RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND (director: Monte Hellman; screenwriter: Jack Nicholson; cinematographer: Gregory Sandor; editor: Monte Hellman; music: Robert Drasnin; cast: Cameron Mitchell (Vern), Millie Perkins (Abigail), Jack Nicholson (Wes), Katherine Squire (Catherine), George Mitchell (Evan), Tom Filer (Otis), Rupert Crosse (Indian Joe), Dean Stanton (Blind Dick), Brandon Carroll (Sheriff) ; Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: G; producers: Monte Hellman/Jack Nicholson; Liberty Home Video; 1965)

"While following Western genre custom with strong chase scenes as expected, what leaves an unforgettable impression is showing how frontier monotony was really such a drag."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Shot back to back with The Shootist in Utah, Monte Hellman's moody miscarriage of justice Western was scripted by Jack Nicholson, who also stars in it. Nicholas was inspired by reading frontier diary tales in the L.A. library. "Ride" is another of Hellman's fatalistic pics, but it's more straightforward than its enigmatic companion Western piece.

The film opens to a stage holdup and a killing of the driver by five outlaws led by Blind Dick (Dean Stanton). The gang holes up in a mountain shack, and three cowhands, Wes (Jack Nicholson), Vern (Cameron Mitchell) and Otis (Tom Filer), are passing through the territory after their rodeo gig got canceled to go back to work as working cowboys in Waco, when they stumble upon the outlaw's shack and warily stay there overnight after being handsomely fed. Before they can leave the next morning, a posse comes and mistakes them for being part of the gang and refuses to let them leave. The posse eventually smokes the gang out and hangs those still alive, while plugging Otis. Convinced they won't be able to explain their innocence to the bloodthirsty vigilantes, Wes and Vern flee to the canyon. On foot they take shelter in a homesteader's ranch inhabited by the stern Evan (George Mitchell), who lives there with his obediant wife (Katherine Squire) and 18-year-old daughter Abby (Millie Perkins). Evan works hard to survive in the wilderness and deeply resents the two runaways plan to steal his horses (frontier life as drudgery is shown as Evan is endlessly hacking away at a tree stump and the women's lonely life is built around doing household chores). It's easy to see why being an outlaw might be so appealing, and why Evan will fight to keep the little he has.  

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

In the end, the fate of the innocents is determined by chance. The law-abiding citizens must become horse thieves to escape from being strung up and as they flee on horse Evan shoots Vern and in turn Wes kills him. Wes flees the ensuing posse transformed by this injustice into an outlaw, as he escapes as a wanted man.

"Ride" paints a dreary picture of the West as a place one can become bored to death or be on the wrong end of a rope as a result of hasty frontier justice. While following Western genre custom with strong chase scenes as expected, what leaves an unforgettable impression is showing how frontier monotony was really such a drag (while being chased by vigilantes, Wes and Vern kill time by playing chekers). This unique attempt at debunking the Western myth is something rarely tried in such a creative way as it's here by Hellman.

REVIEWED ON 12/29/2005        GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"