The Deadly Companions (1961)
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Screenplay by: Albert Sidney Fleischman based on his novel The Deadly Companions
Starring: Maureen O’Hara, Brian Keith, Steve Cochran, Chill Wills, Strother Martin and Will Wright
Tagline: Trapped… by her past and the sins of the men who pursued her through a savage land!
The Overview: Beware of spoilers
Yellowleg (Keith), a gunfighter named Billy (Cochran) and Turk (Wills) ride into a small town. When bank robbers come out with guns blazing, Yellowleg and Billy return fire killing the thieves. One of Yellowleg’s shots misses and kills a young boy. The boy’s grieving mother, Kit (O’Hara) decides she will take her dead son to be buried next to his father. To do this she will have to pass through dangerous Indian country.
Yellowleg offers to accompany her, but Kit refuses. Despite her not wanting his help, Yellowleg recruits Billy and Turk to join the journey. The threat of hostile Indians is real, but Kit and Yellowleg will learn too late that Billy and Turk have their own reasons for making the trip.
This is Sam Peckinpah’s first time directing a feature film. The Westerner tv series, which starred Brian Keith, had just been cancelled. Keith had been named the lead for The Deadly Companions and he recommended Peckinpah for the director’s chair. Reportedly Peckinpah and Maureen O’Hara didn’t get along. At any rate, this isn’t your typical Peckinpah film.
Brian Keith is always good. Chill Wills has the ability to get laughs even playing the heavy. There is a love story subplot (of course) and a revenge subplot and both require a bit more suspension of disbelief than a gritty western would require. Still Peckinpah-lite is better than no Peckinpah at all. The Deadly Companions earns 3 of 5 stars.