Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: James Cagney, Viveca Lindfors, John Derek, Jean Hersholt, Grant Withers, Jack Lambert, Ernest Borgnine, Ray Teal, Irving Bacon, Trevor Bardette, John Miljan, Gus Schilling
Written by: Winston Miller, based on a story by Harriet Frank Jr., Irving Ravetch
Directed by: Nicholas Ray
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 93
Date: 04/29/1955
IMDB

Run for Cover (1955)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

A Leg Up

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This has been one Nicholas Ray's more obscure movies, which is especially odd, given that it came between Johnny Guitar (1954) and Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and featured such a huge star as James Cagney. But now it has at last been restored and released to home video, and even on a gorgeous Blu-ray, by Olive Films.

It's also difficult to fit into Ray's particular personality and cinematic themes. It starts almost like any other Western, but takes very unexpected and peculiar turns. While viewers are scratching their heads over the plot, Ray's motivations may seem either too sly, or not even that visible. But they're there.

Cagney plays Matt Dow, a man with a past, who is just passing through. Stopping at a water hole, he hears a noise and draws on Davey Bishop (John Derek), a local youg man who is starving for some action. But the kid isn't experienced enough to handle Matt, and the standoff soon turns into friendship.

Not long after comes a strange twist. The two men are somehow mistaken for train robbers, and the train engineers throw the payroll bag out without even a struggle. Matt races to return the bag, but an angry posse shoots both men instead. Matt recovers with a flesh wound, but Davey spends many days in bed, at a local farmer's homestead, fighting a losing battle with his damaged leg.

Meanwhile Matt falls for the farmer's daughter (Viveca Lindfors) and receives an offer to become sheriff. He makes Davey his deputy, in the hopes that the positive reinforcement will help him walk again. Then the bad guys come...

In spite of the standard-issue Western setup, the Ray themes come through. First, Matt is incensed at the way the townspeople ganged up on him and Davey, when they were trying to correct a mistake and hadn't done anything wrong. There are also other morally ambiguous behaviors, usually resulting in some kind of pain. The best characters rise above this.

Usually Ray was adept at using very strong visuals, colors, set design, costumes, etc., to make a physical embodiment of this pain, and this is especially so in both Johnny Guitar and Rebel Without a Cause. It's not so obvious in Run for Cover, or at least it's subtler. Working with wide-open exteriors or front porches, Ray mostly uses empty spaces or crowds as his tools. More cleverly, he uses bandages, wounds, and injuries as physical manifestations of the inner hurt that characters feel.

I'm making Run for Cover sound like a lot of work, and while it's not as obviously masterful as some of Ray's other films, it's at the very least an entertaining horse opera with Cagney close to his best. The Blu-ray preserves the Paramount VistaVision format and looks great. There are absolutely no extras, including no subtitles.