Cinemagraphe

Raw Edge – 1956

Film Review

There's trouble in the rough Oregon territory of 1842 (about 17 years before statehood). It's short on law and order, which is to be expected in a 1950s Hollywood western, but worse still the area is short on women, and Raw Edge tells us that means the place is constantly simmering with tension. What keeps the men from anarchy is the local strongman, rancher Gerald Montgomery (Herbert Rudley) who employs a lot of the local men. His system of government is summed up with his saying "maybe I'm not the law you like, but I'm the only law there is."

The main dilemma in Raw Edge is that both Yvonne DeCarlo (as Hannah Montgomery) and Mara Corday (as native American Paca) are individually powerless in a situation where "there's a thousand men to one woman" and if you're one of those rare women and your spouse dies, rancher Montgomery's code means you're available as a new spouse to the first man to get his hands on you, though the alarmed looks on the face of the females whenever their male protector has died indicates what we're really seeing is a rather closely told story of forced marriage just a few steps away from rape. To help along the implications, director John Sherwood* makes sure we see groups of men waiting around like wolves when the occasion of a husband's death is presented, such as when Paca's husband is hung for an assault on Hannah Montgomery, convicted and hung on the slimmest of evidence and with the protest from Hannah herself that he isn't the one who attacked her. Moments after the man is swinging from a rope, a group of leering men are immediately stalking Paca and then fight over her like wild dogs over a scrap of meat.

After this brutal scene, Tex Kirby (Rory Calhoun) shows up looking for his brother, who was the executed man, and learning what has happened, Tex sets out looking for vengeance. Now that with the arrival of Tex there's a chance Montgomery himself may die, other lecherous employees start watching to see if his beautiful wife Hannah will shortly be available.

The script, though containing some clever elements, isn't developed very far and seems to have meant to branch out through the large cast of main characters into something more complex but Raw Edge never gets around to having this on the screen itself. The short run time (67 minutes in the version I saw, though there is a longer version listed on IMDB) doesn't help, and some scenes look like the shortened pieces of longer sections that got thrown away, adding a haphazardness to the storytelling. Too much dialogue is plagued by the banality of just moving us to the next point in the plot, which after an interesting start, gets more and more predictable as it rolls along. On top of these disappointments, our main character (Rory) is a vague cinder, we only know he is the brother of the hanged man and may have been a Texas Ranger in the past. In contrast, the two female leads (DeCarlo and Corday) are far better presented, making me think this Western started off intending to be a "woman's western" somehow, but in a confused state never quite gets there, but that's just conjecture based on the mess in Raw Edge.

To add more question marks to this film is the character of gambler John Randolph (Rex Reason) who appears throughout the tale, plays important parts in certain sequences, but ultimately doesn't mean anything to the story. Whatever reason the story made him a major character isn't reinforced by what actually happens, especially in the third act, lending even more credence to the idea that whatever Raw Edge was supposed to tell us about the brutality of a lawless frontier instead got wrapped up in a stew of cliche lines with almost parody level events like bodies that fall over dead right after saying their key piece of dialogue. Reason adds a relaxed and smooth contrast to the other jumpy male characters, and I take it we were supposed to think maybe this guy is different from the rest, as far as how he thinks of the females, and as he stares into a tinkling music box and reminisces about "the scent of magnolias" and then the nearby crass rapist Tarp Penny (Neville Brand) busts out laughing, we're stuck: in a better film, this moment of revealing reverie by this intelligent, cultured gambler would be important. Instead in Raw Edge., it makes Tarp laugh and it probably makes the audience guffaw, too.

Raw Edge is an unusual western with interesting aspects with pretty good performances at times out of DeCarlo, Reason and Corday. It winds its way through a story of violence, lust and lawlessness, and manages an ironic (and welcome) twist that comes from a quite unexpected source, refuting Montgomery's braggadocio about being the only "law" in Oregon. The good aspects of Raw Edge (bits of the story and location shots that are pretty and the horse back riding which is well done) make me wish there's some "better" version somewhere with the longer runtimes, because this 67 minute version suffers from significant story and character problems.

*Sherwood has a long list of second-unit credits, but his directing resume is meagre: The Monolith Monsters 1956, The Creature Walks Among Us 1956, and Raw Edge.


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Original Page April 19, 2022