|Posse from Hell|
British quad poster
|Directed by||Herbert Coleman|
|Produced by||Gordon Kay|
|Written by||Clair Huffaker from his novel|
|Screenplay by||Clair Huffaker|
|Edited by||Frederic Knudtson|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
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In 1880 four escapees from death row, Crip (Vic Morrow), Leo (Lee Van Cleef), Chunk (Henry Wills) and Hash (Charles Horvath) ride into the town of Paradise and enter the Rosebud Saloon. Crip shoots the town marshal Isaac Webb (Ward Ramsey) and takes ten men as hostages, killing some to ensure the four are unmolested. The gang leaves town with $11,200 from the Bank of Paradise and a female hostage Helen Caldwell (Zohra Lampert) who entered the bar because her alcoholic Uncle Billy (Royal Dano) was one of the captives.
Prior to these events, Marshal Webb had sent for a friend and former gunfighter Banner Cole (Audie Murphy) to be his deputy. He takes Webb's place in leading a posse to rescue Helen and bring the men to justice. Cole is a loner with a big reputation as a gunman. He rides into a town marked by the gang's rampage, and is enraged to discover that the townspeople have put Webb on a table next to the three dead bodies of those murdered by the four. The doctor (Forrest Lewis) said at first they thought Webb was dead himself, then realized he couldn't be moved.
Webb's last act is to deputize Cole, telling him to do the right thing, not out of hate, but out of liking people, as the townsfolk are good people who have been badly hurt. Cole agrees only out of liking Webb. He makes his original plan for hunting down the four by himself clear by turning down the offer of Webb's handcuffs by saying "I won't be needing any." However, town elder Benson convinces Cole to follow Webb's wishes and organize a posse.
The men of the town gather but enthusiasm wanes when not as many able bodied men as expected volunteer to go up against the killers, some men leaving because the posse doesn't outnumber the killers by ten to one. Cole's frank assessment of the situation scares others off with Cole saying "If they're afraid of words they shouldn't go."
Cole's posse eventually consists of the aged former Army Captain Jeremiah Brown (Robert Keith), who wishes to lead the posse himself in the manner of his long ago Army days; Uncle Billy; Burt Hogan (Frank Overton), who wishes to revenge his brother Burl (Allan Lane) murdered by the four; Jock Wiley (Paul Carr), a young gunhand with no experience, seeking to establish his reputation; Seymour Kern (John Saxon), a bank employee who has just arrived on a special assignment from the New York parent office and is browbeaten into joining, both to look after the bank's missing money and avoid taunts of cowardice from the bank manager (Ray Teal); and Johnny Caddo (Rudolph Acosta), an Indian who merely thinks that joining is "the right thing for a man to do."
Cole doesn't want any of the inexperienced men to come with him but he has no choice. The posse discover Helen who has been left behind tied up near a rattlesnake that Cole is able to remove from Helen's vicinity. Helen has been raped and is unwilling to return to the town to face the shame of being vilified by the population. Cole orders the willing Uncle Billy to return her by force if necessary.
Captain Brown demonstrates his aged incompetence by disobeying Cole's orders and opening fire and nearly murdering four cowhands who he mistakes for the four killers. Cole has to wound Jeremiah to stop his shooting spree and orders him back to town with the cowhands who have been waylaid by the killers.
Cole's distrust of his own posse begins to subside when he is impressed by the determination of the inexperienced Seymour who has never ridden a horse or used a firearm before and the quiet Johnny Caddo's acceptance of the prejudicial treatment he gets from the posse. The posse tracks the four to a farmhouse and surrounds it until Hogan makes a noise starting a gunfight. Cole kills one of the outlaws. The boasting Wiley is unable to actually kill a man and is killed as he freezes, allowing the remaining three to escape. Hogan begins shooting the corpse of the outlaw that Cole himself killed telling himself and the posse that Hogan himself killed the man who killed his own brother. When the men note that all the witnesses agree that it was actually Hash who had murdered his brother, Hogan refuses to listen and leaves the posse to return to town.
Cole, Caddo, and Seymour continue tracking the party to the desert but realise that the outlaws have doubled back and are intending on returning to shoot up Paradise.
The outlaws attempt an ambush and Cole kills Leo. A second ambush results in the death of Caddo, causing Cole to remark what a good man he was. Eventually Cole and Seymour track the remaining 2 outlaws to a farmhouse near Paradise. The farmhouse is the home of Helen Caldwell and Uncle Billy. Crip kills Uncle Billy, and Seymour wings Hash, whilst Helen finishes him off with a six gun, then in distress rides the buck board away towards town. In the confrontation Seymour is badly injured and his horse killed. Cole goes after Crip and in the ensuing gunfight, Cole is injured and Crip is killed.
With no horses left, the injured Cole carries the badly injured Seymour over his shoulder and walks into town. When the townsfolk try and help he remarks with disdain. "Touch this man and I'll kill ya".
Both men survive and are patched up. Some of the townsfolk tell Cole his services are no longer required as he is less of a peacemaker and more of a gunman. But others defend Cole and say that the townfolk don't want Cole as they are ashamed at not acting themselves. Cole remembers the echo of Marshall Webbs words that some people are good and to put down roots, and decides to stay on as sheriff. He and Helen look as if they may well start a family together.
Making his directoral debut, Herbert Coleman was a highly experienced assistant director and associate producer with a long string of credits including working with Alfred Hitchcock. Coleman later directed Audie Murphy in an episode of his Whispering Smith TV series and the feature Battle at Bloody Beach. Coleman filmed at Lone Pine, California with one location being the aptly named Rattlesnake Hill where thirty rattlesnakes were removed before filming could commence.
Coleman surrounded Murphy with a variety of up and coming young stars as well as experienced professionals. Zohra Lampert was a New York method actress whose adlibbing frequently confused Murphy, but the two worked out their scenes together.
Huffaker's screenplay deviated from his novel by having Murphy's character as an outsider gunfighter rather than the Marshal's established deputy. His script emphasises the similarity between Cole's voluntary exclusion from society with Helen's sudden involuntary exclusion with her rape. Helen attempts suicide then later talks about becoming a prostitute. She is talked out of both by Cole with the two eventually finding a place in society together. Huffaker stated that when writing a screenplay for the Medal of Honor awardee Audie Murphy, he had to put Murphy's character in "a situation where he has to do something bigger than life. So it really kind of fit him in a way".
Through his viewing the actions of Caddo, Kern and Helen more than make up for the negative traits in the townspeople, Cole ends the film saying "There is always someone or something worthwhile. We just have to look hard enough".