Marie Windsor was a fixture in B films throughout the 40s and 50s. Sometimes a bit player, sometimes the leading lady. She starred in some of the best film noir of the day including The Narrow Margin, Kubricks The Killing and Force Of Evil. Marie Windsor always livened up whatever film she was in no matter how big or small her role and I always enjoyed when she turned up in a film I was watching. 1949's Hellfire is such a movie.
The movie comes vividly to life with fiery opening credits and an opening montage of indulgent sinners in the wild west. Standing out in this crowd and in the middle of a saloon giving a sermon that falls on deaf ears is H.B. Warner as a preacher trying to get five grand to build a much needed church. When he asks the wrong person, Bill Elliott steps in to protect him. Elliott is a first class card sharp and cheat. But when he goes to put a poker chip in Warners hat, the other players see an ace fall out of his sleeve. Warner, recognizing the good in Elliott, steps between the gambler and an angry gunman.
|Marie Windsor is a quick draw killer in HELLFIRE|
|Forrest Tucker and Bill Elliot battle over deadly Marie Windsor in HELLFIRE|
Tucker and Elliott are old friends and Elliott finds out that there is a five thousand dollar reward for Windsor. Just enough money to build his church. So Elliott goes after Windsor. But Elliott isn’t going to forcibly bring in Windsor. He’s going to ride along with her until she gives herself up. He also hopes that by helping her find her sister that she just might develop a little faith in God. Then Elliott discovers that Tucker isn’t looking to bring Windsor in for the reward money. Turns out that Tucker is married to Windsor’s long lost sister. Tucker is concerned for his wife’s newfound reputation should the dangerous Windsor come back into his wife’s life and hopes to capture Windsor and put her away to avoid an unpleasant reunion. When Windsor discovers that Tucker knows where her sister is, she glams herself up and tries to seduce Tucker into telling her. Windsor is virtually unrecognizable in her saloon girl garb and Tucker begins to give in to her seductions. Elliott, in an effort to keep Tucker faithful and Windsor from prostituting herself, tells Tucker who Windsor really is.
|Windsor relaxes in THE PARSON AND THE OUTLAW(1957)|
This was a really fun movie. It’s definitely a B western and it has plenty of problems. But there are some interesting religious themes here and Elliott, while having the acting range of a two by four, has some entertaining dialogue that is genuinely witty in spite of his delivery. He’s part preacher part Will Rogers. Winsor is entertaining as always. There’s something about her that is just very watchable. I like how she reluctantly begins to warm to Elliott as they travel together. There’s a good scene where Elliott is having trouble picking up his saddle after having thrown hot ash at Davis with his bare hands in an effort to escape being killed. Windsor watches him struggle and then helps him. It’s fun to see her get angry with herself for being kind.
The beginning of Hellfire is practically surreal as we see what looks like laughing cowboys in Hell, with preacher Warner as Daniel in the lions den. It's also pretty terrific to see a female gunman…or rather “gunperson” in the lead. These kinds of roles were few and far between for women, particularly in Westerns. I can’t think of many outside of Jane Russell in the Bob Hope western comedy The Paleface and its sequel Son of Paleface or Jean Arthur who played the western hero in such wildly entertaining films like The Plainsman and Arizona. The gender reversal is certainly one of the more entertaining elements of Hellfire. It’s a fun little B western that I recommend and is now playing on Netflix.