The town of Warlock is plagued by a gang of thugs, leading the inhabitants to hire Clay Blaisdell, a famous gunman, to act as marshal. When Blaisdell appears, he is accompanied by his friend Tom Morgan, a club-footed gambler who is unusually protective of Blaisdell\'s life and reputation. However, various townspeople, concerned by the illegality of Blaisdell\'s position, induce Johnny Gannon, one of the thugs who has reformed, to accept the post of official sheriff in rivalry to Blaisdell; and a woman arrives in town accusing Blaisdell and Morgan of having murdered her fiance. The stage is set for a complex set of moral and personal conflicts.
Richard Widmark ... Johnny Gannon
Henry Fonda ... Clay Blaisedell
Anthony Quinn ... Tom Morgan
Dorothy Malone ... Lily Dollar
Dolores Michaels ... Jessie Marlow
Wallace Ford ... Judge Holloway
Tom Drake ... Abe McQuown
Richard Arlen ... Bacon
DeForest Kelley ... Curley Burne (as De Forest Kelley)
Regis Toomey ... Skinner
Vaughn Taylor ... Henry Richardson
Don Beddoe ... Dr. Wagner
Whit Bissell ... Petrix
Bartlett Robinson ... Buck Slavin
The Colt revolver was a tool and the more you study the men who used it at a high professional level the more it becomes obvious that they were also tools, sometimes unwittingly, sometimes (according to Western films) quite the opposite... Necessary tools, necessary men in a very compressed package of American history... They have their brief moment on the stage and then it\'s time to take their leave, preferably with their boots on, knowing, or not knowing that they\'ve done the job that history actually required, but that history, in fact, won\'t thank them for it...
Fonda—a quiet dominant personality in Westerns—puts this over perfectly in Edward Dmytryk\'s \'Warlock,\' unpretentious Western… Here Fonda is a professional hired gun brought in specially, and most temporarily, one always feels, to calm down a town plagued by cowboys, some of them with outlaw affiliations...
Every word he says (\'I\'m a simple man, handy with Colts\'), every calculated ploy, shows that he\'s marvelously clear-eyed about his situation—that today he\'s wanted, that tomorrow he won\'t be—because he\'s an old professional and it\'s all happened before...
Spruce as spry as ever, Fonda is Clay Blaidsdell, a legendary gunfighter, the ideal professional gunman with great expectations... He is hired, temporarily, by the citizens of Warlock to clean up their town from the outlaws... The movie focuses on his rise when he succeeds in removing the bad guys in a spectacular confrontation, and his fall when he is forced to face his best friend in a showdown...
Fonda brings with him his hero-worshiping right hand and conscience, the ex-killer Tom Morgan (Quinn), who challenges his one-man rule, one vindictive old girlfriend and one loving new flame... When the pair defeats the San Pedro gang, one of its members, Johnny Gannon (Widmark), stays behind and volunteers to become Blaisdell\'s deputy...
As an uneasy peace settles onto Warlock, the relationship between Blaisdell and Morgan deteriorates when the marshal finds romance with a local girl, Jessie Marlow (Dolores Michaels). Gannon, meanwhile, becomes involved with Lily Dollar (Dorothy Malone), who at one time had been Morgan\'s mistress and now hates both Blaisdell and him for killing a man she had hoped to marry...
Blond for the only time in his career, Quinn – curious and different as the complex, clubfooted gambler-gunman whose relationship with Clay, leans rather strongly toward homosexuality – made Dmytryk\'s multi-plotted film somewhat daring for its time... Its complicated story line, working at various levels, and its shadowy psychological innuendos, turned off critics and audiences alike, and from several corners came concern that Dmytryk had carried the \'new convention\' Western too far too fast... Nevertheless \"Warlock\" remains a typical law and order Star Western, well written, pretty exciting, and entirely in the classic mold...
I consider \"Warlock\" the best psychological western ever made. The main purpose of the movie is to draw a thorough inner design of the characters; nonetheless there is (happily) plenty of action and gun-fights, with no lowering of strain or moments of bore. As a matter of fact, important sides of the psychology of the male characters are represented through their attitude in violent action.
Clay (Henry Fonda) is a cool-headed gunslinger who, somewhat hypocritically, deludes himself to be fair since he kills people following \"the rules\". And it\'s a bit disappointing to see that people like and trust him mainly because he is handsome and well-mannered. However, Clay doesn\'t like violence and has noble sides, as shown when he stops a lynching.
Morgan (Anthony Quinn) is more honest in his self- judgment: he knows to be an assassin, who solves any possible problem caused by other people by simply killing them. There is a single important thing in his life, which he is even too ready to die for: his friendship-love toward Clay. Johnny (Richard Widmark) is the repented outlaw who has had the strength to quit a life of crime. He is naturally fair and non-violent, yet he knows when it\'s necessary to draw the six-shooter, for his own honor and moral code, and to protect innocent people. McQuown (Tom Drake) is just a loathsome, treacherous coward, who never face a duel without an accomplice ready to shoot his opponent in the back.
Of course, the main theme of the movie is Morgan\'s morbid affection for Clay. This totally absorbing love is masterly represented in the movie, in a crescendo of intensity, finally showing Morgan close to sheer madness. Reasonably enough, most critics have inferred a homosexual love in the relationship between Morgan and Clay. I\'m not much Freudian and I have no tendency to find sex everywhere. I think that the director Dmytryk has made a deliberately exasperated, unconventional representation of the manly friendship, a classical motive in western movies. Here we have two adventurers, two gunslingers who deeply understand each other\'s feelings. Women (saloon-girls) are good for fun, and that\'s all: a real friendship is something completely different, extraneous to the feminine mentality. And deep friendship can be more jealous than love. In fact, Morgan begins to suffer when he realizes that Clay has found a true love, a coming spouse in Jessie (Dolores Michaels): he\'s not just infatuated by some meaningless, cheap girl. Morgan\'s natural, psychologically exact reaction can only be a brutal interference.
The preceding theme of the movie is really so interesting that one could miss to notice how beautifully treated is the psychology of all other characters. Let me focus and make some comments on Lily (Dorothy Malone), the cynical, life-tired former saloon-girl, devoted to a revenge against Clay, which she visibly makes a point of, without being really convinced of the sense of adding violence to violence. Malone is perfect for the role. Her charming beauty make us fully believe that both Clay and Morgan were once infatuated with her. And her splendid, sad, stern yet ironic eyes describe the weariness of her inner core more effectively than words. Lily has a pair of my favorite lines. \"How could I love you... a cripple!\", showing her capacity to wound her hated enemy Morgan, where it most hurts. \"What do you want? A whole life in one night?\": Lily loves Johnny, who is going to face a mortal duel, yet she\'s unable to check her spiteful irony, to get rid of her own former wasted life, showing herself worse than she actually is. And, moreover, she can\'t stand these preposterous honor codes of men killing each other, and for what? Really great stuff!
Other merits of \"Warlock\": the perfect script, the accurate photography, the magnificent locations. The acting by Fonda, Quinn, Widmark, Malone is superb, to say the least: that\'s exactly what we expect from them. The final clash between Fonda and Quinn is a powerful piece of cinema. Splendid movie, highly recommended (even to people not fond of westerns).
In the 50\'s Westerns were extremely popular, and many of that decade\'s best movies were Westerns. The Searchers, Winchester \'73, The Man From Laramie, The Naked Spur - the list of great Westerns from the 50\'s could practically go on for days. One movie that should always be included on any list of best Westerns from the 50\'s is Warlock.
Warlock\'s strengths start with a very well written, intelligent script that gives the characters three dimensions and realistic motivations. The script uses these characters well in pushing forward the many solid plot points. Warlock isn\'t a \"shoot \'em up,\" Western, but it does have its share of good action. Many fans have described this as one of the quintessential \"Psychological Westerns,\" and to a degree that is true. It also features solid drama, and genuine excitement when the action scenes come.
Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn, and Richard Widmark give some of their finest performances in Warlock, and a strong case could be made that this is Anthony Quinn\'s best performance in a Western. Fonda\'s dark, brooding performance foreshadows the even darker and nastier performance he would give almost a decade later in Once Upon a Time in the West. DeForest Kelley gives a strong supporting performance as well, showing his natural abilities in the Western genre.
Edward Dmytryk directed Warlock with a steady hand. He didn\'t overdo the direction looking to push the artistic envelope with unusual camera angles, but he did direct the movie with a flair and style ideal for a Western.
Ultimately, Warlock holds up not only as one of the best Westerns of the 50\'s, but as one of the best Westerns of all time and may be one of those movies that receives more acclaim with each passing decade.
# Henry Fonda\'s name in the original US version is definitely \"Clay,\" but some other sources refer to him as \"Curt.\" Perhaps some foreign versions of the film renamed him because \"Clay\" as a first name was unfamiliar there, while \"Curt\" was.
# Two important roles were played by actors going very much against type. The often strong, tough, macho Anthony Quinn here is cast as a hesitant, even weak man. Tom Drake, who once played sensitive composer Richard Rodgers and while at MGM specialized in nice, clean-cut \"boy next door\" roles, here is cast as the chief villain, the evil boss of the vicious \"San Pablo\" gang.