The Magic in Warlock is of the Western Variety
A small town in trouble from some local bandits are forced to take matters into their own hands by hiring a vigilante to sort out the trouble. That on its own is not the most original of stories think about "Seven Samurai", "The Magnificent Seven" and more recently "Appaloosa" and they are just a few movies which have used this concept as the basis of the movie. "Warlock" is no different; it starts exactly as just that but then quite marvellously it twists and turns, making this obvious storyline into something much more. And alongside this embellished storyline, director Edward Dmytryk infuses it with a real sense of tension which captivates you in those expected stand offs and gun fights.
When the sheriff of the town of Warlock is run out by a gang of lawless cowboys from San Pablo, the towns leaders take the decision to hire famous gunman Clay Blaisdell (Henry Fonda - Firecreek) to become there unofficial Marshall. With his right hand man Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn - The Guns of Navarone), an equally legendary gun man, in tow, Blaisdell sets about stamping his authority on the town as well as the lawless cowboys from San Pablo. Johnny Gannon (Richard Widmark - Two Rode Together), one of the cowboys, decides he has had enough and reforms, so much so that he volunteers to become the town's official sheriff. But not everything is as simple as it seems especially when Lily Dollar (Dorothy Malone - Basic Instinct) shows up in town and accuses Morgan and Blaisdell of murder.
So as already mentioned "Warlock" starts off in rather an obvious manner with the town's sheriff being run out by the local gang of lawless cowboys leading to the town's council deciding to hire a couple of vigilante cowboys to bring law and order to Warlock. But rather than settling at being that obvious it embellishes the story, we have one of the gang of lawless cowboy's basically turning good, the partner of the new town's Marshall being a deceptive bad guy and a storyline which leads to a power struggle. It's wonderfully done because the storyline builds so you get one power struggle followed by another and another, each time the struggle is between different characters.
As such "Warlock" is a movie which keeps you on your toes as it leads you to think one thing, then another and by the half way mark you are not entirely sure how it will end. Will the bad cowboy turned good be the town's saviour, will the vigilante Marshall be the final hero, maybe no one will, maybe the towns folk will grow a pair and start to take control themselves. It's the fact that it's not all plain sailing which makes "Warlock" a joy to watch and in the final half an hour it throws up false ending after false ending, not in a prolonging the end sort of a way but in cranking up the tension.
Being a western "Warlock" does have all those expected elements especially stand offs in the streets of the town. It has to be said that director Dmytryk does a phenomenal job of making these stand offs as well as shoot outs exciting and not just by making the action visually stunning. What he does is create a real edge of your seat atmosphere right from the first one where the lawless gang call out the existing sheriff before running him out of town right through till the final ones before the movie ends. Dmytryk manages to keep your attention because you are never entirely sure which way the stand off will go.
Aside from being a great western because of the storyline and the tense action "Warlock" is also boosted by some brilliant performances. Richard Widmark is incredibly solid as Johnny the lawless cowboy who turns good and rather than making him a hero full of machismo he delivers a character who is strong in his convictions but also one who shows his fear to the point that Johnny comes across as very normal. Henry Fonda on the other hand as vigilante Marshall Clay Blaisedell is a stronger character and Fonda finds that right balance to make him a dangerous man, someone not afraid of death but yet also someone who knows right from wrong, a moral base by which he works.
If having Fonda and Widmark in the movie wasn't enough there is also Anthony Quinn as Clay's right hand man and once more Quinn creates a character who although in the town of Warlock to help uphold the law has another side, a killing side and as such always seems to be having an ulterior motive to his actions and a real cockiness in his own ability.
Aside from this impressive trio there are other notable performances, Dorothy Malone and Dolores Michaels both add beauty as well as interesting characters as the movies two main women and love interests. Plus there is also DeForest Kelley, yes Bones from the original Star Trek, as Curly one of the lawless cowboys and what a good cowboy he makes, cocky yet also tough.
What this all boils down to is that "Warlock" is a pretty great western and one which takes a much used storyline and turns it into something more, something a lot more interesting. Director Edward Dmytryk not only makes the most of a stellar cast but also fills the movie with tension and as such keeps you as interested in what will happen as entertained by all the action.