Ride Clear of Diablo (1954) & Six Black Horses (1962)

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After watching Larceny (1948) the other day I wanted some more Dan Duryea movies, and ended up watching this double feature of westerns he made with Audie Murphy. In Ride Clear of Diablo (1954) Murphy plays Clay O’Mara, who’s working for the railway when he learns that his father and brother have been murdered by cattle rustlers. In his search for revenge, Clay is deputized by corrupt Sheriff Kenyon (Paul Birch), crooked lawyer Tom Meredith (William Pullen) and their lackey Jed Ringer (Russell Johnson). Since they’re all involved in the O’Mara murders, they send Clay on several dangerous missions and goose chases, confident that he’ll get killed before he discovers their crimes.

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First they send him after gunman Whitey Kincade (Duryea), and are shocked to see how quickly Clay apprehends Whitey and brings him back for trial. If they only knew about the burgeoning friendship between Whitey and Clay. Though Whitey says he wouldn’t hesitate to shoot Clay in the back, he’s amused by Clay’s naïveté, impressed by his fast draw, puzzled by his principles and perseverance. He also wants to clear his own name and relishes the excitement of seeing fellow outlaws get outplayed by this constantly underestimated deputy. Duryea characteristically makes Whitey a delightful black hat with a devilish snicker, who’s unpredictable but can increasingly be counted on to pop up right when Clay needs support and protection. Whitey surprises everyone, most of all himself, when he helps Clay solve the O’Mara killings, and then goes all soft and sentimental, sacrificing himself to help his new buddy get justice.

Laurie (Susan Cabot), the sheriff’s niece and Meredith’s girlfriend, falls for Clay and they both get a rude awakening about people they respect. Jack Elam is one member of an outlaw family on Kenyon’s side and Abbe Lane plays a saloon singer who tells all about the crimes when her beloved Ringer is used one too many times. Murphy is perfectly placid and steady, soft-spoken with a steely resolve as he steps through this mess of double-crosses and lies toward a very exciting shootout, fistfight and happy ending. Ride Clear of Diablo was directed by Jesse Hibbs.

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Eight years later Murphy and Duryea were a similar odd couple in Six Black Horses (1962). Here, Ben (Murphy) is mistaken for a horse thief and saved from hanging by Frank Jesse (Duryea, just as conflicted as the James brothers he’s apparently named after). The two drifters gain a cute dog companion and discuss how to profit from their shooting talents, then get caught up in a shootout that brings them to the attention of Kelly (Joan O’Brien). She offers them tons of cash if they’ll escort her through dangerous territory toward a reunion with her husband, but the truth is Kelly’s true intention is revenge against Frank for killing her husband years before.

The trio’s journey is slow going but interesting, as they figure out each other’s motives and loyalties, face hostile Indians and a gang of Frank’s enemies. There’s real surprise when Kelly almost shoots Frank in the back, and some baffling moments where she seems to be causing trouble and delay, even inviting attack, by throwing brush on a fire or possibly loosening a horseshoe. Still, she’s a mysterious character and believable source of extra tension as both men become smitten with her. Ben is all business and aims to protect Kelly, while Frank is a leering drooling lech who disgusts Ben with comments about her beauty and body and what he wouldn’t do, etc. Even so, Duryea is so good at giving his losers and bad guys a likable, decent streak. Most of the way through he remains unpredictable, and he’s not a totally ruthless killer either, explaining to Kelly that shooting her husband was never personal, but part of his job as hired gun, which makes them similar since it’s suggested that her past profession was the world’s oldest. Six Black Horses (the title refers to Frank’s dream funeral) was directed by Harry Keller and written by Burt Kennedy.

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9 thoughts on “Ride Clear of Diablo (1954) & Six Black Horses (1962)”

  1. Two good movies, different of course but linked by the presence of Murphy and Duryea. Next up, you need to give Night Passage a go to round off your Duryea/Murphy viewing.

    1. I did see and like Night Passage but it was waaay back (dating myself here) in the mid-90s so it’s high time to start revisiting. Likely to do it soon, since I like to view connected films. really enjoyed these. Cheers

  2. First let me endorse Colin’s recommendation of ‘NIGHT PASSAGE’ ( assuming you don’t already know it). I think it an underrated western with a great star trio. Murphy is very charismatic in his role of The Utica Kid. Oh….and doesn’t Duryea play a character called Whitey Kincaid again (or is my memory faulty?).

    It is quite interesting to compare these two westerns filmed eight years apart. In 1954 these semi-A westerns were at their peak and I think ‘RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO’ is a very strong example. By 1962 westerns were declining and I don’t find the later film has quite the energy of earlier years. Having said that though, Burt Kennedy contributed a pretty good screenplay and Murphy and Duryea were still…well, Murphy and Duryea.

    I have been watching Audie Murphy westerns for decades but I find as time progresses I appreciate him increasingly and how good generally his body of westerns were.

    1. Jerry, Duryea played a character called Whitey Harbin in Night Passage – very similar so easy to mix ’em up.

    2. Yes, as I replied to Colin It’s been easily 20 yrs since I watched Night Passage (yikes) but remember loving it and would happily rewatch as part of my Murphy-Duryea fest. Six Black Horses was a bit slower with a different feel, more daring lines and suggestions. Fun trail to follow though, Duryea and Murphy kept me glued.

  3. I’ll chime in as well on Night Passage. Probably the first Audie movie I ever saw and his Utica Kid catches on with a young boy watching westerns in a hurry. Really like Dan in Ride Clear and it’s been years since I saw Six Black Horses so will have to give it another look. Glad you made it a double bill. 🙂

    1. Yup, three votes makes it certainty that I’ll give it a rewatch soon. Ride Clear is example #2001 that a western and a crime/noir are close relatives, which I only bring up to convince people who say they don’t like westerns. Thanks for the idea on the double feature, it was fun!

  4. I grew up on Audie Murphy westerns and although I had other plans for this evening, you have pointed me down the direction I must follow.

    Re: the love fest for “Night Passage”, let me add that I am a huge fan of Tiomkin’s score. I used to sing “Follow the River” to my kids as a lullaby. I sing somewhat better than James Stewart.

    1. It’s totally a love fest, and so great to see! Audie made fun of his acting ability but he made such a likable hero, always a pleasure to watch.

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