Law and Order (1932)

Genres - Action, Western  |   Sub-Genres - Outlaw (Gunfighter) Film, Traditional Western  |   Release Date - Feb 28, 1932 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 70 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Tom Wiener

Highly regarded by Westerns film historian William K. Everson and British critic Tom Milne, this version of the O.K. Corral saga is one of the most downbeat Westerns of any era. Its opening montage of the settling of the West promises a celebratory kind of story, but when the narrator wraps up the history lesson with the terse observation, "Weak men were made strong by the air of certain death," the tone shifts abruptly. The saloons depicted here are grimy, the rooms above them barely acceptable, and the politics of the frontier towns dirtier still. This is the era of law by the gun, and order is kept by those with the most firepower and an accompanying willingness to use it. With so much weaponry around it's easy for an innocent cowpoke (played with surprising pathos by Andy Devine) to accidentally shoot a friend and wind up in the hangman's noose, manslaughter not being a legal plea in frontier Tombstone. Walter Huston's Frame Johnson is harder bitten than most screen Wyatt Earps, and as Brant, the stand-in for Doc Holliday, Harry Carey cuts a striking figure, with his twin accessories: a top hat and a shotgun. A mordant touch is the Parker Brothers, the town's sour-faced undertakers, for whom business is always good. Edward L. Cahn's direction is taut, and he astutely uses two tracking shots to establish growing tension. The shootout finale is performed with no music, and its aftermath is appropriately downbeat.