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Hanged Man, The
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by Charles Tatum

"Noose Ends"
3 stars

Steve Forrest takes a stab at a western television series with this lightweight 1974 pilot film. Thankfully, the proposed series wasn't picked up, and the next year he went on to do "S.W.A.T."

Gunfighter James Devlin (Steve Forrest) is about to be hanged. The crime he is being executed for is a bit murky, but his lawyer (Dean Jagger) thinks it was committed in self-defense. The small town goes about building the gallows, and Devlin meets with his girlfriend Soledad (Barbara Luna), and a young priest, Father Alvaro (Rafael Campos). During the talk with Alvaro, we find that Devlin ain't exactly a churchgoer. He plays with a deck of tarot cards as the wide-eyed Alvaro tries his best to change the hardened criminal.

Also in the small town, widow Carrie (Sharon Acker) and son Benjamin (Bobby Eilbacher) visit a loved one's grave. Carrie's husband died in an odd "accident," and the mother and son leave before the execution to get back to her failing mine in the middle of the desert. On the big day, Devlin goes to the gallows, has a hood placed over his head (the last thing he sees is the cross on a church), and is hanged.

Except...Devlin isn't dead. While laying in the chapel, he comes back to life, much to the shock of Soledad and Alvaro. The drunken doctor already signed off on the death certificate, and so Devlin is nursed back to health and released, since the execution was legally carried out.

Devlin leaves town after Soledad rejects him (he has a huge neck scar and is frigid to the touch), and he wanders onto Carrie's land, meeting Benjamin and the family's quirky hired help Nameless (Will Geer). You see the rest of the plot coming down the street where you live as Devlin and his new-found conscience help the widow fight off the tough tactics of local silver mine baron Halleck (Cameron Mitchell), before a wonderfully shot climactic gunfight settles the story once and for all.

As I said, this is a television series pilot, and only runs a little over seventy minutes. Director Caffey goes through the motions until the finale, when it seems he was finally given permission to cut loose and deliver some great scenes from inside a hellish mine. Screenwriter Trevey keeps his story open-ended in order to satisfy network bosses, but also never explores Devlin's new lease on life. Once in a while, Devlin will "sense" danger before it happens, and he may be able to read (some) minds, but none of this is ever pursued.

The cast of veterans is fine, with Forrest doing a charismatic job in the lead role. You can tell where the series would have gone as Devlin travels from one situation to another while being pursued by a lawman, and it would have been ripe with guest stars. Instead, we get a very mechanized, run-of-the-mill piece of mild western film making, safe for all viewers.

Thanks to public domain, "The Hanged Man" can be found very cheaply where all semi-fine DVDs are sold. It's not bad, it's not memorable, it is what it is.

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originally posted: 02/25/11 08:02:26
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  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 22-Dec-2010

  N/A (12)

  13-Mar-1974 (PG)

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