SCENE I – EXTERIOR
An ex-Union soldier rides into town and enters a saloon where he runs into two old friends.
SCENE II – INTERIOR
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:
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
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 we’ve 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. He’s 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:
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