The Last Posse (1953)
Director: Alfred L. Werker
Cast: Broderick Crawford, John Derek, Charles Bickford
Synopsis: Wealthy rancher Sampson Drune is resented by members of the Romer family, who feel he swindled them out of their cattle. They retaliate by robbing Drune and fleeing with the money.
I wonder what made the producers of Alfred L. Werker’s tightly plotted The Last Posse think of Broderick Crawford when casting the role of John Frazier, the drunken sheriff of Roswell, a small New Mexican town which serves as the seat of power for ruthless cattle baron Sampson Drune (Charles Bickford – Duel in the Sun, The Unforgiven)? I’m joking, of course, but at least Frazier – unlike Crawford – is a docile drunk, the kind who’ll stand quietly at the bar while Drune dispenses his own brand of justice.
A year or two before the events depicted in the movie, Drune bought the Romer family’s cattle at an unfairly low price, and now that he’s just sealed a lucrative deal to sell them on, the Romers figure he should at least pass on some of his good fortune to them. Of course, Drune doesn’t see it that way, so the Romers steal the money and hotfoot it out of town. Drune immediately organises a posse, led by himself and surrogate son Jed Clayton (John Derek), to give chase and with the clear intention of stringing up the culprits once he catches up to them. Frazier might be a drunk, but he’s still conscientious enough to know he has to at least try and uphold the law, so he tags along with the posse, even though Drune makes it clear he’s not welcome.
The Last Posse is told in flashback, beginning with the bedraggled posse’s return to town after hunting down the Romers, and then recalling the events that led to the unforeseen conclusion of the pursuit. Of course, the movie isn’t about the pursuit of the thieves so much as the shifting dynamics of the relationship between the key members of the posse. Drune has a guilty secret, and Frazier knows what it is, and it’s clear that at least some of the posse is also harbouring a collective guilty secret upon its return to town, while the sheriff looks close to death. It’s this change in the attitudes and demeanours of the men that lends the film a touch of mystery as the plot unfolds. The conclusion might come across as a little too pat, but it’s only in the concluding scenes that the various strands are finally brought together and until that point The Last Posse makes for compelling viewing. Why Columbia felt it was only worthy of B-movie status is something of a mystery.
(Reviewed 23rd October 2014)