PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
Twelve-year-old Jeff Blaine lives in the small western town of Plainsville where he is being reared by his aunt, Ruth Sewall, who operates a tinsmith business. Jeff’s mother died when he was four months old and his father Nate left shortly thereafter and became an outlaw.
One day, Nate returns and tells Ruth that he has recently been involved in a gunfight. Realizing that his days may be numbered, he asks to see his son again. After Jeff rejects Nate as his father, Ruth, who does not welcome Nate’s visit, returns the small amount of money he has sent for Jeff’s support and asks him to leave the next morning.
In town, when Nate meets old friend Marshal Elec Blessingham in the saloon, Elec chooses to ignore the fact that Nate is a wanted outlaw. The next day, unknown to Ruth, Nate ingratiates himself with Jeff by showing him how to shoot his Colt 44. Later, Ruth reluctantly agrees that Nate can stay a few more days.
Soon, Jeff is calling Nate “Paw,” but runs into trouble at school when another boy, Ben Jorgenson, says that Jeff’s father is a murderer. Jeff tells Ben to get his father’s gun and meet him later. Instead, Ben brings his father, who beats Jeff, who is wearing Nate’s gun. Nate, Elec and Ruth arrive soon after and, after Nate slugs Jorgenson, Ruth blames Nate for involving Jeff with guns and swears she will kill him if he returns again. Later, when Ruth comes to town to obtain some medicine for Jeff, Nate tells her that he is leaving and intends to take Jeff with him.
Soon after, two former associates of Nate, Bill Somerson and Ed Wyatt, rob the Plainsville bank and kill the manager. Ruth, the sole witness to the robbery, lies to Elec that Nate was the perpetrator in order to prevent him from taking Jeff. Nate is arrested and when Jeff visits him in jail, Nate, believing now that his son is better off without him, lets Jeff believe that he is guilty. Outwitting a deputy, Nate escapes from jail and rides away.
Ten years pass and Jeff is still living with Ruth and is now working as a security agent for the stagecoach line, but is embittered by the town’s ostracism of him. Jeff is courting two young women, the prim Amy Wentworth and the more adventurous Lila Costain, who runs a ranch she inherited from her father. When Jeff assists Elec and a posse in foiling a stagecoach robbery, they shoot three of the robbers, including Ed Wyatt. As he dies, Wyatt recognizes Jeff as Nate’s son and tells him and Elec that he and Somerson committed the bank robbery, not Nate.
After Jeff confronts Ruth, she admits that she lied to prevent Nate from taking him away because she wanted Jeff to grow up to be happy and decent. Jeff then leaves Ruth’s house and decides to find Nate. Although Lila tries to dissuade Jeff and asks him to stay with her, he is obsessed with joining his father, who has continued his criminal career, in exacting revenge against the townspeople. Somerson contacts Jeff with a proposal that they and two others set up a payroll robbery based upon Jeff’s knowledge of the stage line’s operations.
Later, Nate visits Ruth and reveals that he never told Jeff that she had lied because he wanted the boy to stay with her. While Nate is at the house, Jeff enters with Lila and Nate informs him that he has heard about the intended robbery and forbids him to participate. In the ensuing fistfight, Jeff beats up Nate and rides off. Nate then begs Elec to help him prevent the robbery.
When Nate and Elec thwart the holdup, Somerson and another gunman take Jeff hostage, blaming him for Nate and Elec’s intervention, and flee on the stage. Nate rides after them and, as Jeff and Somerson struggle inside the coach for possession of a gun, Nate shoots the outlaw driver. Nate then jumps on board, taking over the reins of the runaway stage, but is attacked by Somerson who has knocked out Jeff. Somerson overpowers Nate and brings the stage to a halt, intending to shoot Elec and the others who are following. Nate prevents Somerson from shooting by hurling a knife into his body, but is in turn mortally wounded by the outlaw. Later, as Nate dies in Ruth’s house, Jeff tells him that he intends to change his ways and Ruth agrees to help Jeff once more. Lila then comforts Jeff for the loss of his father.
It has been a little while since I last visited the western genre, so I feel I need to get back to this beloved genre. Since I am pushed for time this afternoon, something short and sweet is what I am looking for. This is where Outlaw’s Son comes in. Under 90 minutes is the run time, but is it worth watching?
What is this about?
Twelve years after he abandoned his son, an outlaw returns to seek a reconciliation, but is instead framed for murder by a family member.
What did I like?
Sins of the father. The titular character’s father comes to see him after 12 years. As you can guess, this doesn’t sit too well with him, but after a couple of days, they warm up to each other, until an incident happens that turns the town against the father. After a series of events, and 10 yrs passing, we learn that Jeff has grown up into a hardened gunman of sorts, much like his father, but without the outlaw part. All this because of the way he was treated on account of his father’s reputation. Perhaps it is for the best, though.
Triangle. Ah, the love triangle cliché. Sometimes this is something that is just so overdone that we just don’t wish to see it. Other times we get hints at it as a very minor subplot, as is the case here. Jeff is courting these two girls who are polar opposites of each other, as they always tend to be, but it is played out as just part of his everyday life, rather than forcing it into the plot the way some other films would more than likely have done.
Truth comes out. One of the criminals involved in the robbery/murder that framed Nate, the father, clears the air on his deathbed, telling the sheriff and Jeff what really happened. Per the law, a deathbed confession is not something to be taken lightly. Judging by the way Jeff turned out, though, had this been confessed 10 years ago, he may have turned out totally different.
What didn’t I like?
Selfish aunt. Jeff’s aunt, in her quest to keep him away from his father, does everything she can to stand in between the two of them. After the incident where Jeff is beat up by a grown man, she blames him and tells him needs to get out of the house. Then, when he tells her he is leaving town and taking Jeff with him, she witnesses a robbery and murder. When asked who did, she says Nate was the perpetrator, framing him and setting in motion a dark path for Jeff. Some people and their selfish ways! Will they never learn?
Townspeople. If I’ve learned anything from watching old movies, especially westerns, it is that townspeople are bloodthirsty when a crime has been committed against one of their own. The first chance they get, they will call for a hangin’. These folks are no different, they wanted Nate hung right there on the spot. No jail time. No trial. Just swift “justice”. Sakes alive, can you imagine if folks were still like this today?!?
Vengeance? A recurring theme in most westerns is vengeance, and yet it doesn’t seem to be a factor in this one, but I feel it should be. Jeff meets the man who more or less is responsible for his father having spent the last 10 yrs in exile, so to speak, but instead of shooting the man dead, he teams up with him. For some reason, I think that has this been a John Wayne film, we would have seen some vengeance extracted, one way or another.
Outlaw’s Son is not a well-known entry into the western genre. Some even go so far as to label it a B-movie. I’m not so sure I agree with that, unless the definition was different in the 50s. This is the kind of flick I expect to see on AMC when they have that group of westerns every Saturday morning. That isn’t a bad thing, just an observation. As far as the film goes, it has some issues with creating a storyline the audience can get invested in, but at least the pacing is brisk and doesn’t give you time to nod off. The climactic stagecoach robbery scene is vintage western, though I would have liked for there to have been some shots fire. All I all I think this is a decent underrated western worth checking out someday. Just remember, it has nothing to do with the Jane Russell film, The Outlaw.
3 out of 5 stars