A few nights ago, a twitter friend tweeted her intended classic movie viewing for the night, as asked others to do likewise. I replied with my strong desire to watch the 1967 western Rough Night in Jericho, though I added to my response that expectations were limited. Rightfully so, as time would tell.
Rough Night in Jericho has always been on a rather macabre must see list for me. For starters, it stars Dean Martin, who has always been rather a guilty pleasure for me- for both his films and his music. Secondly, it seems to have taken on a rather unique status as a rare or hard to find film, though in all honesty perhaps its presumed rarity is more a function of lack of interest.
What allured my to the film is not only Martin’s presence, but also that he plays against type. Here he isn’t the sidekick to Sinatra or the goofy but lovable Matt Helm. Here he is the bad guy, the evil gang leader who owns most all of the town of Jericho. So much so that he is even the sheriff, with his henchmen as his deputies.
What isn’t to like?
Like most westerns after the first few of the genre, the plot is rather simplistic. Martin is a thug running the town of Jericho, with Slim Pickens as one of his henchmen. Jean Simmons is a lone holdout in Jericho and is still refusing to sell her stage line to the persistent Martin.
George Peppard is a retired sheriff coming to her aid as a hired gun. But on the way Martin hijacks the stage in yet another attempt to convince Simmons to sell her company. Peppard continues and finally makes it to town, where by some strange and unbelievable course of events he moves into Simmons’ home.
Sadly, the answer is no. The film is pretty lackluster and much of the problem starts with Martin. He isn’t the overly schmaltzy gent you love and adore, but neither is he the grim gang leader the role calls for. He always seems just on the brink of breaking into the reprise from one of his songs or better still, coming out of character entirely to say to the audience, “Are you buying me in this at all?” He simply doesn’t work as the bad guy so at least in this case, casting against type surely did not work. If only he could have turned off the charm.
George Peppard seemingly has the role that Martin would typically be cast in, the laid back and devil may care hero. Perhaps Martin could carry it off, but Peppard simply can’t. He seems entirely wooden and disengaged. Lastly, for the life of me I cannot get his later role in television’s A-Team out of my head. Although this isn’t his fault, I keep expecting Mr. T to bust up into Martin’s face.
Jean Simmons’ comes out the best of the three leads, and makes the most of her screen time. She is no longer the starlet she was in the 1950s, but this is also a gritty and less glamorous role than those of her past, and she pulls off this more limited and mundane role with aplomb.
The performances aside, the film lacks much in flow, with the first two thirds of the feature being relatively slow and devoid of much action. It isn’t until the final act where Peppard gets his acts together and move against Martin. But even the last third of the film, where most all of the action takes place (including a rather brutal shot where Simmons’ gets slugged right in the kisser) come on abruptly like a ton of bricks. So the proceedings are rather feast or famine, and with no seque.
Alas, the guilty pleasure is not so pleasurable any more. Though it may be more guilty than ever. Miscasting, poor execution, and an uneven plot take the film clearly out of the running for greatness or even mediocrity.