Good Day for a Hanging (1959)

Genres - Western  |   Sub-Genres - Traditional Western  |   Release Date - Jan 1, 1959 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 85 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

Nathan Juran wasn't known for his Westerns, but he did well by the genre on Good Day for a Hanging (1958). Of course, he was fortunate in having a good script, by Daniel B. Ullman and Maurice Zimm from a short story by John Reese, which owes a fair amount to High Noon. And Henry Freulich's color cinematography (non-anamorphic widescreen) never looks too pretty, attaining a decent level of realism that fits well with the raw emotions of the plot. The script and Juran manage to have some fun inverting the conventions of the genre from the scene over the opening credits, depicting a group of what are obviously outlaws observing a stagecoach crossing the prairie -- at the risk of spoiling the movie, let it be said that little that is seen in this movie will play out according to the dictates of the typical western genre, or what we would consider common sense, but it almost all makes perfect sense; the major exception is Joan Blackman's portrayal of Laurie Cutler, the daughter of reluctant lawman Ben Cutler (Fred MacMurray) -- she is so resolutely stupid and naïve, that one suspects that her character is intended to be mentally challenged, or just plain unbalanced; that this isn't the case leads to a moment that audiences in theaters tend to cheer, when her character is knocked out cold with a punch to the face. But everything else works well and logically, and disturbingly so at times -- the violence at the end is a little too savage by the standards of the time to be considered cathartic, though there is ample provocation of the audience to elicit this reaction. In the end, it's a sad little movie with a lot to say about the dark side of human nature and some very persuasive performances by MacMurray and Robert Vaughn, and a memorable, poignant (and unexpected) co-starring turn by Kathryn Card (best remembered as Lucy's mother on I Love Lucy), as the widow of a murdered lawman.