The Law and Jake Wade (1958)
“The girl is a captive hostage at the mercy of the West’s most notorious bandit-killer.”
Director: John Sturges
Cast: Robert Taylor, Richard Widmark, Patricia Owens
Synopsis: Outlaw Clint Hollister escapes from jail with the help of Marshal Jake Wade, because once Clint did the same for him.
WARNING! This review contains SPOILERS!
Made by one of the most reliable director of fifties Westerns (John Sturges), The Law and Jake Wade is a solid tale that relies on some pretty shaky motivation to establish its central story, but then delivers a suspenseful story of greed and deceit.
If this film had been made even five years earlier the Hays Code would have demanded that Jake Wade (Robert Taylor) either dies or is imprisoned before the end credits rolled: not only has he buried the loot from his last bank hold-up in the desert before going straight, but two lawmen are also wounded as he breaks his former partner-in-crime out of jail. It seems that in 1958, the Code was obviously losing its hold on Hollywood, because not only does Wade ride off into the sunset with the girl (a pretty but occasionally annoying Patricia Owens) but he also still has the money. Exactly why he left his swag in the desert in the first place instead of perhaps anonymously returning it to the bank or donating it toward a worthy cause is never really explained, and you can’t really blame Clint Hollister (Richard Widmark) being a little miffed at Wade’s refusal to reveal its whereabouts.
There’s nothing particularly new or unusual in this flick, but it has the solid look and pace of a film directed by an established practitioner of the genre, and Richard Widmark gives a terrific performance as the former partner with a grudge, eschewing his trademark psychotic persona for a more human villain. There is, perhaps, a questionable ambiguity about the exact nature of the relationship between him and Wade, and there is surprisingly little revealed about their past exploits or how Taylor became a villain, but this film isn’t really trying to be a psychological thriller and, while these vagaries might irritate some, they don’t detract from the main thrust of the picture. The supporting cast is good, although once again the wonderful Henry Silva is woefully underused, and some terrific location photography helps to round out a generally entertaining film.
(Reviewed 23rd October 2005)