Lawman (film)

Last updated

Film poster by Frank McCarthy
Directed by Michael Winner
Written by Gerry Wilson
Produced byMichael Winner
Cinematography Robert Paynter
Edited by Frederick Wilson
Music by Jerry Fielding
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • March 11, 1971 (1971-03-11)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3 million [1]

Lawman is a 1971 American revisionist Western film produced and directed by Michael Winner and starring Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, Lee J. Cobb and Robert Duvall.


Plot synopsis

Drunken cowhands from the town of Sabbath are shooting up the western town of Bannock. [2]

Jared Maddox is Bannock's marshal. On the trail of the shooters he rides into Sabbath with the body of Marc Corman. Corman and five others were involved in the reckless killing of an old man, and Maddox has warrants for them.

Maddox calls on Sabbath's sheriff, Cotton Ryan. He demands that the five surrender to him within 24 hours. Ryan warns Maddox that the five work for Vincent Bronson, a wealthy cattle rancher, and that he should go back to Bannock and avoid a deadly confrontation. Maddox is not frightened and warns Ryan he will certainly kill them if they do not surrender.

Ryan goes to Bronson's ranch to inform him of Marshal Maddox's arrival in Sabbath. Bronson is unaware of the killing in Bannock and offers cash as compensation. The Sheriff explains that Maddox cannot be bought.

Bronson's foreman, Harv Stenbaugh, wants Maddox killed. Bronson insists on negotiation. When that falls through, his men resolve to kill the marshal, an effort which leeds to a dramatic gun fight in the Sabbath town square. Maddox, who has railed against back shooters is driven to betray his own words in a manner which provokes a profound moral ponderance. The action in this film is dry and tersely authentic.There are no pretty cowboys or pretences of morality and the ending has the resolution of a rattle snake bite.



The film was based on an original script by Gerald Wilson who said he was inspired by an item he read in the journal of Charlie Siringo which said the only hired killers in the old West were the lawmen, and it was they who caused most of the violence. [3] Wilson also wanted to say that "law and order is certainly not the only way to administer justice." [4]

In November 1969, it was reported Michael Winner was scouting locations in Durango and that Burt Lancaster would most likely star. [5] Winner did not want to go to Spain - where many Westerns were shot - because he wanted "an American influence". The film wound up being made in Chupaderos. Winner says he managed to hire the village for filming just before Howard Hawks tried to secure it for Rio Lobo. [6]

Filming began in April 1970. [7] [8]

It was Winner's first Western. "The West is everybody's," he said. "Americans come to Britain to film English history. Why shouldn't an Englishman go west?" [9]

"The West is vulgar," he said. "The West is dirty. It's like a hippie colony. The problem with making a western is you get your priorities the wrong way around. You can't find anywhere to go to the toilet and yet you have to bring everything to a halt the minute one of the horses goes. And then wait to sweep up after it." [10]

Winner later said:

I’d never even done a Western before but I got very serious about it. I had American professors come up and look at locations and I wanted to get the details correct. I asked what they usually used for oil lamps and they said that they just used new ones and threw some dust on them. I told them that was ridiculous and that they could get authentic period oil lamps for 20 quid on the Portobello Road. So the crew were all coming over from England with these things crammed in their luggage. It was the most authentic Western ever made. Everything was real. We sold the set to John Wayne who was coming in and doing another movie on the set after us. [11]

Release dates

UK11 March 1971 (London premiere)
AustriaApril 1971
Finland 2 April 1971
West Germany 2 April 1971
Sweden5 April 1971
Norway10 June 1971
France21 July 1971
United States4 August 1971
Mexico16 September 1971

Alternative titles

HungaryA törvény nevében
Brazil, Portugal O Homem da Lei
Austria, West Germany Lawman
SpainEn nombre de la ley
Poland Szeryf
FranceL'Homme de la loi
ItalyIo sono la legge
SwedenLagens män
Finland Lainvalvoja
MexicoYo soy la ley
Brazil Mato em Nome da Lei



Howard Thompson of The New York Times called the film "a potent but curiously exasperating Western" with "a baffling, oblique arrogance about the central character, played well by Lancaster, that belies his seeming quest for justice ('the law is the law'), the point of the film. But he is also a cold, egocentric fish." [12]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film two stars out of four and called it "a Western with a lot of sides but no center. The bad guys are too monotonously bad to be interesting. The characters played by Lee J. Cobb and Robert Ryan are more interesting, but never get a proper chance to influence events. And the Lancaster character, as limited by Winner, seems driven by some unhealthy inner hang-up that causes the whole movie to go sour. Winner should have told us a lot more about his lawman, or a lot less." [13]

Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune awarded two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, "It's the opportunity to see some familiar faces that makes 'Lawman' an entertaining Western. It just has to be the faces, because the story is so depressing and poorly conceived." [14]

Variety described it as "a quite entertaining film that never hits many high spots but will amuse western addicts," adding, "Lancaster, as usual, is a highly convincing marshal, tough and taciturn. Ryan is also excellent as the faded, weak marshal with only memories. But it's Cobb who quietly steals the film as the local boss who, unlike many in such films, is no ruthless villain." [15]

Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called it "a good solid western" with Cobb "a fine and worthy adversary" to Lancaster. [16] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post stated that the film "smells of confused plotting, gratuitous brutality and a veritable outbreak of overripe dialogue." [17] John Pidgeon of The Monthly Film Bulletin called the story "utterly conventional" and concluded that "despite the acting, the theme—of the morality of taking life in the name of the law—is ill-served by Winner's fashionable attention to gore, not to mention his hotch-potch of styles, as tiresome as the frenetically zooming camera." [18]

The film holds a score of 63% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 8 reviews. [19]

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  1. Clinch p 136
  2. TCM on Lawman
  3. Mole sees the light: DEREK MALCOLM reviews new films and talks to Gerald Wilson who wrote the script for Scorpio Malcolm, Derek. The Guardian 25 Oct 1973: 14.
  4. Fishgall, Gary (1995). Against type : the biography of Burt Lancaster. Scribner. p. 276. ISBN   0-684-80705-X. OCLC   845013893.
  5. Paramount Slates Move to Suite Los Angeles Times 17 Nov 1969: e25.
  6. Fastest gun in the west Crosby, John. The Observer 14 Dec 1969: 7.
  7. 'Frame a Figg' Costars Set Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times17 Mar 1970: e14.
  8. The streets of Durango SHIVAS, MARK. The Guardian 8 Aug 1970: 7.
  9. Clinchy p 136
  10. 'Lawman' Won a Shoot-out With 'Rio Lobo' on Location in Mexico SHIVAS, MARK. Los Angeles Times 28 June 1970: p26.
  11. Knight, James (September 2, 2009). "Michael Winner". Vice.
  12. Thompson, Howard (August 5, 1971). "A Shoot-'Em-Up 'Lawman' Bows". The New York Times . 25.
  13. Ebert, Roger (August 31, 1971). "Lawman". . Retrieved May 26, 2019.
  14. Siskel, Gene (September 2, 1971). "Lawman". Chicago Tribune . Section 2, p. 15.
  15. "Film Reviews: Lawman". Variety . March 24, 1971.
  16. Thomas, Kevin (September 1, 1971). "Lancaster a Fast Gun in 'Lawman'". Los Angeles Times . Part IV, p. 11.
  17. Arnold, Gary (July 17, 1971). "Corrupted, Cliched 'Lawman'". The Washington Post . E7.
  18. Pidgeon, John (April 1971). "Lawman". The Monthly Film Bulletin . 38 (447): 78.
  19. "Lawman". Rotten Tomatoes . Retrieved June 13, 2021.