A Younger Sundance
It was hard not to like Robert Redford as Sundance in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" he may have been an outlaw but he was a nice guy. Robert Ryan's version of Sundance 21 year earlier in "Return of the Badmen" is a very different matter; he is a robber and killer with a vicious streak. That sadly is as interesting as "Return of the Badmen" gets, comparing the two different version of Sundance because "Return of the Badmen" is a rather mundane, very ordinary western. It may have some recognizable names both when it comes to the characters and the actors but what happens is what you could see in countless other westerns from the 40s and 50s.
With the government closing down the town of Braxton in preparation for the land rush, a group of outlaws including Sundance (Robert Ryan - The Sky's the Limit), Billy the Kid (Dean White) and Cheyenne (Anne Jeffreys) have gathered to rob those who are busy packing up and then rob them again when they move to their new town of Guthrie. But when the beautiful Cheyenne ends up wounded during the bank job she ends up at the ranch of former Ranger Vance Cordell (Randolph Scott - My Favorite Wife) who rather than turn her in cares for her and persuades her to turn herself in and turn over a new leaf. But having moved to the town of Guthrie Vance finds himself taking on the role of Marshal when Sundance starts murdering people and sets about hunting him and his gang down.
The opening of "Return of the Badmen" is both good and bad, the good is we are introduced to the outlaws who have come together to capitalize on people moving to a new town. We meet various people such as Sundance, Cheyenne, Billy the Kid and the Younger brothers, characters whose names we may know but it is done in such a forced manner, camera going from one to another as their name is mentioned is painfully false. Sadly that is almost as good as "Return of the Badmen" gets because after that it becomes for the most a routine western where we have Randolph Scott playing Vance a former Ranger and all round decent guy biding his time, helping out people till he can go after Sundance when he kills a few of those close to him.
In the mix there are some variations, when Cheyenne gets injured in a bank robbery it is Vance who tends to her and persuades her to turn herself in. This leads to Cheyenne turning over a new leaf and falling for Vance, in doing so becoming a rival to his fiancee Madge. Add to the mix the humour of George 'Gabby' Hayes playing a bank manager who doesn't care for paperwork. But these are just entertaining moments in what ends up an ordinary western and as an ordinary western you know that come the end it will be Vance hunting down Sundance.
As such "Return of the Badmen" relies heavily on the star names and whilst Robert Ryan as Sundance does a good job of being nasty the rest of it is again very ordinary. In fairness few do law abiding lawman as good as Randolph Scott but watching him here as Vance it is so familiar to countless other westerns which Scott made that it feels like you've seen it before. Same sort of thing with George 'Gabby' Hayes as he plays the wiley old cowboy brilliant but here as the bank manager it is no different to what he did in other movies. And as for the women well both Anne Jeffreys as Cheyenne and Jacqueline White as Madge are beautiful but don't really have much to do despite there being tension between them as they both love Vance.
What this all boils down to is that "Return of the Badmen" is a very routine 1940s western which whilst features some recognizable names both when it comes to the cast and the characters is all rather ordinary. It is still entertaining but only if you are truly a fan of westerns.