One of the pleasures of watching old movies like BADMAN'S TERRITORY (1946), is spotting character actors in the supporting cast. You know, familiar faces who you know because of other signature roles they later played. For instance, in this RKO western, Ben Johnson appears uncredited as a sheriff's deputy. He has one line and I recognized his voice before I saw his face. John Hamilton, who went on to star as Perry White on television's ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, has one scene. And Ray Collins, who was in CITIZEN KANE (1941) and later achieved immortality as Lt. Tragg on TV's PERRY MASON, has a somewhat larger role. As I said, spotting these veteran, hard working actors in the background is always a pleasure.
The film itself is a good one. Iconic movie cowboy Randolph Scott (one of my favorite Western actors), stars as Mark Rowley, a Texas lawman on the trail of the notorious James gang (led by Lawrence Tierney as Jesse). The James gang takes refuge in the so-called "Badman's Territory", a rectangle of land north of the Texas panhandle and west of Oklahoma (it's actually the Oklahoma panhandle), that has not yet been annexed by the United States and is thus, without any formal law enforcement. To pursue the gang (who have his brother hostage), Rowley must remove his badge and enter the lawless town of Qunito. There he finds a crusading newspaper publisher, Henryetta Alcott (Ann Richards), who is lobbying for the territory to be annexed in order to bring law and order.
The territory is a virtual who's who of western badmen. In addition to the James Gang, there's the Dalton Boys, Belle Starr (Isabel Jewell) and notorious Texas gunfighter Sam Bass (Nestor (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON)) Paiva). Rowley is eventually made the territory's "regulator" but with annexation looming, he stands to be arrested on false charges brought by crooked U.S. Marshall William Hampton (Morgan Conway). Rowley, aided by Coyote (veteran "coot" George "Gabby" Hayes) eventually wins the day but not before several reversals of fortune along the way.
With it's narrative thread of a crusading newspaper advocating statehood for a lawless territory, BADMAN'S TERRITORY anticipates John Ford's magnificent THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962). But the screenplay, by Jack Natteford, Luci Ward, Upson Young and Bess Taffel, doesn't dwell on the theme. Instead, it concentrates on action and conflict, all of which is capably handled by director Tim Whelan.
BADMAN'S TERRITORY is a good, old-fashioned western movie with appealing leads and a strong, colorful supporting cast. It's not the best Randolph Scott western ever made but it's certainly well worth your time.