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The Deadly Companions (1961)

by on 2011/06/14

“You don’t know me well enough to hate me that much.”

* * * *

As we watch our way through a stack of westerns in service of our theme this month, I’ve been thinking a lot about anger.

I know a thing or two about anger, rage and fury. We hang out sometimes.

Until recently, I’ve often thought there was some wisdom from cybernetic Arnie’s one liner in Terminator 3: “Anger is more useful than despair.”

I hold grudges like Nixon. I hang onto things. I don’t forget.

The Deadly Companions and careful contemplation of life of late makes me wonder just a little bit about the cleansing power of anger. Does it really clean anything? Or does it just muck up everything it comes into contact with?

This very first Sam Peckinpah-directed western, is a meditation on anger, hatred and revenge.

The Deadly Companions was one of those rare films that made me quiet. There were no quips, no flip remarks, no snarky one-liners springing to mind after the credits rolled.

Brian Keith plays a tortured ex-Yankee officer who is obsessed with finding the Rebel solider who left him near death and half scalped. He’s got a bullet lodged in his shoulder, making his gunslinging arm all but useless.

On the road to revenge, Keith’s character nicknamed “Yellowleg” accidentally kills the young son of a dance hall girl Kit (Maureen O’Hara) while trying to stop a bank robbery. Kit, another tortured, marginalized soul, wants to bring her son’s body to be buried next to his father’s grave in an Indian-ravaged territory.

No one is brave enough to take her, and more bluntly, no one believes her story of having a husband at all. Yellowleg finds himself torn between his essential decency and his lust for vengeance.

I read that Sam Peckinpah didn’t hold much affection for this film, it was the experience that made him rather particular about having script control over the rest of his films.

I don’t know if I agree with Sam here. I rather liked it for the layered, interesting performances from Brian Keith, Maureen O’Hara, and Chill Wills as the bearskin-coat-wearing, deeply delusional Turk and Steve Cochran as the murderous dandy Billy.

The Deadly Companions made me think that perhaps there comes a time to let anger go.

There’s a story I once told Hacker Renders when I was being a pompous ass. Now he irritates me quoting it. Frequently. Repeatedly.

Two Buddhist monks were on a journey. One was a senior monk, the other a junior monk. During their journey they approached a raging river and on the river bank stood a young lady.

The junior monk walked straight past her without giving it a thought and he crossed the river. The senior monk picked up the woman and carried her across.

As the journey went on, the junior monk asked, “How could you carry her like that? You know we can’t touch women, it is against our way of life.”

The senior monk answered, “I left the woman at the river’s edge a long way back, why are you still carrying her?”

Maybe it is time for me to stop carrying her.

The Deadly Companions is one of those movies that stays with you. It makes you want to take off your hat in respect.

* * * *

93 minutes

Unrated but lots of Sam Peckinpah-styled, wave-the-gun-around violence

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