The Hanging Tree (1959)

Genres - Drama, Western  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Western  |   Run Time - 106 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Richard Gilliam

The Hanging Tree is one of three outstanding Westerns adapted from the stories of Dorothy Johnson. As in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and A Man Called Horse, Johnson is more interested in reexamining the clich├ęs of the West than in telling a conventional story. Not fully appreciated by critics at the time of its release, Hanging Tree features excellent, sure-handed direction from Delmer Daves, solid performances from stars Gary Cooper and Maria Schell, and a strong screenplay by Wendell Mayes and Halsted Welles. A surprise success at the box office, its brisk ticket sales benefited from the hit title song by Mack David and Jerry Livingston, a success story mirroring that of Cooper's 1952 Western High Noon. Though the plot has the structure of a traditional Western, the character interplay and psychological motivations are uncommon for a 1950s studio production.