Its a Rough Business for Violent Men
Former Union Officer John Parrish (Glenn Ford) plans to sell up his ranch and move East with Caroline (May Wynn), his bride to be, but the only person who can afford to buy him out is Lew Wilkison (Edward G. Robinson) the much despised owner of the Anchor who over the years has being buying up everyone's land with the help of a gang of cowboys who bully people into leaving. Not wanting any part of the trouble Parrish is prepared to sell for less than he wants until one of his men is murdered by the Anchor cowboys and so is drawn into the fight. Using his military skills he captain's his men and the local farmers in battle but all is not as it seems as Lew's wife Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) is having a secret affair with Lew's brother Cole (Brian Keith) and together have plans to take control of the anchor.
On first glance "The Violent Men" or "Rough Company" as it is also known seems just another 50s western with Glenn Ford leading a good cast which includes Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson and Brian Keith. It has that familiar storyline of a local land baron forcing other ranchers off of their land so that he can increase his empire and as such it has a gang of cowboy heavies causing trouble, the one man who decides to fight and a romantic subplot for good measure. But "The Violent Men" is not as it first appears because this is a story which feeds off of manipulations; women manipulating men to get what they want and that makes it much more interesting than other 50s westerns which traded on cliche ideas and action.
So as already mentioned the set up to "The Violent Men" is a familiar one as we quickly learn that over the years Lew Wilkison has built up the Anchor to own most of the valley and has always wanted to own it all, along with his wife and brother Cole. And keeping on that familiar tone we have John Parrish one of the ranchers who has land which Wilkison wants to get his hands on. Plus we witness a group of heavy handed cowboys who go around causing trouble especially for the ranchers whose land borders the Anchor. As I said it is very familiar and on first look comes across like just any other 50s western which reworks the cliche story of a greedy land owner.
But there is more to "The Violent Men" than just cliche, in fact it does a nice job of reworking every cliche idea it uses. So whilst we have Parrish as a ranch owner he in fact wants to sell to Wilkison because he wants to marry and move east, having been injured during the Civil war he's not interested in fighting especially anyone else's cause and just wants out with a decent amount of money in his pocket. But there is a further twist to this as Caroline, the woman he wants to marry, is demanding and it becomes very clear that whilst she may love him also sees him as a way out of the West and to a new start in the City.
Adding more twists to the familiar we have the set up at the Anchor where we quickly realise that whilst Lew built his empire he was crippled in doing so and is not the evil businessman that everyone thinks he is. Instead it is his brother Cole behind all the trouble and he is doing so because he is having an affair with Lew's wife Martha. But wait there is more because Martha is pure evil, manipulating everyone to get what she wants, using people and spitting them out once she is done. I could carry on because every single western cliche is cleverly reworked including the action especially when it comes to the gunfight finale, delivering a different take on your typical shoot out. And if you think I've told you the whole plot to "The Violent Men" you're not even close as there is a lot more cleverness.
All of which makes "The Violent Men" far more interesting than your run of the mill 50s western. And also making it more interesting are the performances from an impressive cast. In supporting roles you have May Wynn being conniving as Caroline whilst Dianne Foster as Lew's daughter Judith is bitter because she knows what is going on behind her father's back. Talking of which Edward G. Robinson is superb as Lew Wilkison, delivering the tough old cowboy who over the years has gone from being evil to just a hard businessman. Glenn Ford is just as good as the peace loving Parrish who uses his military skills to outsmart the Anchor cowboys when they come to cause trouble and Brian Keith is a boiling pot of rage and jealousy as Cole. But it is Barbara Stanwyck who steals the show because as Martha she is the queen of manipulation and pure evil in doing so, delivering one of the best scenes in "The Violent Men" with such vile relish.
What this all boils down to is that "The Violent Men" ends up a pleasant surprise because it takes what is a routine western storyline full of cliche western scenes and twists them around. It adds more drama to the storyline as we have manipulative women and double crosses, but it also mixes the action up to deliver some not so typical western action.