Following a bank job James "Stretch" Dawson (Gregory Peck) and his gang of outlaws flee through the desert and death valley but with water running out and the horses going lame they take shelter in what they believe is a ghost town. What they discover is a miner (James Barton) and his granddaughter Constance Mae 'Mike' (Anne Baxter) who live there. When they discover the miner believes he can make the town thriving again Stretch thinks he is cuckoo until they discover he has a sizeable amount of gold stashed away. Whilst Stretch's partner in crime Dude (Richard Widmark) thinks they should rob the miner and his granddaughter of everything Stretch thinks otherwise and they should take just part of the gold as he has fallen for Mike which causes conflict between thieves.
Before watching "Yellow Sky" I was convinced I had seen it before as the synopsis I read mentioned things such as outlaws hiding in a ghost town, one of them had foolishly filled his water canteen with whisky and a few other things which simply rung a bell as had seen them in other westerns over the years. But the minute I started to watch I knew I had never seen "Yellow Sky" before as the cinematography is stunning and is of the calibre which you just wouldn't forget.
Anyway back to what should be the most important part, the storyline and in a way it is the weakest part of "Yellow Sky" as it has more western familiarity rather than originality. At the basis of it is the conflict between thieves especially between Stretch and Dude as right from the word go they don't see eye to eye. You know that even before they reach the ghost town things between these two will inevitably boil over. And then once we reach the ghost town and we meet the attractive Mike the laws of westerns kick in and you also know romantic feelings are going to cloud things further with the handsome lead man coming good in the end. In fairness the conflict amongst thieves is well worked with director William A. Wellman allowing the subject to be explored rather than purely using it as a vehicle for action but it is still a familiar storyline
That sense of western familiarity extends to the various characters we meet with Gregory Peck as Stretch giving us the good guy outlaw with a sense of nobility, a familiar sort of character as is Dude with Richard Widmark making him the nastiest member of the gang, a real alpha male. I could carry on because in the whole of "Yellow Sky" there isn't a fresh character in the whole thing but all these familiar characters are well acted with James Barton delivers a fun performance as the wily old grandpa.
But what makes "Yellow Sky" so memorable is the cinematography and the depth and detail which Wellman serves up in this black & white movie is magnificent. From scenes which capitalize on magnificent skies to baked desert floors as well as a bar scene where the men line up along the bar as shot glasses are slid down it is visually beautiful. Even the ghost town is visually beautiful, rich with detail as the wind whistles through blowing up the sand against the broken windows and dilapidated wood work as the endless sky provides the backdrop.
What this all boils down to is that 60% of "Yellow Sky" is familiar from outlaws hiding in a ghost town to the conflict between thieves. But the look of the movie is stunning and it is the look; the beauty, the depth and the detail which makes it a truly memorably movie and one which you will want to watch again.