Prolific western director R.G. Springsteen helmed as many as 40 sagebrushers during his long 50 year career in Hollywood. He made one other western with Audie Murphy entitled "Bullet for a Badman" with Darren McGavin. Essentially, "Showdown" is nothing to shout about as far as westerns go. This Universal International Release was filmed in black & white rather than color to conserve on costs. Clearly, producer Gordon Kay must have been obsessed with the bottom line to shoot a sagebrusher in color in 1963. Westerns should always be lensed in color, unlike contemporary crime dramas in urban settings. The Lone Pine, Alabama Hills setting isn't as in black & white. As an 80-minute oater, "Showdown" qualifies as entertaining enough despite its offbeat hostage narrative. Ric Hardman spent most of his career writing for television westerns, such as "Cheyenne," "Sugarfoot," "Lawman," "Laredo," "Rawhide," and Murphy's own "Whispering Smith." The dialogue keeps the plot moving, but it isn't especially memorable. The cast is better than average, with Harold J. Stone, Skip Homeier, L.Q. Jones, Strother Martin, and Dabs Greer. Audie Murphy plays his usual, straight-arrow, good guy hero, while Stone makes an abrasive adversary.
Charles Drake and Murphy co-star as a couple of drifters who share nothing but hard luck. They get themselves tangled up with a murderous outlaw, Lavalle (Harold J. Stone of "These Thousand Hills"), scheduled to hang, when they ride into the town where he is being held captive. Their predicament is rather unsavory. Bert Pickett (Charles Drake of "No Name on a Bullet") and Chris Foster (Audie Murphy of "The Unforgiven") get into a saloon brawl after Bert gets liquored up and loses at cards. The local authorities arrest them for disturbing the peace. The most interesting thing about this conventional oater is the jail where our heroes end up spending the night. You see, the town marshal has driven a beam into the ground on main street. This set-up resembles a grim maypole of sorts with chains and neck collars. Each inmate wears a metal collar around the throat, and they remain outside when a deputy maintains surveillance. Although I've seen all the major westerns as well as lots of B-movies, I've never seen prisoners shackled to a pole in the middle of main street. This is the kind of thing you'd be more apt to see in a colonial adventure instead of a dusty western. Anyway, Lavalle plans to escape before dawn and strong arms our heroes into joining in the digging to uproot the beam.
Eventually, Lavalle and his henchmen are able to uproot the beam and wield it as a battering ram to smash in the door of an office where guns are kept. They shoot it out with the local authorities and manage to escape. Things get messy when the treacherous Lavalle agrees to turn loose Pickett if he promises to bring back the $12-thousand that he wired to a dance-hall girl, Estelle (Kathleen Crowley of "The Quiet Gun"), but Bert tries to escape to save his own neck. After his henchmen round up Pickett, Lavalle sends Chris Foster (Audie Murphy) to get the loot. At the same time, Lavalle has two gunslingers Caslon (Skip Homeier of "The Gunfighter") and Foray (L.Q. Jones of "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid") accompany him on his quest. Not surprisingly, Estelle refuses to help Bert out by giving the money to Chris. Along the way, Chris frustrates the two gunmen who followed him. As it turns out, Bert has been telling tales as Estelle reveals. By the time that he gets back to Lavalle's camp, matters take a turn for the worst. Caslon shoots Bert in the back, but Chris evens up the score later.
Nothing memorable, the generically entitled "Showdown" is worth a glance. Meantime, it would have looked better in color.
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