Black Bart the Remake
By 1967 the era of the western was coming to an end yet for some reason Universal Pictures felt the need to make "Ride to Hangman's Tree" a western which is not only a remake of "Black Bart, Highwayman" but also one which is nothing more than a b-western. Now I don't mind b-westerns in fact there are plenty of 50's b-westerns which I rate quite highly but when it comes to "Ride to Hangman's Tree" it just doesn't work. It almost feels like a western pastiche because there is plenty of tongue in cheek humour going on but instead of being amusing it feels cheesy, especially when right at the start during the opening credits the actors tell us who they are, not their characters but their real names.
After a botched double bank job sees outlaws Guy (Jack Lord - Dr. No) and Matt (James Farentino) almost hung, only saved by their friend Nevada (Don Galloway), Matt decides he wants to go his own way and heads to Sacramento where he hooks up with his old friend Jeff (Robert Yuro) who works for Wells Fargo. Soon the stage coaches are being robbed by a mysterious man known as the black bandit who seems to know exactly when a stage will appear and what is on it. One day the black bandit holds up the stage of popular dancer Lillie Malone (Melodie Johnson - Coogan's Bluff) and finds than Guy and Nevada just happen to be on the stage as well and soon the black bandit and Guy become rivals for Lillie's affections.
On a slight plus point I like the storyline used in "Ride to Hangman's Tree", there is something simply amusing about Matt being the mysterious black bandit and ending up holding up his former outlaw buddies. And although it is purely a cliche as Matt and Guy end up becoming rivals for Lillie's affection it is quite amusing. I even like how the story pans out when it comes to one last big job for Matt as the black bandit.
My trouble is that what gets delivered in "Ride to Hangman's Tree" rarely does the storyline justice and feels like there is no commitment to the movie. From the styling to the acting it all feels like a group of actors and a director who didn't really want to make the movie and so camped it up a bit having a laugh. Maybe it was intentional, maybe the big idea was to remake "Black Bart, Highwayman" with a layer of humour but if that was the case it failed. It makes it feel very cheesy and standard with very few standout scenes, in fact the only stand out scenes were some old fashioned stunt work where a stuntman slides under a moving stagecoach.
And that is really it because whilst "Ride to Hangman's Tree" has a few recognizable faces, especially in Jack Lord the performances are forgettable. In fairness there is not a character which isn't a 50s cliche but even so these are characters who at times end up being annoying for being either dull or a little too comically cheesy.
What this all boils down to is that "Ride to Hangman's Tree" is a movie from the late 60s which is either trying to be a 50s b-western or an amusing version of a 50s b-western. Which ever it is it doesn't work and ends up a movie which never really grabs your attention or keeps you entertained.