Vengeance from a Lancaster
"Vengeance Valley" has many of the elements to make a good movie, in amongst many recognizable names and faces there is Burt Lancaster, John Ireland and Joanne Dru. It features a Cain and Abel style storyline with jealous brothers with the twist of one of them being adopted and there is also an illegitimate child to spice things up. But whilst all of this should combine to make a good western "Vengeance Valley" ends up just a western which struggles to be memorable. And sadly the trouble comes from an underdeveloped storyline and weak action which never draws you to the edge of your seat.
Having been taken in as a young boy and raised on his ranch as one of his own, Owen Daybright (Burt Lancaster - Field of Dreams) respects Arch Strobie (Ray Collins) for all that he has done for him and out of loyalty tries to keep and eye on Arch's son Lee (Robert Walker). It is because of this that when Lily Fasken (Sally Forrest) has an illegitimate child it is Owen who takes her food and money, because whilst Lee is the father Owen would rather protect Arch and Lee's wife Jen (Joanne Dru - She Wore a Yellow Ribbon) from the truth. But his good deed brings him a lot of trouble as Lily's brothers Dick (Hugh O'Brian) and Hub (John Ireland - Red River) suspect him of being the father and when Lee becomes jealous of Owen's relationship with his father and his friendship to Jen he sets about making sure that Dick and Hub get their hands on him.
So as already mentioned the storyline to "Vengeance Valley" is of the Cain & Abel variety with jealousy between brothers leading to betrayal and greed. Now I actually like the storyline because it has plenty going on from Owen covering for Lee out of loyalty to their Father through to deeper romantic conflicts as Owen is fond of Lee's wife Jen. And that is just the basis as you then have the aspect of jealousy as Lee sets up Owen to take the fall for his illegitimate child because he is jealous of Owen's relationship not just with their father but also with Jen. You know how it's going to end up because this is one of those movies where the good guy obviously wins and the bad guy wears dark colours but it establishes plenty of conflict to lead to the jealousy, greed and betrayal.
The trouble is that the storyline doesn't flow and feels like Luke Short's novel from which "Vengeance Valley" is adapted has been taken apart with an axe. It means that whilst you get all the important scenes which establish everything from Owen visiting Lily after she has given birth to Lee's child it then jumps to the next important scene. Whether there were budget limitations or time constraints on the production I don't know but a lot of narrative seems to have been left out and in its place is the occasional slice of narration which tries to link things together and make sense of it all.
That feeling of having limitations goes to the actual action as well because whilst there are some brawls and a gunfight it all feels rudimentary, the sort of action seen in countless other average westerns. It sadly means that whilst everything builds to a big climax as Lee double crosses Owen and leads him into an ambush what happens is forgettable. In fact it is so forgettable that just a few hours after watching "Vengeance Valley" I find myself struggling to remember any of the action.
All of which is quite surprising because "Vengeance Valley" has a surprisingly good cast list which includes Hugh O'Brian, John Ireland, Joanne Dru and Robert Walker and whilst in only a few scenes Sally Forrest impresses as Lily Fasken. But whilst none of these actors put in a terrible performance they are for the most average, delivering generic performances of generic characters making them very 2 dimensional. And then there is Burt Lancaster who whilst no worse is no better than his co-stars seems to rely on his charisma as the good guy to get him through and whilst he makes Owen a likeable character it is again 2 dimensional and cliche.
What this all boils down to is that "Vengeance Valley" is not a bad movie just a forgettable one. And whilst not bad it is disappointing because of a reasonably impressive cast and the Cain & Abel style storyline don't end up adding up to much. To put it simply "Vengeance Valley" is the sort of western which will entertain but a few hours later the only thing you will remember is that it featured Burt Lancaster and his charisma.