Law and Order (1953)

Adapation of William Burnett’s story “Saint Johnson” is also a follow-up to (or rehashing of) 1932’s “Law and Order”, yet has enough energy and excitement to stand on its own. Ronald Reagan is very good playing the Marshal of Tombstone in the 1880s, tired of being a “hired killer” and quitting for a rancher’s life on the outskirts of Cottonwood–only to find the citizens there much tougher than in Tombstone, including a scurrilous family who has tangled with the Marshal before. It’s never made clear how the Marshal managed to get on the bad side of the Tombstone residents (they seem to want a no-nonsense approach to the law–and they’ve got it with Reagan–so what is their beef?). Dorothy Malone is wasted in frivolous role as Ronnie’s girl (she always seems to be saying, “I’ll be here when you come back”) and the (blonde) actors playing Reagan’s brothers are poor choices–they don’t look or act anything like him. Still, there’s a few evil, grinning sonsofbitches in the line-up who give the narrative dramatic flavor, and Reagan has a terrific scene early on protecting a prisoner from a lynch mob. Most of “Law and Order” (terrible title!) is strictly rote, a western formula, but the locations are good and the finale very satisfying