From William A. Wellman comes an unheralded western with an intriguing cast dynamic. Gregory Peck is the undisputed star as the boss of a group of outlaws who ride into town, pull a quick bank job, and are forced to flee from the Cavalry across the desert wasteland. It’s the prerogative of “Stretch” (Peck) to continue across the desolate terrain, despite the obvious drawbacks. But everyone else reluctantly follows although a few are opposed including his biggest rival Dude (Richard Widmark).
The story could end there with the band of fugitives dying of thirst in no man’s land and it nearly does happen, but like a mirage, they come upon a ghost town. It’s like a sick joke because it seems that all the people have picked up and left. All that is except an old prospector and his plucky Granddaughter (Anne Baxter). She is wary of these marauders, and she is extremely protective of her old grandpa. The men get a bit lustful since they have not seen a woman for some time and she catches the eye.
Again, the path of this story seems like it will be stagnant once more and yet that’s before we knew that the two relations are sitting on top of a gold mine. That catches the attention of the outlaws and the avarice grows in the hearts of the men. Not to mention their lustful desires.
That’s what makes “Stretch” such an interesting villain as portrayed by Gregory Peck. Certainly, he does wrong in the eyes of the law, but he has his morals in a sense. He vows to the old man that they will keep their agreement to split the gold. It’s the honorable thing to do and he is smitten with the attractive Mike. But Dude is not so excited about this act of charity and so he gets the boys to turn on “Stretch.” They try and pin him down and thus unfolds the necessary gunfight. The power struggle reaches its apex in the shrouded saloon where “Stretch”, “Dude”, and “Lengthy” face off for one final showdown. Shots are fired and a desperate Mike goes charging in to witness the outcome.
The bad boys get their comeuppance and the stooges including Walrus and Half-Pint (Harry Morgan) are okay. Most importantly “Stretch” is now a straight arrow for the girl he loves by pulling the world’s first reverse bank robbery.
Yellow Sky was a thoroughly enjoyable story because it felt surprisingly dynamic and even graphic for a 1940s western. Highlights include Anne Baxter slugging Gregory Peck and dishing out the ultimate insult that he smells bad. Peck is such a commanding presence, and it’s fun to see him in a darker role. Baxter was also deadly in a very different way than her backstabbing Eve Harrington. Richard Widmark and John Russell were worthy adversaries while Charles Kemper was the token fat guy. And I still cannot get over how young and dare I say, scrawny Henry Morgan looks.
I must confess that I have never read The Tempest, but this story is supposedly based on that Shakespearean tale. Well, now I know.