DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
HELLFIRE (director: R.G. Springsteen; screenwriters: Dorrell McGowan/Stuart E. McGowan; cinematographer: Jack A. Marta; editor: Tony Martinelli; music: R. Dale Butts; cast: William "Wild Bill" Elliott (Zeb Smith), Marie Windsor (Mary Carson/Doll Brown), Forrest Tucker (Marshal Bucky McLean), Jim Davis (Gyp Stoner), H.B. Warner (Brother Joseph), Paul Fix (Dusty Stoner), Harry Woods (Lew Stoner), Emory Parnell (Sheriff Duffy), Trevor Bardette (Wilson); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: William "Wild Bill" Elliott/William J. O'Sullivan; Republic; 1949)

 
"A Bible-thumping Western curio."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A Bible-thumping Western curio. Director R.G. Springsteen opens the film with the adage "Man with his misdeeds kindles his own hellfire." William "Wild Bill" Elliot plays Zeb Smith, a crooked gambler in the Wyoming frontier, whose life is saved by a wandering elderly preacher (H.B. Warner) taking a bullet meant for him. Not wanting to owe anyone a thing in life, Zeb promises to pay the dying preacher back by building the church the preacher desperately wanted and in the process becomes a Holy Joe himself (does he ever, in a performance of non-stop sermonizing ad nauseam). Zeb plans to raise the money by following to the letter the Rule Book (the Bible), thereby refusing to gamble or use his guns to coerce donations. 

In the next town of Dry Springs Zeb, who is having no luck raising the dough by donations, witnesses wanted female outlaw Doll Brown (Marie Windsor) kill Lew Stoner in a street gun duel. The Stoner brothers vow revenge, and ride to hunt her down. Marshal Bucky McLean (Forrest Tucker), a friend of Zeb's, is also after Doll Brown, but we will later learn for different reasons than the $5,000 reward offered for her capture. Zeb sees Doll Brown as an opportunity to collect the reward to build the church with clean hands but refuses to capture her by gunplay, even though he easily could have. Instead he insists on her surrendering to him. Zeb becomes her travel companion and reads to her from the Bible, even pretending to be interested romantically just to get her to reform. He soon learns that her real name is Mary Carson, and that her sister Jane Carson was separated from her during childhood when a bad dude kidnapped her. Doll Brown feels bad that she could not protect her sister as she was growing up. While the outlaw only wishes to reunite with her sis again,  Zeb only wants to quote from the Bible and redeem everyone he meets. 

The film had no box office as action studio Republic (the early home for John Wayne Westerns), known mostly for its Saturday afternoon matinees, failed to promote this Christian Western. They were sued by the screenwriting duo of Dorrell and Stuart McGowan (collaborators on the long-running TV program Death Valley Days), but to no avail. Though the film is well-acted and scripted, it becomes tiresome in its predictable redemption story. It ends with the main characters uttering the Lord's prayer, the last line of Psalm 23, "We shall dwell in the House of the Lord forever." I'll give the film its props for sticking to its guns about its moralizing religious fervor, but all the morality tossed about by Wild Bill became as tiresome as reading about last week's news.

REVIEWED ON 10/28/2004        GRADE: C-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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