An ex-Union soldier rides into town and enters a saloon where he runs into two old friends.


The two old friends, the bartender and future Marshal, are both glad to see him. They kibbitz with him about surviving the War. He tells them he’s glad to be back and will be happy to settle back on his land, Sweet Meadows, and start raising and selling cattle. They offer to buy him a drink.

A man at the other end of the bar watches the scene between these three old friends. He says:


“When I was in the Army, the regular Army, we were a little particular who wore those stripes.”

The Native-American Union soldier finishes his drink and leaves the saloon. The man at the other end of the bar speaks again:

“You notice how sour the air got? You can always smell ‘em.”

He follows the soldier outside, looks at him and pointedly spits on the street. This is DEVIL’S DOORWAY and you’ve just been introduced to Verne Coolan.


I don’t know how much I’ll be able to stand writing about him. I may have to burn my computer and toss it out the window after I’m done here, and you may have to wash your eyes with soap. Verne Coolan has got to be the most dastardly, despicable villain this side of the Rockies, the Mason-Dixon line, or at the very least, this side of the third annual GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON. You can see all the three years of this blogathon hosted by Kristina ~ SPEAKEASY, Karen ~ SHADOWS and SATIN, and Ruth ~ SILVER SCREENINGS here:

                       2014                                            2015                            NOW

Verne Coolan is played by expert character actor LOUIS CALHERN. By rights, Calhern could appear in the ‘What A Character’ Blogathon for any number of roles he’s taken. He


has played master Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes in “The Magnificent Yankee”, he was Julius Caesar. He was Marilyn Monroe’s four-flushing Sugar Daddy in “The Asphalt Jungle.” Hitchcock used him as Cary Grant’s boss in “Notorious” and he was Groucho Marx’s exasperated Sylvanian nemesis in “Duck Soup.” I’m including Calhern’s Verne Coolan in the Villain blogathon because I must warn everyone far and wide about this low-down, dirty varmint.

The story’s set after the Civil War and Lance Poole ( Robert Taylor ) has led a regiment and served his country with honor. He’s a decorated Seargent Major with the Congressional


Medal of Honor. He’s come back in one piece ready to resume his life. But NOT if Verne Coolan can help it. That rat bastid has a different idea and it runs along the lines of total extermination for Lance and his people. His racism is insidious and vile and just so gallingly unfair. The thing is, Verne Coolan gets others to do his dirty work for him. He “hides” behind the Law. He lies if he has to…if he wants to. He pits one group against another as they duke it out while he stands back smoking his cigar and coughing up blood. ( He’s got lung problems and has been sent out west for his health. ) There are a couple of set pieces to his villainy.

VILLAINY SET-PIECE #1 ~ Things are changing in the territory now that it’s a state. This does not bode well:


And to anyone who’ll listen to him, Verne Coolan high praises the land Lance owns as prime property to be homesteaded by others. Lance seeks legal help, but it looks like the Law is NOT on his side.

( “I envy you ma’am, your being a lawyer. You’ve got faith.
Something to go by, like a religion. With you, it’s the law…
I’ve always wanted something like that. Something to tell
me what’s right or wrong…because then you don’t have
to bother about your conscience. It’s written out for you
to follow; no matter what it does to people. It’s the law.
Changing the law is something you don’t have to worry
about.” )

Coolan’s henchman joins in on the taunting. Then he all out starts a fight with Lance that Lance finishes. It’s a good scene; no big stuntman effects. Saloon bystanders watch the fight in dispassionate silence. There’s a nice moment when the camera tracks alongside Lance’s friend Red Rock (
James Mitchell ) as he stops Coolan from using his gun during the fight. As Lance and the henchman continue to fight, you should see Coolan’s face. He’s in gleeful ecstasy.

VILLAINY SET-PIECE #2 ~ Verne Coolan pits two factions to go for each other’s throats. It’s that age-old Western trope of sheepherders vs. cattlemen weve seen in countless cowboy movies and Coolan uses it to his advantage. Lance has done good for himself, worked his land, sold his cattle…depositing $18,000 in the bank. Hes lived in peace. But Coolan talks some sheepherders into exploring this beautiful grazing land…that Lance owns. Calhern uses his beautifully silky speaking voice to give voice to Coolan’s ugly rhetoric…with great insinuating effect:


COOLAN: “Through that pass, the range never dries up. The mountains keep the wind out. There’s a waterhole in there big enough to float a clipper ship. Grass. It’s belly high on a steer. Oh. It’s a place for home. I’d like to live there myself.”

MAN #1: “Alright Lawyer. We paid you good money to tell us what to do. What’s your answer?”

COOLAN: “My answer is, in effect, the answer of the Land Office. They informed me that Indians are ineligible for the benefits of the Homestead Law. The rest is up to you gentlemen.”

MAN #2: “Well Indians have always fought for the land Mr. Coolan. Poole didn’t strike me as being afraid.”

COOLAN: “Well it’s my duty to point out to you your legal rights. The rest, of course, you’ll have to tend to yourselves. Fear didn’t enter into my considerations.”

Didja see what he did there? He gives them the idea, shames them for being fearful and them leaves them to come to his conclusions. He’s a big time instigator. But the second man, played by young Marshall Thompson, is a voice of reason among the sheepherders:


“Why get your head blown off if there’s another way? I’d like
to talk to Poole. See his lawyer. Maybe we can make a deal.”

 [ Yeh. Uhhh…that’s the last thing Verne Coolan would want. ]


Advocating on Poole’s behalf is a lovely lawyer lady, Orrie Masters ( played by Paula Raymond from “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.” ) She takes MacDougall ( actor Marshall Thompson ) to see Lance. She tries to advise Lance, but he won’t compromise. He’s a stubborn cuss…and within his rights. Well, perhaps not within his rights by the Law, but of plain simple human fairness. Lance flatly turns down any compromise with the sheepherder and sends him away. 

VILLAINY SET-PIECE #3 ~ Coolan puts another plan into place that will set up both sides for failure. Coolan tells MacDougall that at his recent visit to the Land Office he’s found out that they will NOT change their position; Indians are not allowed to own land. Coolan tells MacDougall that he and his men should just begin to bring their sheep to Sweet Meadows and let the grazing begin.


They decide to face Poole again. Oh by the way…Coolan hasn’t been to the Land Office. Hasn’t been to that area in years. But he and his henchman will follow the sheepmen and watch that situation foment. Coolan rides back to town to stir up some more crap.


The men confront Poole and his men. Imagine, a sheepherder facing a decorated Union soldier. The Henchman has something juicy to report to Coolan. In a draw, Lance shoots MacDougall. Good news for the henchman:



You want that kid of yours to get out of there alive… MOVE!!
What’s it going to take to teach you guys.

While the pot is stirring out on the range, lawyer Orrie tries to petition the townspeople on Lance’s behalf to allow him to homestead his own land. No, I uhmmmm, didn’t see any womenfolk in that decision-making process.

ORRIE MASTERS: “And I want to remind you, Mr. Poole fought long and gallantly for his country. He certainly earned the right to live.”

A voice of reason steps through the crowd. It’s the Marshal ( Edgar Buchanan who’s very good in this as Zeke Carmody ), Lance’s old friend speaking on his behalf:


MARSHAL CARMODY: “The law says an Indian ain’t got no more rights than a dog. That’s the law I was sworn to enforce. I’ve known Lance Poole since his mother packed him on her back. He’s always been a good boy. He’s never made any trouble for nobody; just trying to hang on to his land. So if he fights, I’ve got to go out and try and stop him. As Marshal, I reckon I shouldn’t mix up in any politics. But I feel pretty bad the way things are. There’s nothing says a law can’t be changed.”

Perhaps the law should be involved in politics, not just mete out justice blindly.


While lawyer Orrie and Marshal Carmody get some signatures and common sense for this petititon, Coolan strides through the crowd:


COOLAN: “If we sign this petition and the government grants this Indian title to this land, can you guarantee that he’ll live in peace with his neighbors; not revert to savagery?”

ORRIE MASTERS: “Of course.”

COOLAN: “Well in that case, I’ll be delighted to sign your petition.”

At THAT moment the henchman busts into the saloon with news of the shooting.


Coolan’s machinations and timing help turn the tide of opinion against Lance and his Shoshone family. #INJUNFAIL Cunning Coolan has one more trick up his lying thievin’ cheatin’ race-baiting sleeve.

VILLAINY SET-PIECE #4 ~ Coolan puts the full court press on now. Since the shooting he really riles up the citizenry. He inflames a mob of people to go after the Indians. He wants to hang ‘em high:

“Who could blame us if we dangle Poole and his Indians from the yardarm of telegraph poles as a warning to other Redskins. The volunteers in this punitive expedition will have first choice in the homesteading of Sweet Meadows.”

Then he stirs up the sheepherds, who have vested their money and faith and followed him…like sheep:


COOLAN: “Marshal, you’ve stalled as long as you can. You’ve deliberately ignored your duties as a peace officer and a servant of the people. The Indian’s petition has been denied. Now then, are you going to give these men the Homestead protection they’re entitled to or aren’t you?”

CARMODY: “Guess I ain’t got much choice.”


The lawyer sees things escalate unstoppably out of control. She can’t talk sense to the sheepherders and her own personal issues dealing with her attraction to an Indian isn’t strong enough to pull him off his course.


“Nothing an Indian needs like a speech from a lawyer telling him to give up! Now you’ve made it. Your conscience is clear…the color of my hide means just as much to you as it does to them out there. You found I could be lonely for a woman like any other man you stayed on the safe side of the fence. How much does my life mean to you Orrie? What would you give to see me live? Would you let an Indian put his arms around you? Would your conscience say its worth kissing me?…Don’t cry Orrie. A hundred years from now, it might’ve worked.”

Telling Coolan that the calvary will be on its way to settle things does not help. His bloodlust is up. He is at the point of no return.



Mixing a posse ( aka lynch mob ) with the desperation of people who need to survive, he’s going for broke to drive out innocent people simply due to his own personal hate and bias. It will be a bloodbath that director Anthony Mann stages brutally and photographed by the great John Alton. People have to watch who they follow. This election year is proof of that. They may leave you down the garden path for their own self-serving interests.


The man behind all this is Verne Coolan. And I say this is a cautionary tale for our November elections as well.

There are many villains in movies and The ( 2016 ) Great Villain Blogathon covers them:

( Day One )                 ( Day Two )                   ( Day Three )

( Day Four )                        ( Day Five )                                   ( Day Six )



[   H   O   M   E   ]


42 thoughts on “DEVIL’S DOORWAY

  1. Excellent review. How have I missed this one. Will seek it out now.
    You have some great dialogue quotes, capturing the flavour of the film.
    Glad you featured Louis Calhern, a very good actor and villain.
    You didn’t tell us the ending. Just as well. I must see it soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I try to give the flavor of the film without spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it. I hope I’ve whet your appetite. This is one to be seen. I’ve really come to appreciate Calhern’s talents in recent years. Find that movie. Tell me wha’cha think. Thanks for stopping by Vienna.


  2. A BRILLIANT review! Devil’s Doorway is a great movie with an unyielding cynical eye. You couldn’t have picked a more evil villain in the history of film, Theresa!

    Verne is an Iago, an instigator as you say, but the key to him is how Calhern plays him. He never raises his voice, never overplays. He’s simply vile, a human being without conscience or remorse. He’s a nasty piece of work because he’s so cool….he’s got the entire history of racism on his side, and he can do anything he wants. He’s the face of whiite privilege. You’ve done a great job showing us Verne’s two (or more) faces. He’ll get what he wants no matter who gets burned.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Wendy ~ I learned of this movie from you Ramblers over at our old stomping ground at TCM’s Message Board. And looking at it this time for the Great Villain Blogathon I had the same reaction. “Eeeeewwww.” But my reaction went a little deeper b’cuz of our political climate this go ’round. You know, politicians playing to peoples’ hate and insecurity. We’ve got know-nothing blowhards and supercilious holier-than-thou candidates for division…but even they cannot match Verne Coolan ( though they come darned close and coming from the same place. ) What am I doin’? YOUR description of Verne Coolan is excellent and eloquent, as you do. Thank you for reading.


      • Yup, our political climate is spawning a whole new group of Verne Coolan wannabes. That’s why classic film is so important! We need these timeless explorations of our history, and the subtle probings of our dark side. Those nasty, dark inclinatons can spring back to life after years of hiding in the back alleys of our collective psyche.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Those craftly feckless politicians…they sure know how to push the buttons to send certain people back to the Stone Age. Mob mentality rules without thinking people individually thinking for themselves. A shame. Looks like I’d better stay glued to TCM this entire summer and until November. It’s gonna be a hot mess until then.


  3. Here’s another film you’ve featured that I’ve not seen, but it sounds like Louis Calhern is the perfect acting choice for the smooth-talking Verne Coolan. That kind of smart, manipulative fellow is always very dangerous.

    That’s an interesting point from the dialogue you included, about the law and how it tells you what to think. It sounds like this film gives viewers a lot to think about.

    Great post! Loved your analysis, and how you broke down the villainy into 4 set pieces for us. Very clever.

    Thanks for joining the blogathon with this Coolan character. (Must go wash out my eyes now…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yo Silver, thank you for including me and my little ol’ couch in one of the most anticipated blogathons. I tried to pull the big kahuna here of villains. He’s not the over-the-top kind of villain but insidious, the kind that gets in your head…and then you want to put your head in a vise until it explodes. The film does give viewers something to think about especially in light of what’s going on in today’s politics. Thanks for taking the time out to read my work. I’m finding with blogging and my soon to be co-hosting duties with two upcoming blogathons myself, finding time to even read is becoming impossible. Thank you for making the effort. You three ( Silver Screenings, Speakeasy and ShadowsandSatin ) KNOW how to run a blogathon. Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great analysis, Theresa! So glad you chose the grim Devil’s Doorway (with Louis Calhern at his most despicable). It’s an underappreciated gem that many classic film fans have missed. Racism and intolerance most certainly still exist as much today as they did in 1950. And people still follow evil ones without using good sense. Jeremiah 11:19 and Matthew 10:16. A bit of Louis Calhern trivia. He was married to Lovey Howell (Natalie Schafer).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: The Great #Villains2016 Blogathon: Day 1 – Silver Screenings

    • Hey hey Paddy…I thought that Verne didn’t die the death he deserved. I love Calhern’s silky voice. What a skunk. I prescribe three viewings of “The Red Pony” two “Heaven Can Waits” and how gentlemanly he was in “Notorious.” When you’re talkin’ villains…no namby pamby ones will do. Thank you for stopping by.


  6. Great pick, Theresa! I’ve never even heard of this movie, but you can bet that I’m going to hunt it down now! Just when I thought I couldn’t love Louis Calhern more . . .

    Thanks so much for joining our blogathon this year!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Karen. Your annual VILLAIN blogathon is a big one in these parts. Thanks for having me. Glad you love Louis Calhern. Hold on to that love… ‘cuz he’s pretty despicable this time round. Check him out. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at this movie again.


  7. *struggles to find comment box due to soap-in-eye* 😉
    For me, Verne Coolan is the kind of villain you don’t want to imagine exists because the contemplation of what that means is too terrible. Interesting how you drew the parallels between ‘then’ and ‘now’. I haven’t seen this in a while and I don’t live in the US, so it was interesting to think about what has and hasn’t changed. It’s a shame this film isn’t better known as it might put a few things into perspective 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Vicki, I love your comment here. You’re not here in America, but I can promise that my fellow countrymen will go to the brink, the edge ~ because the empty promises feels good to them…but the majority of us won’t let them drag us into the abyss. Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Ha! All folks need to do is watch classic films. Thanks for your comments.


  8. This is a film that I’ve always thought was underrated. It’s hardly ever shown on TCM (that I can remember), but it’s always worth watching. And Calhern is excellent in everything, but especially sinister in this film as you so wonderfully examined. Good job!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stephen, thanks for the compliment. You know, I doubt I’ll ever see this movie again. Verne Coolan is just too despicable and too real for me. Yeah…call me crazy, but I think now I love Louis even more.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. You were brave to suffer through Calhern’s baddie in order to tell us about it in Villains Blogaton! Another good film of Calhern’s, which airs sometimes on TCM’s Sunday Silents is a silent film he made in 1921, The Blot. Weird title, I know, but Calhoun plays a charming young college student who is in love with his professor’s daughter. A really sweet romance!


    • I sacrificed my soul for the blogathon Jenni, just like any good blogger would do. “The Devil’s Doorway” is certainly an object lesson we could still learn today. I’ll have to be on the look out for Louis Calhern as a sweet young thing. Thanks for the recommendation.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Ooo, an Anthony Mann / John Alton I have not previously heard of, now on the watch list…

    Thanks for this excellent primer on a less-known western that sounds well worth seeing, if I can stomach it. That monologue of Taylor’s to the lawyer about how maybe she would be willing to put her arms around him and kiss him in 100 years, dang…

    This is the classic movie blogger mandate: to shine a light on unseen stuff in movies we *think* we know, and to point out all those wonderful movies that aren’t getting the attention they deserve. The Devil’s Doorway is a perfect example of that, and you made me want to see it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was shocked that the movie was slanted positively…towards the Native-Americans, how they showed the sheepherders backed into a wall…and being sheep themselves. And how insidious Calhern’s methods were of convincing the herders to attack. Lesley ~ I highly recommend it. Once. Calhern is wonderfully despicable. Eeeeeeeew!


      I urge everyone within the eyes of my blog to read your wonderfully written piece on the villainy in —–> LAURA.”



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