Hangman's Knot is a 1952 American Western film written and directed by Roy Huggins and starring Randolph Scott. The film is about a group of Confederate soldiers, unaware that the Civil War is over, who intercept a shipment of gold escorted by Union cavalry troops and are then pursued by a renegade posse. Hangman's Knot was filmed on location in the Alabama Hills in Lone Pine, California.
|Directed by||Roy Huggins|
|Written by||Roy Huggins|
|Produced by||Harry Joe Brown|
|Cinematography||Charles Lawton, Jr.|
|Edited by||Gene Havlick|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$1.25 million (USA)|
In the spring of 1865 in Nevada, a small band of Confederate soldiers disguised as civilians intercept a shipment of gold escorted by Union cavalry troops. Following a heated battle, Confederate Major Matt Stewart learns from a dying Union officer that the war ended a month earlier. Matt and his men transport the gold as planned to the scheduled rendezvous with Captain Petersen, who has been scouting the area disguised as a traveling peddler. When Petersen confirms that he knew the war was over but made no attempt to tell the men, hot-headed Rolph Bainter shoots him dead. The men briefly debate what to do with the gold. As ranking officer, Matt decides they will take the gold back to the South to help finance their country's reconstruction.
The following day, Matt disguises himself and uses Petersen's covered wagon to transport the gold and his men out of the area. Soon they are stopped by a group of drifters posing as a posse looking for the gold thieves. Matt persuades the posse's leader Quincey that they've been caught elsewhere. Matt and his men continue on, but the mules bolt from the wagon and the rebels are forced to commandeer a stagecoach carrying a former Union war nurse, Molly Hull, and her companion Lee Kemper. Quincey's posse chases the stage to a station house, capturing one of Matt's men, Cass Browne. Matt and his men take the stage passengers, the aging station agent Plunkett, and his daughter Margaret Harris hostage.
Quincey's posse surrounds the station house. As night descends, the posse tries to lure the Confederates out by threatening to hang Cass, but Matt is able to rescue him using the remaining sticks of dynamite from their ambush.
The following day, Kemper offers Matt a plan of escape in exchange for two gold bars. Giving Matt an Indian token, Kemper explains that his good trading relationship with the local Paiute Indians and this token will guarantee fresh horses and safe passage out of the territory. He also knows by the approaching clouds that a brief torrential rainstorm will soon arrive and supply Matt and his men cover for their escape. Matt agrees to the plan. Later, while Molly is caring for the wounded man in another room, Rolph tries to rape her. An enraged Matt stops him and beats him in a fistfight. When an angry Rolph tries to shoot Matt, young Jamie Groves shoots him dead.
During the night, Quincey and his men have been digging a short tunnel under the station house. Just when they break through and reach a trap door in the floor, Cass stops them from entering. Frustrated, Quincey decides to burn the station house down and orders his men to torch the roof. As the fire burns through the roof, Kemper's predicted thunderstorm arrives. In the confusion, Kemper tries to escape with his two gold bars and is shot dead by the posse. When Cass sneaks outside to scatter the posse's horses, he is also killed. As Matt and Jamie prepare to escape, Molly begs Matt not to take the gold. Outside in the chaos of the storm, Quincey and his men begin shooting at one another. Believing Matt told the truth about the whereabouts of the gold, the surviving members of the posse race each other into the night.
With the posse gone, and respecting Molly's wishes, Matt and Jamie surrender the gold to Plunkett. Margaret and Plunkett offer a home to young Jamie, who promises he will return. Matt also promises Molly that he will return to her after he is repatriated in Virginia, and the two embrace.
- Randolph Scott as Major Matt Stewart
- Donna Reed as Molly Hull
- Claude Jarman, Jr. as Jamie Groves
- Frank Faylen as Cass Browne
- Richard Denning as Lee Kemper
- Lee Marvin as Rolph Bainter
- Glenn Langan as Captain Petersen
- Jeanette Nolan as Mrs. Margaret Harris
- Clem Bevans as Plunkett, the Station agent
- Ray Teal as Quincey
- Guinn Williams as Smitty
- Monte Blue as Maxwell
- John Call as Egan Walsh
In his review in The New York Times, A. W. wrote that the Western genre film is "given handsome, credible and edifying treatment" by writer-director Roy Huggins in Hangman's Knot, calling the film a "taut, action-filled adventure".
As a director, Mr. Huggins has centered his cast in plausible situations. The six-shooters and Winchesters are rarely allowed to cool down, the talk is pertinent and there are enough corpses around at the finale to satisfy the most exacting fan. And his principals are human withal. Randolph Scott, as the leader of the embattled Confederates is a troubled but heroic man uncertain as to how to honorably dispose of the loot. Donna Reed, as a Union nurse nabbed as a hostage, is utterly natural as her hate is changed to admiration when she comes to know her captor better. Richard Denning is a weak opportunist as her civilian escort and Claude Jarman Jr., as the callow member of the band; Lee Marvin as the lustful killer and Frank Faylen, as a casually brave "Reb," contribute more meaningful delineation than is usual for this type of muscular play acting. Although "Hangman's Knot" is only loosely tied to its title, it is a tight little entertainment which does justice to this film form.
In her review in Allmovie, Tana Hobart called the film a "well done, tense western with a good, dry sense of humor." In his review in DVD Verdict, Judge Paul Corupe called the film "a pretty fair Technicolor b-western bookended with some exciting action sequences." In his review for Reel Film Reviews, David Nusair wrote that Hangman's Knot is "surprisingly fast-paced for a film of this sort, and though there's an almost incoherent rain-soaked battle towards the end, the film essentially remains entertaining throughout." Nusair also notes the "real chemistry" between Scott and Reed.
- "The Top Box Office Hits of 1953", Variety, January 13, 1954.
- "Hangman's Knot". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved August 4, 2012.
- "Locations for Hangman's Knot". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved August 4, 2012.
- "Full cast and crew for Hangman's Knot". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved August 4, 2012.
- A. W. (December 11, 1952). "Hangman's Knot". The New York Times. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
- Hobart, Tana. "Hangman's Knot". Allmovie. Retrieved August 4, 2012.
- Corupe, Judge Paul. "Hangman's Knot". DVD Verdict. Retrieved August 4, 2012.
- Nusair, David. "Hangman's Knot". Reel Film Reviews. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
Media related to Hangman's Knot (trailer screenshots) at Wikimedia Commons