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.