Angel and the Badman: Classic Movie review

Angel and the Badman (1947) is one of my very favorite John Wayne movies,  one which I revisit on a regular basis.

The movie is a simple tale about gunslinger Quirt Evans (Wayne) who is wounded and nursed back to health by a family of Quaker farmers, including beautiful Penny (Gail Russell), who falls in love with Quirt at first sight.

Penny is disarmingly honest with Quirt about her feelings for him, and though at first he struggles against it, Penny’s steadfast love and her family’s kindness gradually convince Quirt to embrace a new life…if his past doesn’t catch up with him.

For those still shortsighted enough to assert that Wayne wasn’t much of an actor, I would argue that all one has to do to know the truth about Wayne’s acting ability is actually watch his movies. At least half of Wayne’s performance in this film was conveyed without dialogue — his eyes and face are incredibly expressive. There’s a wonderful scene where he holds off a trio of bad guys with his steely gaze and an unloaded gun; he also has some quiet comedic moments where he’s baffled either by Penny or his own growing feelings for her. I think it’s one of his best performances. Wayne was also the film’s producer.

Gail Russell is at her most beautiful as angelic Penny, with melting eyes, long dark hair, a gentle smile, and a sense of humor as well. Russell was right up there with Maureen O’Hara in terms of her chemistry with the Duke. Wayne and Russell were reunited the next year in Wake of the Red Witch.

Sadly, off the screen Russell was very insecure and suffered badly from stage fright; at some point in the ’40s she began to steady her nerves with alcohol, and by the early ’50s her career was almost at a standstill as a result. Wayne, a good friend, helped resuscitate her career by giving her a leading role in the superb Randolph Scott Western, Seven Men from Now, which Wayne produced. Russell died in 1961, just 36 years old.

The supporting cast in Angel and the Badman is outstanding. I particularly love Harry Carey, Sr. as Marshal Wistful McClintock, who has a habit of showing up unexpectedly; Irene Rich as Penny’s sweet mother, forever downplaying her cooking talents; and Tom Powers as the doctor who respects the Quakers even if he can’t understand their ways.

The cast also includes Bruce Cabot, Lee Dixon, Olin Howland, Tom Halloran, and Paul Hurst. Don’t blink and you’ll see Hank Worden, best known as Mose in The Searchers , who has a few lines early in the movie.

Angel and the Badman was shot in black and white and runs 100 minutes. It was largely filmed on location in Arizona, although at least a couple shots outside the farmhouse might have been on a duplicate soundstage set.

This is the only movie in my “Wayne Top 5″ which wasn’t directed by John Ford. (My other favorite Wayne films, for the record, are She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande, The Quiet Man and The Searchers). It was written and directed by James Edward Grant.

It seems possible that Grant drew some of his inspiration from the modern-day story in 1934′s Hide Out and its remake I’ll Wait for You (1941), which both have some parallels with the story in Angel and the Badman. Whether or not Grant was influenced by these films, he wrote an excellent script with memorable dialogue; after many viewings I know some of the lines by heart, but continue to savor them just the same.

As has been mentioned here before, this film may have in turn inspired the release of several films the next year with the theme of a bad man reformed, at least in part, by the love of a strong good woman. Examples include Yellow Sky starring Gregory Peck and Anne Baxter; Blood on the Moon with Robert Mitchum and Barbara Bel Geddes, plus Walter Brennan in a Harry Carey-type role; and Four Faces West starring Joel McCrea and Frances Dee.

James Edward Grant only directed one other film, but he wrote the screenplays for many Wayne films over the years. The little boy playing Penny’s brother was named Steven Grant; it was his only film. A relative of the writer-director?

Laura G. is a proofreader and homeschooling parent who is a lifelong film enthusiast.  Laura’s thoughts on classic films, Disney, and other topics can be found at Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, established in 2005.  Visit her website at http://www.laurasmiscmusings.blogspot.com.

  • JIM RICK

    MUCH OF THE CHARM IN THIS FILM IS DUE TO THE BEAUTIFUL AND UNDERATED GAIL RUSSELL WHO DIED OF ALCOHOLISM AT THE YOUNG AGE OF 38. SHE NEVER GOT OVER THE BREAKUP OF HER MARRIAGE TO GUY MADISON…THIS PLUS HER EXTREME SHYNESS, WHICH IS POISON FOR AN ACTOR.

  • Martin Stumacher

    It was so sad that the lovely Gail Russell passed away at such an early age. She had the potential to be a future star. I recall her in the film with Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey, The “Univited”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.voss3 Robert Voss

    Someone has written that Wayne went to lengths to discourage Russell’s obsessive crush on him. Her bad luck that his tastes ran to fiery Latinas.

  • bonnerace

    An excellent movie and one often overlooked by John Wayne list-makers. Gail Russell IS great and was for her short career. I really like THE UNINVITED, although I’m not a big Ray Milland fan. It is too bad she had her acting problems—imagine being an actor with stage fright.

  • TinyTim

    I’m also a big fan of this film and especially of Russell’s part in it. Her character represents a “type” that I have always cherished as an almost mythological image — the simple, innocent, loyal, and totally honest female whose love is absolutely pure and unshakeable. It’s Russell here, Cathy O’Donnell in ‘The Best Years of Our Lives,’ and even Shiri Appleby in the SciFi tv series ‘Roswell’ from a few years back. I’m sure this represents some kind of sexist fantasy or something, but I’m a sucker for it every time when the actress can make it believable. I also like many of Wayne’s “big” films with directors like Ford and Hawks, but two of my favorites are this one and ‘Tall in the Saddle’ (in which Ella Raines represents another “type” altogether).

  • Arthur

    A classic film that I will always cherish because it was the first time I saw Gail Russell. I couldn’t believe, at the age of 9, that there could be a woman so beautiful and captivating.
    She changed my life forever.

  • Laura

    Thank you all so much for your comments!  It’s a lovely film and Gail Russell was so beautiful.  Gone too soon.

    Best wishes,
    Laura

  • Jer

    Wow! Finally someone else has seen “Blood on the Moon”. Gail Russell was so seductive/beautiful/innocent/sexy all rolled into one,why so shy?

  • hypatiab7

    I enjoy “Angel and the Badman” for its humor and story. My other favorite John Wayne movie is “Stagecoach”.for the same reason. Aside from “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and his B westerns, these two are the only John Wayne movies I enjoy.

  • Mike48128

    Thanks for mentioning “The Quiet Man” some parts of which are slightly reprised in McClintock!
    It’s always been underrated because it’s not a western. In it John Wayne plays a retired American prizefighter who comes to Ireland to escape his past. His love interest here is Mareen O’Hara, of course. “She wore a Yellow Ribbon” is another Wayne favorite. Why is there no mention of “North to Alaska” here?