Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Lancaster the Lawman is bloody dull

Cleveland Press July 2, 1971

"If you're a Lawman, you're a disease. They need you but they hate you."

Burt Lancaster, grim as ever, speaks the lines in a picture called "Lawman," a routine western that makes a long reach for relevancy. Trying to be thoughtful, it is merely dull. Since it doesn't replace gore with thoughts it ends up being both dull and gory.

Lancaster has the title role, a sheriff from an another town who has ridden in to arrest a dozen or so men who, in the course of drunkenly shooting up his bailiwick, killed an old man.

THE INCIDENT occurred following a cattle drive. The list of wanted men includes Lee J..Cobb, the biggest rancher in the area and the man who owns everything and everyone in sight. The others on the list are friends and relatives.

The local lawman, Robert Ryan. was once great in his line but now is a has been. He's in Cobb's pocket.

"Lawman" tries to be different by making the heavy a reasonable, sympathetic character. Cobb is willing to talk to Lancaster and to buy him if he can.

He tries to hold his men back from gunplay respects the dead and speaks well of Indians. In westerns if a man speaks well of Indians he's OK.

LANCASTER IS unbending and somebody gets trigger happy. The inevitable happens and the war is on.

The good, respectable townsfolk want Lancaster run out, even form a vigilante committee to chase him away or kill him.

The visiting Lawman is depicted as being something of a superman, utterly upright in his rigid enforcement of the law and absolutely humorless. Lancaster plays the role with the notion that if he is somber enough it will endow the role with greatness.

WHEN DOUBT finally creeps in and he wonders if his cool detachment from killing isn't maybe a little much it just isn't believable.

Cobb has made a science out of playing tortured souls and so he can make the proper grimaces even when the words don't mean much. Ryan moves through his part easily and believably.

"Lawman" says that a cop doing his duty often ends up everybody's enemy -- just like today. It's a little much with which to saddle such a weary formula movie.