Black Spurs (1965)
“Bounty Hunter-Law Abiding Killer!”
Black Spurs (1965)
Director: R. G. Springsteen
Cast: Rory Calhoun, Linda Darnell, Terry Moore
Synopsis: A disillusioned ranch hand becomes a bounty hunter.
Black Spurs is a typical mid-1960s A C Lyle production, which means it’s a low-budget Western crammed with actors whose best years were far behind them. Lyles’ regular leading men for these movies included Dana Andrews, Barry Sullivan, and Howard Keel, but for the part of embittered bounty hunter Santee in Black Spurs he plumped for Rory Calhoun (Red Sundown, Apache Territory), an actor with whom he’d already made a couple of B-Westerns. Calhoun was in his early 40s at the time; he was hardly an old codger, but his career had slipped a gear back in the mid-1950s when the story of his criminal past was leaked to gossip mags in return for their sitting on the story of Rock Hudson’s homosexuality, and although he continued to work steadily he never got a sniff at the sort of parts for which he might have been considered.
Calhoun is joined by the likes of Linda Darnell (My Darling Clementine), Scott Brady (Gremlins), Lon Chaney Jr (Bird of Paradise, The Wolf Man), Richard Arlen (Wings) and Bruce Cabot (King Kong) and even DeForest Kelley, the future Doc McCoy of Star Trek has a small role (I can’t help thinking Kelley would have ended up making bad Italian horror movies with the likes of Joe Cotton if he hadn’t been beamed up to the Enterprise). Anyway, with a cast that old, it’s fair to say there isn’t a huge amount of action, and what action there is in Black Spurs is largely supplied by supporting actors.
Although it has the look of a Western from the fifties, and must therefore have seemed a little outdated even when it was released given that Sergio Leone had already transformed the genre, the plot of Black Spurs is unusual inasmuch as the lead character is also the villain, albeit one who has a change of heart in the final reel. Santee is a bounty hunter who is despised because of his chosen profession – although why honest people should loathe a man who goes around herding up the bad guys is a puzzle. Anyway, his fiancee (Terry Moore – Summer Holiday, Waco) dumps him because of his career choice, so Santee throws himself deeper into his work and becomes so jaded that he falls in with a wealthy businessman’s plot to turn the town of Lark into a hellhole so that the railroad line due to run through it will be diverted to his own town, thus increasing the value of his land 10,000-fold. Lark just happens to be where Santee’s ex has made her home with the town sheriff (James Best – Black Gold), but that doesn’t stop him drafting in a troupe of prostitutes, which is all it takes, apparently, to turn the town’s menfolk into a horde of carousing drunks.
Like most of Lyle’s other mid-60s Westerns for Paramount, Black Spurs is modestly entertaining. Calhoun makes a believable bad guy, even though we all know that he’s really a good one under the surface. Brady makes an impression as the town preacher who’s handy with his fists and still bears the scars of an aborted lynching, and Darnell looks colourful in her final role even though she’s given barely anything to do. But B-movie Westerns were as much a thing of the past as Black Spurs’ cast, and the whole thing has an air of half-hearted resignation about it, as if the actors are grateful for the work but are already pre-occupied with thoughts of where the next job will come from. Oh, and beware of pan-and-scan prints of this Techniscope production – it’s like watching the movie through a keyhole.
(Reviewed 21st March 2015)