There are a few weak spots and some things audiences might find a bit loathsome.
A group of bandits come riding into an old west town. The gaunt but handsome Stretch (Gregory Peck) is their leader, and with some help he holds up a bank and they ride off with the contents of the safe, guns blazing. A large militia is hot on their trail, and the unforgiving salt plains are their only refuge. Deciding to attempt a trek across the punishing sand instead of running back into the hands of the law, the six men soon become hostile towards one another. When a town appears just over the horizon, they stagger deliriously towards it in hopes of getting a drink of water.
They arrive upon Yellow Sky and find it is a ghost town. Only two people reside there—the mysterious and alluring tomboy named “Mike” (Anne Baxter) and her grandfather, a loony old prospector (James Barton). While allowing them to drink from the spring and rest, Mike is suspicious of these travelers, as she rightfully should be. Toting a gun, she roughs up all of the men who try to come near her. Soon enough, everyone is butting heads.
One of the bandits, Dude (Richard Widmark) catches on that there’s a ton of the old prospector’s gold hidden somewhere in the town. Stretch starts to fall from power in the group as his decision to move on without taking any gold is overruled. He’s also falling for Mike, who won’t return his affections despite her growing attraction to him. The anger and aggression begins to unravel, and senseless bloodshed begins to look inevitable.
While exciting and well made, Yellow Sky doesn’t hold a candle to the other Wellman Western release by Kino, The Ox-Bow Incident. They share the same screenwriter, director, and even some of the same cast, but they do not share the same level of depth or story. Yellow Sky is still an entertaining enough movie, nonetheless; however, there are a few weak spots and some things audiences might find a bit loathsome.
I’ll get it out right now and say the film’s view of romance and courtship are as dated as you can possibly imagine. When Anne Baxter provides the sole feminine presence in a ‘40s era Western, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. But there is a certain, how should I put it, sexually hostile vibe that sometimes spills into action that we see directly on screen. The movie does try to make some excuses by characterizing the men as hardened and troubled (even when they end up being good guys), but the nastiness is there, regardless. When compared to The Ox-Bow Incident, the pent-up masculine frustration has a rather conventional and uninteresting payoff. With Yellow Sky, we end up getting a well-done shoot em’ up with a few unintentionally disturbing moments. For Western lovers or Blu-ray collectors, it’s a worthy release.
From the names in the cast that I’ve already mentioned, you can rightfully assume that the performances are top notch. The landscapes are beautiful and the sets are as authentic and detailed as can be expected of a Western from this era. Several good compositions crop up from scene to scene, and Wellman seems to be quite fond of the low-angled shot. His son, William Wellman Jr., talks about a few of these shots. On set stories (he often visited his father on set) will open your eyes to the admirable craft put into this film and many other films like it. In the end, both the film and the history behind the genre can’t help but fascinate. | Nic Champion
Yellow Sky is being released by Kino Lorber along with several other Westerns by director William Wellman. This is a 4k restoration and special features include a commentary by William Wellman Jr. and trailers for the other Westerns released by Kino.