Faith in the Badlands
Despite being a gambler and gunman Zeb Smith (Bill Elliott) is not all bad and unlike others in a bar he gave a preacher asking for donations to build a church a dollar. Unfortunately his generosity leads to the preacher being shot when he steps in front of a gun aimed at Zeb after he is caught cheating. On the preacher's death be Zeb promises to complete his mission and build the church, not easy when everyone gives him the same negative response they gave the preacher. It is then that he decides to go after fugitive Doll Brown (Marie Windsor) to claim the $5,000 reward to use it to build the church. But after catching up with Doll he discovers all is not as it seems as she is looking for her sister but then an old friend shows up guns a blazing.
Does being different to the norm make a movie automatically good? For me the answer is always no but it certainly makes a movie interesting which is the case of 1940s western "Hellfire". The interest comes from the fact this western has a religious side with a gambler and gunman who is quick to use his fists slowly changing his ways as he tries to keep a promise to a preacher. We see how habits die hard as he would cheat for his own good when it comes to cards but tries to use his skills for good whilst also not reaching for the gun as quick as he once would. It is an interesting and surprisingly effective drama which shuns the road to Damascus style conversion for a more gradual change.
But the interesting side of "Hellfire" also includes the character of Doll Brown, a female fugitive, not only do we have her own story as to her fugitive status and her search for her sister but we also have Zeb trying to bring her in by appealing to her good side. It again is not the norm when it comes to a western and it certainly keeps you wondering as to where it will lead.
The thing is that whilst "Hellfire" has this interesting storyline and an interesting female lead with Marie Windsor delivering a solid performance there is something about "Hellfire" which doesn't work. That for me is director R.G. Springsteen as he was one of the directors who helmed many a western during the 1940s, those tough talking one hour jobs which seemed to circulate storylines between franchises. And sadly Springsteen delivers a very similar style in this movie which for me does the storyline a disservice as for me it deserved a better look and style.
What this all boils down to is that "Hellfire" certainly feature a different sort of storyline and an interesting one at that. But for me all that is good about this old western gets slightly undone by a directorial style which just doesn't quite lift it enough.