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With: John Lund, Brian Donlevy, Audrey Trotter, Joan Leslie, Nina Varela, Ben Cooper, James Brown, Jim Davis, Reed Hadley
Written by: Steve Fisher, based on a story by Michael Fessier
Directed by: Allan Dwan
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 90
Date: 03/20/1953

Woman They Almost Lynched (1953)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

No Hang Ups

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Allan Dwan had an immense career; according to Peter Bogdanovich, he may have worked on nearly 1000 films between 1911 and 1961, and definitely directed more than 400 of them. Most of them were two-reelers in the silent era. He made expensive adventures with Douglas Fairbanks and cheap Westerns with Ronald Reagan. He made John Wayne war movies and Bela Lugosi thrillers. He made Shirley Temple movies for kids and Barbara Stanwyck movies for grown ups. He made screwball comedies, Westerns, adventures, crime stories, and just about everything else. The few film scholars who dared to scale the mountain of his work have usually given up.

Even Andrew Sarris, who wrote well of Dwan's cockeyed Western Woman They Almost Lynched, didn't want to go too far in praising it, unsure of just where and how it might fit into that voluminous career. Decades later, we still don't know for sure, but Woman They Almost Lynched is an amazing example of sheer skill, will, and invention winning out over weird raw material.

The story takes place during the Civil War in a little town situated right on the border between Union and Confederate territories. The burly lady mayor (Nina Varela) has outlawed uniforms of any kind and maintains neutrality. Naive Sally Maris (Joan Leslie) comes to town to visit her brother Bill (Reed Hadley). Unfortunately, she has arrived at the same time as the outlaw Charles Quantrill (Brian Donlevy) and his gang, including Jesse James (Ben Cooper), Frank James (James Brown), and Cole Younger (Jim Davis). Quantrill has married the woman Bill was in love with, Kate (Audrey Totter). And Sally is surprised to see him miserably drinking and gambling in his own saloon.

Bill makes a play for his lost love and is shot dead, leaving Sally with the saloon, as well as with her brother's huge debt. From there it gets a bit complicated, having something to do with nearby, profitable lead mines, and it all leads up to a main street showdown between the two women, as well as the title lynching that almost happens.

As Joe Bob Briggs used to say, that's a whole lot of plot getting in the way of the story. But Dwan directs it like Howard Hawks directed The Big Sleep, simply plowing through with confidence and speed, as if everyone knew what was going on. There's also a wry grin behind it, perhaps acknowledging that this was all a bit ridiculous. As Sarris pointed out, it's hard to tell if Dwan's filmmaking is based on vitality or vulgarity, but either way it's certainly not lazy or jaded. And it's great fun.

Olive Films has unearthed this treasure for a great looking Blu-Ray release. As usual with Olive, there are no extras.

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