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THE OTHER/FORGOTTEN WESTERNS OF JAMES CAGNEY

Vic Morrow with James Cagney in TRIBUTE TO A BAD MAN
In GOODFELLAS, when Joe Pesci's Tommy asks the group of thugs, gun in hand, poised to shoot the doomed houseboy,  the name of the Western... singular... that James Cagney starred in?

RUN FOR COVER Artwork
After a sarcastic answer, "Shane", followed by a burst of rowdy, drunken laughter, someone names what's referred to as the only Cowboy Picture that Cagney, known for ruling gangster/crime flicks, headlined: that being THE OKLAHOMA KID, which came out in his heyday during the 1930's. To film historians it's was a miscast for such an urban wise guy to appear in the time-period, spur-kicking genre at all... But there are two other Cagney Westerns made two decades later during the 1950's: First is Nicolas Ray's RUN FOR COVER but let's start with...

Year of Release: 1956
TRIBUTE TO A BAD MAN: "Don't you keel over on me — you Pennsylvania egg-sucker!" If you can survive that line from an overboard James Cagney, suffering from a bullet in his backside, simply let go and enjoy the ride that includes a May/October romance. an idealistic take on killing horse thieves without a trial, and a plain old shoot 'em up Western taking place in a lush valley belonging to Cagney's Rodock, who gets personal protests about his heated "hanging fever" from ex-barroom babe turned maid/pseudo girlfriend Irene Papas. Although these two have zero chemistry, she seems the perfect fit for the young buried lead played by Don Dubbins as Steve Miller: The picture begins with Miller helping Rodock fight off horse thieves, and then it's cut in two halves: The first being the sporadic search for the outlaws, who not only stole his horses but killed one of his men (off screen)...

Tribute Score: ***
On the sideline, Vic Morrow turns in a small role as a dimwitted son of a poor rancher who's family is reluctantly harboring the outlaws, as the film's other portion deals with Cagney back at home, having drawn-out conversations with Papas's Jocasta Constantine and, although his character feels genuine, he seems to be reaching for a purpose and reason behind the story he's part of and/or stuck in. The most interesting character, who gets Cagney on his toes, is called-out too soon: The Alpha Male of the worker's bunkhouse has Stephen McNally targeting the Spanish lass for his own needs, making for a three way triangle of sorts. So as a melodrama, TRIBUTE TO A BAD MAN is interesting enough. But once the posse heads out for good, there's not enough action and too much pontificating dialogue to make this the kind of Western James Cagney could really sink his teeth into.

Release Year: 1955
RUN FOR COVER: Another "hanging without a trial" situation but, at first, Cagney and his brand new young partner, John Derek, provide the necks for the posse's rope: mistaken as train robbers but for hardly five minutes until Cagney demands proof, which there's none...

RunForCoverScore: **1/2
While Cagney's more natural and at-home than his other Westerns before and after, there's an overdose of melodrama...

That includes minor flaws like Derek's corny name, Davey, repeated like a scratched record: The kid had been shot by the posse and rendered crippled with an eternal limp, making the handsome would-be co-leading man more of an idiot man-child to Cagney, who's hired as Sheriff by the same town that nearly executed him and with Deputy Davey in tow...

There's a handing off of sporadic bouts against ambiguous drifter Ernest Borgnine and local redneck Jack Lambert to heartfelt dialogue between Cagney and townswoman Viveca Lindfors, a good actress in an extremely contrived role — they fall in love so quick the romance doesn't mean anything, slowing down the overall pace that never quite allows itself to go all-out till the 11th hour, when it's too late. Perhaps intentionally since RUN FOR COVER remains as subtle and level-headed as our patient, good-natured and, alas, somewhat dull hero.
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