Ride Clear of Diablo. Released 1954 by Universal Studios; Directed by Jesse Hibbs; 80 minutes; Cast: Audie Murphy (Clay O’Mara), Susan Cabot (Laurie Kenyon), Dan Duryea (Whitey Kincade), Abbe Lane (Kate), Russell Johnson (Jed Ringer), Paul Birch (Sheriff Fred Kenyon), William Pullen (Tom Meredith, Jack Elam (Lowerie), Denver Pyle (Reverend Moorehead.
This movie surprised me. I expected B-Grade Boring but it turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable ride as it was well acted, well paced and had an interesting plot all packaged in an hour and twenty minutes. It also looks great in Technicolor. This movie is often noted as one of Audie Murphy’s better acting roles and I agree that he does a good job at portraying straight shooter Clay O’Mara. I highly recommend it. I believe it sometimes shows up on Turner Classics and AMC Westerns.
It begins in the wee hours of the morning in the town of Santiago. Some folks remain in the Cantina Feliz listening to Kate sing to two cow hands. (Yes there is singing in this movie but not much–and Abbe Lane is pleasing to look at). You quickly discover that everyone in the cantina, except the cow punchers, are in on the activities of the local criminal enterprise. Even Kate, whose job it was to keep the ranch hands entertained and prevent them from returning to the O’Mara herd. This will allow Jed Ringer (played by Russell Johnson, the Professor from Gilligan’s Island) and some others to steal the cattle away. Unfortunately, Mr. O’Mara and his fourteen year old son wake up and realize what is happening and they race off to stop the rustlers. Attorney-at-Law (and apparently part-time cow thief) Tom Meredith shoots them out of their saddles–killing them both. Clay O’Mara (Audie Murphy), a surveyor for the railroad in Colorado, gets a telegram that his dad and brother have been killed and that the O’Mara estate is being settled. Clay shows up in Santiago but instead of settling the estate and going back to the railroad he asks Sheriff Kenyon for a deputy’s badge so he can ask around the local area for leads on who the killers might be. Sensing an opportunity to get rid of the meddlesome trouble maker, the Sheriff, with the lawyers urging, gives him his star and sends him to track down a wanted killer known as Whitey Kincade. The Sheriff is in cahoots with the local criminal gang and neglects to tell Clay how dangerous Kincade could be. He and Meredith are expecting Kincade to gun down the new deputy and put an end to his questions.
Clay also meets Kenyon’s neice, Laurie Kenyon, who is engaged to Tom Meredith, the scumbag lawyer (I had to say it). Almost immediately Laurie starts eyeballing and flirting with Clay and later in the movie they dance the night away at the Preachers social. That night she announces to her uncle and Tom that she is calling off the wedding because Tom takes her for granted and that new guy doesn’t. But back to Clay. He heads out to the notorious town of Diablo, which is about a two hour ride, so he can bring in Kincade for questioning about the murders. Kincade is not going to go in easy and they draw pistols inside the Cantina Paraiso. Clay shoots the gun out of Kincade’s hand and puts him under arrest. Clay eventually gets him back to to Santiago for lock-up even after Kincade’s “friends” try to ambush him and Kincade tries to escape twice. The Sheriff is very surprised to see Kincade arrested and is a bit upset since he now has to arrange for a sham trial to set Kincade free. If he doesn’t then Kincade might tell everyone what he knows about the criminal element in Santiago. So Jed Ringer, the gang patsy, provides false testimony that gets Kincade freed. Despite being on both sides of the law Clay and Kincade form an odd sort of friendship. Meanwhile, the Santiago gang is planning a big heist of silver bullion and they pay Jed big bucks to kill Clay off before he hijacks the Wells Fargo wagon. Jed and Kate (the singer) are a couple and Jed decides to take the silver for himself and run off with her to start a new life together. Jed kills the three men on the wagon and takes the silver to a mine shaft. Kenyon eventually figures out that Jed doubled crossed him and tells Clay that it was Jed who killed his kin and that he’s pretty sure Jed is in Diablo. Kincade, meanwhile is looking for Clay in Santiago. To drink some beer. He stops in on Kate (who was his old squeeze) and is told by her about the robbery and that it was actually Meredith who did the killings. Kincaide catches up to Clay in Diablo, figures out where Jed and the silver is being hidden, and they ride out together to the mine. Jed is shot and killed by Clay but manages to shoots Kincade in the gut. Kincade tells Clay that it was actually the lawyer who is the killer and then they head back to Diablo for a doctor. There they are confronted by the Sheriff, Meredith and a local thug known as Lowerie who want to put an end to Clay’s meddling once and for all. Kincade goes out in a blaze of glory, shooting Lowerie and Clay guns down the Sheriff and beats up the lawyer so he can stand trial. He gets back to Santiago and breaks the news to Laurie. They get married and ride trains for free–The End.. Hokey but a good story. The best acting in this movie was definitely by Dan Duryea as Kincade. His quirky character and his crazy laugh steal the stage.
I took some screen shots and put them into a .pdf document below. There were some interesting adobe buildings in this movie. I’ve always liked the “d’obe” look in Westerns vs. the standard wooden structures. From a role playing perspective there some good plot hooks as well.
- A criminal enterprise that includes the town lawyer, the sheriff and local saloon denizens.
- A small enclave just a short ride from the main town that has been given over to criminals. So long as they stay there they are left alone by the authorities.
- A hard drinking criminal lackey (played by Russel Johnson in this movie) who gets pushed around too often and decides to take off on his own after the big job.
- Players called in to deal with the murder of kin but not getting the help they expect from the local authorities.
- Players sent to pull in a criminal but not told that the criminal is actually a dangerous lunatic. A set up.