Return of the Bad Men (1948)

Written by John Chard on October 10, 2017

You're the most unethical, ornery bandits I ever done business with.

Return of the Badmen is directed by Ray Enright and co-written by Charles O'Neal, Jack Natteford and Luci Ward. It stars Randolph Scott, Robert Ryan, Anne Jeffreys, George Hayes and Jacqueline White. Music is by Paul Sawtell and cinematography by J. Roy Hunt.

Braxton, Oklahoma Territory, 1889, soon to be a ghost town as the impending land rush changes the West. With that comes more than just settlers, it brings outlaws too, some of the meanest there is. Under the leadership of Wild Bill Doolin has gathered the Sundance Kid, the Younger Brothers, the Daltons, Wild Bill Yeager, Billy The Kid, George Mason, the Arkansas Kid and Doolin's niece Cheyenne. Standing in their way? Vance Cordell, retired Texas Ranger, soon to become temporary marshal of newly formed Guthrie Town, and a man with a score to settle with the Sundance Kid.

Premise is simple, RKO, flush with the success of Badman's Territory the previous year, decide that more is best in this second instalment of the studio's "Badmen" trilogy (Best of the Badmen followed in 1951). They pitch some of the Wild West's baddest apples together and play them off against that bastion of stoic cowboyness, Randolph Scott. As a basic Western movie it works, film is always engaging, has a good action quota, is technically safe from the camera side of things and is driven by a pot boiling destiny showdown between Scott and Ryan. Trouble is is that so many notorious characters in one mix means the film has no chance of living up to its promise. Which in a running time of 90 minutes was always going to be impossible to achieve anyway, especially when you also have the inevitable romantic angle involving our hero, another character thread involving reform and the backdrop of the land rush as well.

Thankfully the film finds Scott and Ryan more than capable of sealing the deal, lifting the picture above the routine plotting and unrealistic nature of the set-up. It's good versus evil, where Scott's Cordell is the man in light, the man of the people, and Ryan's Sundance is the man in dark, a twitchy cold blooded psycho. Yes, there's the inevitability factor of it all, we know who is going to triumph here, but the build up is well handled and it does provide a very brisk and punch laden finale. There's nothing irritable in cast performances across the board, yes we want more from the roll call of actors playing under written villains, but story, as fantastical as it is, never sags and entertains from first minute to last. There's worse ways for Western fans to spend an hour and half, that's for sure! 6.5/10