|Directed by||Michael Winner|
|Produced by||Michael Winner|
|Written by||Gerry Wilson|
|Music by||Jerry Fielding|
|Edited by||Frederick Wilson|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
Lawman is a 1971 American revisionist Western film produced and directed by Michael Winner and starring Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, Lee J. Cobb and Robert Duvall.
The film starts with a scene common to many Westerns, cowboys in a drunken state shooting up a town and wreaking havoc. The rowdies are from the town of Sabbath and are visiting the town of Bannock for a little recreation that gets out of hand. The town's marshal, Jared Maddox, rides into Sabbath and is not alone. He brings along the body of Marc Corman, one of the unruly cowhands from the recent drunken spree in Bannock, carrying it on the back of a horse. Corman and five others were involved in the accidental killing of an old man and Maddox has warrants for them. The remaining five are Vernon Adams, Choctaw Lee, Jack Dekker, Harvey Stenbaugh and Hurd Price, all hired hands at wealthy Vincent Bronson's ranch.
Maddox follows protocol and calls on Sabbath's sheriff, Cotton Ryan. He demands that the five surrender to him within 24 hours. Ryan is a lawman whose career had seen better days. He urges Maddox to avoid a confrontation with Bronson. Maddox won't back down, although he believes the suspects are likely to get light sentences due to the accidental nature of their crime and the fact that the justice system of Bannock can easily be influenced by bribes. Ryan goes to Bronson's ranch to inform him of Maddox's demands.
Bronson, unaware of the killing in Bannock up to this point, tries to negotiate by offering compensation to the victim's family and even to Maddox. Ryan explains that Maddox will not agree to anything other than an unconditional surrender of all five men. One of the suspects, Stenbaugh, who is Bronson's foreman, tries to persuade Bronson to have Maddox killed. Despite his violent past, Bronson is tired of death and violence and refuses Stenbaugh's suggestion, insisting on further negotiations. Laura Shelby, a romantic interest from Maddox's past, tries to negotiate on behalf of Price, one of the suspects, who is now her common-law husband. Maddox is unmoved by Laura's pleas for mercy. Bronson gives up hope of reasoning with Maddox and asks his men if they wish to surrender. Adams refuses, claiming that he would go bankrupt if in jail. Retired gunfighter Choctaw volunteers to join forces with Stenbaugh in killing Maddox.
Bronson offers to compensate his men for any financial losses while at the same time trying to persuade Maddox that some compromise must exist short of total surrender. Stenbaugh and young Crowe Wheelwright come to town. Despite being told by Bronson to avoid confrontation, Stenbaugh draws out Maddox for a showdown and is killed. Crowe (who is not wanted by the law) backs down from Maddox after a brief discussion. Back at the ranch, Bronson grieves upon hearing of his close friend Stenbaugh's death. He is comforted by son Jason. Maddox's breakfast is interrupted by local businessman Harris, leading a delegation of armed citizens concerned that the lawman is creating a lot of problems for them. Not a man to be intimidated, Maddox stands up to the townspeople and they flee the hotel. Maddox goes to find sheriff Ryan but is confronted again by Crowe. A shot is fired by a hidden gunman, Dekker. A disgusted Ryan does place Dekker under arrest, calling him a "back-shooter", but advises Maddox to leave town as the violence seems to be spiraling out of control. Maddox reiterates his position that a lawman never compromises.
Price tries to leave town. Crowe meets with Maddox to swear that he did not set him up for Dekker's ambush. Maddox reveals his disillusionment with his job and admits that lawmen are little more than professional killers. Price, while fleeing, joins Adams on the ride to Bronson's ranch. On the way they spot Maddox. In the ensuing gunfight, Adams' horse is shot while Price escapes. The marshal captures Adams and takes him to Laura's home, where they tend to his gunshot wound. During a romantic interlude, Maddox rekindles old feelings for Laura. He asks her to leave with him once his mission is done. She agrees under the condition that he resign as marshal.
Maddox turns over Adams to sheriff Ryan and announces his intent to leave town and start a new life. Bronson and his remaining men come looking for Maddox without realizing he is a changed man. They don't act immediately. When businessman Harris, who was waiting on the sidelines, opens fire at Maddox, the others follow suit. Choctaw draws on Maddox but is killed. Maddox insists that he seeks no further trouble. Bronson's son, Jason, is not satisfied and seeks revenge. He too, is killed by the marshal. Price panics and, as he runs toward Laura, Maddox shoots him in the back, despite his code of never drawing first on a man. Seeing his son dead, a grief-stricken Bronson kills himself in the street. Maddox can do nothing more but ride by himself out of town.
The film was based on an original script by Gerald Wilson who said he was inspired by an item he read in the journal of Charlie Siringo which said the only hired killers in the old West were the lawmen, and it was they who caused most of the violence. Wilson also wanted to say that "law and order is certainly not the only way to administer justice."
In November 1969 it was reported Michael Winner was scouting locations in Durango and that Burt Lancaster would most likely star. Winner did not want to go to Spain - where many Westerns were shot - because he wanted "an American influence". The film wound up being made in Chupaderos. Winner says he managed to hire the village for filming just before Howard Hawks tried to secure it for Rio Lobo.
Filming began in April 1970.
It was Winner's first Western. "The West is everybody's," he said. "Americans come to Britain to film English history. Why shouldn't an Englishman go west?"
"The West is vulgar," he said. "The West is dirty. It's like a hippie colony. The problem with making a western is you get your priorities the wrong way around. You can't find anywhere to go to the toilet and yet you have to bring everything to a halt the minute one of the horses goes. And then wait to sweep up after it."
Winner later said:
I’d never even done a Western before but I got very serious about it. I had American professors come up and look at locations and I wanted to get the details correct. I asked what they usually used for oil lamps and they said that they just used new ones and threw some dust on them. I told them that was ridiculous and that they could get authentic period oil lamps for 20 quid on the Portobello Road. So the crew were all coming over from England with these things crammed in their luggage. It was the most authentic Western ever made. Everything was real. We sold the set to John Wayne who was coming in and doing another movie on the set after us.
|UK||11 March 1971 (London premiere)|
|Finland||2 April 1971|
|West Germany||2 April 1971|
|Sweden||5 April 1971|
|Norway||10 June 1971|
|France||21 July 1971|
|United States||4 August 1971|
|Mexico||16 September 1971|
|Hungary||A törvény nevében|
|Brazil, Portugal||O Homem da Lei|
|Austria, West Germany||Lawman|
|Spain||En nombre de la ley|
|France||L'Homme de la loi|
|Italy||Io sono la legge|
|Mexico||Yo soy la ley|
|Brazil||Mato em Nome da Lei|
Howard Thompson of The New York Times called the film "a potent but curiously exasperating Western" with "a baffling, oblique arrogance about the central character, played well by Lancaster, that belies his seeming quest for justice ('the law is the law'), the point of the film. But he is also a cold, egocentric fish."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film two stars out of four and called it "a Western with a lot of sides but no center. The bad guys are too monotonously bad to be interesting. The characters played by Lee J. Cobb and Robert Ryan are more interesting, but never get a proper chance to influence events. And the Lancaster character, as limited by Winner, seems driven by some unhealthy inner hang-up that causes the whole movie to go sour. Winner should have told us a lot more about his lawman, or a lot less."
Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune awarded two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, "It's the opportunity to see some familiar faces that makes 'Lawman' an entertaining Western. It just has to be the faces, because the story is so depressing and poorly conceived."
Variety described it as "a quite entertaining film that never hits many high spots but will amuse western addicts," adding, "Lancaster, as usual, is a highly convincing marshal, tough and taciturn. Ryan is also excellent as the faded, weak marshal with only memories. But it's Cobb who quietly steals the film as the local boss who, unlike many in such films, is no ruthless villain."
Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called it "a good solid western" with Cobb "a fine and worthy adversary" to Lancaster. Gary Arnold of The Washington Post stated that the film "smells of confused plotting, gratuitous brutality and a veritable outbreak of overripe dialogue." John Pidgeon of The Monthly Film Bulletin called the story "utterly conventional" and concluded that "despite the acting, the theme—of the morality of taking life in the name of the law—is ill-served by Winner's fashionable attention to gore, not to mention his hotch-potch of styles, as tiresome as the frenetically zooming camera."
The film holds a score of 67% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 6 reviews.
The film is about the quest of a lone peace officer, Marshal Jared Maddox (played by Lancaster), to bring several men to justice. Its hero and the motives of the other characters are not as defined or clear-cut as in some Westerns.
Cobb's character, Vincent Bronson, is not a typically evil cattle baron but is portrayed with a sense of humanity. The marshal and the guilty men nevertheless come to a series of deadly confrontations. Maddox can be seen as an anti-hero dedicated to upholding the law regardless of any extraneous code of honor, or personal feelings. The plot generates questions regarding honor and under what circumstances murder becomes legal.