, that his character almost seems to get younger during the film. And I agree the optimism is refreshing – quite a contrast with all the great noirs of this period where there is no way of breaking free from the past. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.

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  5. By your description, it does sound like Gail Russell had a tricky part to play and I’m impressed that she was able to pull it off. I’ve heard of this film but have not seen it (and I claim to be a John Wayne fan!). I’ll be watching for this one soon!

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    • If you’re a fan of his I think you will really like it, Ruth. Hope you get a chance to see it soon, and many thanks for the comment!

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    • Thanks, Patricia – I agree that it is a fine performance by John Wayne. It’s a film I enjoy revisiting. I’m in the UK and unfortunately it looks as if the Olive Blu-ray is region-locked, but there is a Spanish Blu-ray in region 2, so I might be tempted by that in the future!

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  6. One of the few Westerns I’ve seen (think I must’ve caught it on the TV!). As you point out, I like how it manages to retain the lightness but also asks some ‘bigger’ questions. And Carey has a great supporting role!

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  7. Really enjoyed your review. I like the film a lot. Such a tender role for Wayne. Love Johnny Cash and I’ll be running over to YouTube to check the song out.

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    • I think it’s probably the tenderest role of his I’ve seen, now that you’ve used that word – there are still loads of his films I haven’t seen, though. Hope you like that Johnny Cash song – I bet you will. He also did one about ‘The Sons of Katie Elder’, but I don’t really like that film because Wayne looks so ill in it, so therefore I haven’t listened to the song so much either, which is unfair of me!

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  8. This is one of my favourite Wayne movies too, and Russell did nice work (such a beauty!). They worked very well together and you make me want to see it again, it’s been too long. Thanks so much for joining the blogathon!

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    • Thanks very much to you for organising it! Glad to hear you are another fan of this film – I guessed as much when I saw the banner for it. :)

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  9. Terrific review here Judy! Oh I remember this film well and know it is a treasured property of Republic pictures and a particular favorite of John Wayne fans. I complete agree it asks some tough questions about gun toters, and know well of the Johnny Cash song it spawned. Agreed too that Russell had the more difficult lead role, and that the supporting cast is memorable. Usually listed among Wayne fans as one of their favorites by the Duke.

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    • Many thanks for your comment, Sam – your enthusiasm for the film comes across loud and clear here. I’m pleased to hear you also know the Johnny Cash song, since I think it deserves to be much better known than it is.

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