Dawn at Socorro
R2 - United Kingdom - Simply Media
Review written by and copyright: Matthew Crossman (12th May 2016).
The Film

The film opens in The Oriental Saloon. The players in this drama are introduced by voice over, a man remembering the shoot out that is to come. Inside the saloon are, amongst others, Marshall Harry McNair (James Millican) , Jimmy Rapp (Alex Nichol), Brett Wade (Rory Calhoun) and Buddy Ferris (Skip Homeier). Buddy is the youngest member of the family of Ferris' that have been terrorising the town for a number of years. At that moment Buddy is joined by the rest of the Ferris clan. Leading the way is Old Man Ferris (Stanley Andrews) soon followed by his other Sons Tom Ferris (Richard Garland) and Earl Ferris (Lee van Cleef). Buddy informs his family that he intends to stay in town tonight and not go back to the ranch with them, choosing to have himself a good time in the saloon instead. Old Man Ferris agrees to let him stay and then talks to Jimmy Rapp, who is playing poker with Wade. Rapp is like a Son to Old Man Ferris and is the family's sharp shooter, helping to protect the family. Old Man Wade asks Rapp to look after Buddy and ensure he does not get into any trouble, and Rapp agrees. Later, with Rapp losing badly to Wade at the card game, Rapp leaves and tries to take Buddy with him. Buddy, very drunk, refuses to leave so Rapp takes his gun so he will stay out of trouble. Rapp buys two bottles of whiskey and retires for the night. Buddy then starts an argument with the lady who was accompanying him and the Marshall steps in and tells Buddy to leave. Buddy then grabs the gun of a fellow patron and shoots at the Marshall. In the ensuing, but short, gun battle Buddy is killed by Wade who was protecting the Marshall. Later on Old Man Ferris and his two remaining Sons find out about Buddy's death and go to fetch Rapp so they can take their revenge on the Marshall and Wade. Unfortunately Rapp is too drunk and they fail to rouse him. The three remaining Ferris' decide to take on the Marshall, Wade and another man at dawn. The message is sent and the meet agreed. At dawn the two sides battle it out and Old Man Ferris and Tom Ferris are killed. Earl manages to make his escape but not before he tells the Marshall that he does not consider the matter closed. In the battle Wade was wounded in the shoulder and whilst he has that wound tended to the Doctor notices that Wade is coughing rather badly. Due to an gun shot injury to his lung five years earlier Wade is still suffering. The Doc suggests that Wade give up his life of whiskey, women and gambling and go to Colorado to live a cleaner life. Wade takes up the suggestion and throws one final party, entitled 'Brett Wade's Funeral' before getting on the stage coach to Colorado. Sharing that stage coach is Jimmy Rapp, on his way to Socorro, as well as a young woman called Rannah Hayes (Piper Laurie) who the viewer encountered in an earlier scene when her Father disowned her and called her a Jezebel. Rannah is on the way to Socorro to take up the offer of a job in a casino. At a way station Wade is ambushed by the remaining Ferris Brother, Earl. Wade, unarmed, managed to take Rapp's gun and defends himself, finally killing Earl. Rannah is disgusted with the gunfight, the second she has ever witnessed, both involving Wade, colouring her view of him. Rapp is also disgusted but mainly in himself. He tells Rannah that he wants to kill Wade because Wade was part of the original family that ran the Ferris' out of town and Rapp himself was treated by Old Man Ferris as one of the family. The stage coach arrives in Socorro and Rannah is met by her future employer Dick Braden (David Brian), the owner of the largest casino in town and a known womaniser. Wade is met by Sheriff Cauthen (superbly played with great comic effect by Edgar Buchanan). The Sheriff, nervous about Wade's reputation puts Wade on the train to Colorado Springs himself but Wade jumps off the train and instead heads Braden's Casino. Once inside he is met by Rapp, the Sheriff, and Braden all of whom want Wade out of the way, one way or another. The next train leaves for Colorado Springs at 6.30 in the morning and until then Wade, Rapp, and Braden have nothing to kill but time and possibly each other.

The notion of a once wild, womanising, gambling drinking man changing his ways and settling down is not a new one in the Western genre but what makes 'Dawn at Socorro' work so well is a fine ensemble cast and a witty, snappy script. Rory Calhoun as Wade is utterly perfect. A flash, debonair, natty dresser that is as good with a gun as he is with deck of cards. His opposite and nemesis is exactly that, his complete opposite. Rapp is a messy, untidy drunk who whilst good with a gun for passed out drunk when his 'adopted' family of the Ferris' needed him most and that burns him up inside. Braden is the third player in all of this and he doesn't like Wade much either mainly because Wade disparages his casino and is everything Braden would like to be. Braden's nose is put even further out of joint once he realises that Rannah, the woman Braden has designs on, is more attracted to the suave charms of Wade. It makes for a tense and exciting film with a great script. The movie is ably directed by by George Sherman who had been cutting his teeth on Westerns since 1937. This 1954 Universal film is everything you would expect and then just a little bit more. There is plenty of location work done on the film giving it a good sense of authenticity and the final dramatic bar scene, with time ticking away until 6.30 am, well played out. Piper Laurie is excellent as the misunderstood Rannah and beautiful with it. When she first walks through the casino all eyes fall on her and you can understand why. I've seen my share of 1950's Westerns and 'Dawn at Socorro' is up there amongst the best.

Video

Simply Media have presented this DVD in it's original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 The presentation is fine with colours a little on the soft and faded side but nothing too distracting. The print has some grain but it's clear no restoration work has taken place as there is some print damage, mainly to the second reel. This consists of 'cigarette burn' type damage with some dirt and scratches along the way. It would be churlish to moan too much about the damage as it's not very distracting but it's there none the less.

Audio

A simple dual mono soundtrack, in English, is all that is available. As expected everything is central and works perfectly adequately. The dialogue is crisp and clear throughout and there is a nice touch in the film when Wade plays Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. This in itself is rather a rare occurrence for a Western, and the soundtrack here presents it well in which is a beautiful scene.

Extras

None.

Overall

I consider 'Dawn at Socorro' a notch or two above the majority of Westerns produced during the 1950's. It's true that it's storyline has more than a touch of 'High Noon', '3.10 to Yuma' and plenty of other films featuring the stories of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday but the cast and script are what elevate it to another level. I thoroughly enjoyed the film and there are plenty of stand out scenes to enjoy not least Wade playing Beethoven to a tavern full of cowboys. Recommended.

The Film: A Video: B- Audio: B- Extras: F Overall: B+

 


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