I’ll begin by saying that although I don’t consider myself unfamiliar with the western genre, I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily familiar with it either. I grew up with “cowboy films” and still consider it a genre I have a nostalgic attachment to today, so I’m always happy to sit down and watch a western, so I was happy to see that 101 Films was putting out a line of westerns. I previously watched (and reviewed) Whispering Smith from that line, and have followed that up with this, the 1953 Ronald Reagan fronted film, Law & Order.
I didn’t know anything about this film. My only prior knowledge of anything called Law & Order was the crime television show, so I was intrigued to check this out, my first experience with Reagan as an actor. With a top notch director, Nathan Juran, a man who made classic fantasy and science fiction films such as Jack the Giant Killer (1962), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) and The Deadly Mantis (1957). I consider myself a fan of Juran, so I was excited to see what this film was going to be like.
We follow Frame Johnson (Reagan), a Marshal who cleaned up the town of Tombstone only to suffer a lynching. Leaving the town, and his role in it, and attempting to settle down on his quiet ranch close to the town of Cottonwood, with his dearest Jeannie (Dorothy Malone), Johnson realises he might have to clean up Cottonwood too. How? Well, with some good, old fashioned law and order, obviously.
It’s a premise that I’ve seen multiple times in the genre, and though it is a fairly common one, it is still enjoyable when done well, and this was done well. Reagan isn’t the best of actors and I found him to be a little wooden at times, but his character was easy enough to get on board with, and Malone, as Jeannie, was an enjoyable piece of the puzzle. I enjoyed the scenes involving her, having previously enjoyed her in films like The Big Sleep and Night & Day (1946).
With other side characters, such as Frame’s brothers, Lute (Alex Nicol) and Jimmy (Russell Johnson), and their undertaker friend, Denver (Chubby Johnson) as well as the “villain” of our tale, Kurt Durning (Preston Foster), there are some interesting characters in Cottonwood, and Foster, as Durning as well as the crooked town sheriff (Barry Elder), offer some amusing scenes, and bring the dark-side to the film, allowing our protagonist to “fight the good-fight”.
There are many people, from what I’ve seen, that don’t hesitate in burying Reagan’s films as all being trash and pointless, but I had fun here. With plenty of action, some intentional (and unintentional) humour, a decent script, and a look that reminded me of my childhood love affair with westerns, Law & Order is an entertaining film that exceeded my expectations.
101 Films’ release of the film looks and sounds top notch, like Whispering Smith, and the beautiful poster art cover of the DVD is something I love, as a collector, to display. I look forward to more in this series from 101, so far, so good.