The Lawless Breed (1953)

 

 

 

Director:     Raoul Walsh. 

Starring:    Rock Hudson (John Wesley Hardin),  Julie Adams (Rosie),  Mary Castle (Jane Brown),  John McIntire (J.G. Hardin / John Clements),  Hugh O'Brian (Ike Hanley),  Dennis Weaver (Jim Clements),  Forrest Lewis (Zeke Jenkins),  Lee Van Cleef (Dirk Hanley),  Tom Fadden (Chick Noonan, Undertaker),  Race Gentry (Young John Hardin),  Richard Garland (Joe Clements),  Glenn Strange (Ben Hanley), William Pullen (Joe Hardin).

infamous gunman John Wesley Hardin

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Texas State Penitentiary, 1896.  "Hardin's story is unique because it was written by the man himself.  This extraordinary testament, now a collector's item, was published in Seguin, Texas in 1896."

Huntsville Prison.  John Wesley Hardin is released from prison.  In town he goes to see a publisher.  The fellow there can hardly believe he's talking with the gunman John Wesley Hardin.  Hardin tells the man that he has written his autobiography that will probably interest people.  He says to the man:  "If you decide to make a book of it, I'd be much obliged."  His address is on the last page. 

Flashback.  Hardin writes that he was born into a fine family in Fannin County, Texas, May 26, 1853.  At the age of seven the Civil War began and his father raised a company to fight for Texas.   His brother Dave was killed in Georgia and his brother Joe was crippled in Mississippi.  His father was a preacher who was also a circuit rider. One day his father comes home to find John practicing firing his pistol.  Dad is mad because John bought the pistol with gambling money.  He starts lashing John with a horse whip and tells him to pray.

The pretty Jane Brown, an orphan who grew up with John, comes to see if he is alright.  She calls him Wesley.  Wes tells her that he's going away from here.  She encourages him to stay and study law, but Wes says there's only Yankee law in Texas.  Seeing that Wes is definitely going, Jane asks him if he will come back for her?  He says he will and adds that he loves her.  They kiss.  Jane has to leave to serve Mr. Hardin and Joe their dinner. 

Wes comes into the saloon and says hello to the bar maid Rosie.  He wants to sell his law books to the bartender/owner.  Marv gives him $20 dollars for the books.  Wes sits down at a poker game.  There is a suspicion of cheating and Gus Hanley tries to kill Wes, but Wes is quicker and kills him instead.  Rosie tells him to get out because the man he killed has three brothers.  Wes leaves, but runs into some Yankee soldiers.  The soldiers chase him, but Wes gets away. 

The soldiers investigate the death.  Marv tells the officer that the preacher's boy did it.  The three brothers are determined to kill Wes.  Wes goes to see his uncle.  He tells the Clements family there that he shot Gus Hanley and they are shocked.  His cousins tell Wes that Dirk Hanley will be coming after him for sure and he already has five notches on his gun.  Wes also tells the family that he thinks he shot a couple of Yankees trying to get out of town.  Uncle is amazed.  He says they are going on a cattle drive up to Abilene and Wes can go with them. 

The groups heads out for Abilene.  They run into the undertaker who later tells the Hanley brothers that Wes is with the Clements's cattle drive.  The brothers arrive in Abilene before the cattle drivers.  They go into the bar to ask the bartender if this is the place where the Clements will be hanging out.  The bartender says all the cattle drivers come into his saloon.  The brothers say they will be back.  Bill Hickok is the marshal.  

The Clements team comes into the local saloon.  The first thing Wes does is order a dressmaker to make him a wedding dress for Jane.  The cost will be $300 dollars.  Then Wes plays cards in the saloon.  A messenger comes in to tell Wes that Dirk Hanley is waiting outside for him at the Beaux Belles Saloon.  Wes tells the messenger to tell Dirk to come to him.  Message delivered, the brothers take up their positions.  Wes waits for them outside by a huge tree.  The three brothers approach Wes from three different directions, but the Clements boys stop two of them.  Now it's only Dirk against Wes.   Wes easily kills him and quickly returns to gambling. 

Hickok comes to arrest Wes.  Wes tosses his pistol to Hickok and while Hickok is catching it, he pulls a hidden pistol on the marshal.  Hickok says Wes is a brave man and he would hate to have to kill him, so he gives Wes one hour to get out of town.  Hickok leaves.  Uncle tells Wes to come with them because they're leaving.  But Wes says he is going to wait until he gets that wedding dress.  So Uncle tells some of the guys to get over to the dressmaker's place and tell her it has to be finished before 6 p.m.  The guys get the dress in time, but Wes asks how does he know the wedding dress will fit Jane.  The bar owner scurries around to get three of his female employees to be models.  While Wes is considering it, Hickok returns.  Wes tells him not to worry, that he'll be out of there and gone in one minute. 

Wes goes to see Jane at night.  He climbs through the window.  They hug and kiss.  He tells her they have enough money now to buy the farm they always wanted.  Wes wants her to hurry up and come with him, but she says she can't because she promised his father that he would be the one to marry them.  This infuriates Wes and he goes to speak to his father.  Dad comes into the living room to see about the ruckus and sees Wes.  He tells Wes that he won't marry them until Wes is free of the law.  He says the Yankees are leaving and Wes will only be charged with the murder of Gus Hanley.  If, as Wes says, Hanley drew his gun first, then Wes will get off in a fair trial.  But what if he doesn't get a fair trial? asks Wes.  Dad says then he'll take up the gun and get him free.  So Wes agrees to stay for trial. 

Dad gets Judge Ames to defend Wes.  Ames talks to the Hardin family.  The judge takes all Wes's money to help for the preparation of the trial.  Now he doesn't have money for the farm he wants.  Wes's brother Joe says he is going to need even more money for the trial.  So they decide to race Wes's horse Rondo at the races coming up.  Jane makes Wes give her his pistol and pistol belt. 

Wes goes to the race and wins $385 dollars.  A man bets Wes $500 that his horse can outrun Rondo and Wes takes the bet.  Wes talks with the barmaid Rosie from Bonham.  She is disappointed to hear that he is going to marry Jane.  Wes beats the other horse and now has $885 dollars. 

Wes goes into town to pick up the money from Jack Martin's saloon.  Ike Hanley plans to get even with Wes.  They have the marshal come into the saloon  to arrest Wes.  Wes tells the sheriff that he won't turn himself in until Monday as agreed.  He turns his back to the sheriff and starts to walk out of the saloon.  The sheriff says that Wes is resisting arrest and shoots him in the left shoulder.  Wes has a hidden pistol, pulls it out and kills both the sheriff and Ike Hanley. 

Wes and the Clements ride out of town.  They patch up Wes's wound.  Wes returns to take Jane away with him.  His father and Jane argue with him and he stays too long.  The posse arrives.  They call for Wes to come out.  He comes out to say the sheriff and Ike Hanley tried to set him up to kill him, but the sheriff with the posse says that Wes shot a law officer while performing his duty.  Wes goes back into the house.  He sneaks out the back way to Rondo, but gets shot on the way.  Wes grabs onto the horn of the saddle and Rondo races him out of there.  The guy who shot Wes now shoots again, but hits Jane instead of Wes as she runs after her fiancé. 

After awhile Wes can't hold on any longer and he drops off by the side of the road.  He hides in the woods as the posse goes by.  He then manages to get over to his uncle who was waiting for him.  Uncle hides Wes and leaves. The posse find Rondo, but not Wes.  The next day uncle returns with one of his sons and Rosie who drives a wagon.  They pick Wes up and put him in the wagon.  Rosie stops by a stream to check on Wes.  Wes tells Rosie he's going back for Jane, but Rosie tells him that Jane is dead.  This infuriates Wes who believes that because they could not kill him they killed Jane instead. 

The newspaper says that Wes Hardin disappears without a trace  --  believed dead.  Two years later a local gamble in another town report that he recognized Wes Hardin in a gunfight.  October 29, 1875, the papers carries the headline:  Hardin Guns Down Deputy.  Then on February 15, 1877 the headline says that the Texas Ranger have been reactivated.  They plan to capture Wes Hard and other killers. 

At the officers of Captain, W. H. McNelly at the headquarters of the Texas Rangers receives a telegram dated February 20, 1877 saying that Hardin has been reported as being seen in Kansas City.  Rosie is still with Wes.  And Wes is still gambling.  Rosie sees and hears two men asking for a Mr. Swain at the hotel desk.  She asks the desk clerk about it and he tells her its two Texas Rangers asking about her brother and her.  Rosie goes to warn Wes. 

Walking down the street Wes sees three Rangers coming his way.  Wes jumps on a horse while someone shoots at him. He stops to pick up Rosie and then heads on.  The papers say that Hardin eludes the Texas Rangers, no trace of him since Kansas City trap failed.     

Wes and Rosie go to Polland, Alabama where he starts a horse breeding farm called Green Stables.  Rosie is bored on the farm.  She doesn't like farms.  People have to work too hard and too long for little money.  The next morning the local reverend arrives.  Rosie has to hurry and put on some clothes.  The reverend comes in and asks Wes if this is the bride to be.  Wes says yes and Rosie realizes that she is about to be married. 

Rosie becomes pregnant.  Wes is so happy that he laughs and spins Rosie around.  Then Rosie makes a mistake.  She sends a letter to Wes's father.  The letter is stamped Polland, Alabama and there is an address.  The rangers now know where Wes is living.  Now Rosie tells Wes that she is happy here on the farm and feels safe.   Wes has to go on a trip to Pensacola, Florida.  She waves to her husband and tells him to hurry home.  Wes comes into the train station. The Rangers are there.  They capture him.  He is brought to Austin, Texas.  The jury finds him guilty of the murder of sheriff Charles Webb.  He in confined to hard labor for a period of twenty-five years in the prison at Huntsville.  Rosie, with her baby, cries over the sentence.   

In the 16th years of his imprisonment, Governor J.S. Hogg gives Wes a full pardon. 

Back to the present.  Wes goes home to Alabama.  Rosie is so happy to see him and they hug and kiss.  And now Wes can go see his son who has been waiting for this day for a long time.  Wes is happy until he sees his old pistol and pistol belt hanging on a wall of the barn.  His son says people come out to see it.  He puts it on and twirls the pistol in his right hand.  Wes has flashbacks to the hard times of his life.  He slaps his son down.  His son leaves.  Rosie asks Wes what happened.   Wes thinks his son will now be out looking for trouble. 

His son goes to a bar and gets taunted by one of the men who knows his father has come back home.  John is tempted to draw on the man, but Wes stops him.  Wes starts to take John home, but the bully shoots Wes in the back saying Wes reached for his famous hidden gun.  But the bartender checks Wes and finds no gun.  The men in the saloon chase after the bully.  Wes survives, the family is united and they drive in a wagon back to their horse farm. 

 

Good movie and Rock Hudson does a good job as gunman John Wesley Hardin.  But it only shows a few of Hardin's many gun fights and murders.  It almost makes Hardin seem like a man with just a series of bad breaks and not a cold-blooded killer.  I think it would have been more interesting if the story was closer to what really happened than to make up an elaborate alternative story. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

1853  --  John Wesley Hardin in born in Bonham, Texas.  His father was a Methodist and a circuit rider. 

c. 1865  -- at twelve years of age (or 14?) John Wesley stabs a child who was taunting him in school. 

1868  --  at age 15, Hardin challenges an ex-slave of his uncle to a wrestling match.  During the struggle Wes badly scratches the ex-slave's face. The ex-slave ambushes Wes three days later, attacking him with a large stick.  We is said to have warned the ex-slave to back off, but was forced to shot and hit the man in the chest with three bullets.  As Texas was then occupied by Union troops, he felt he could not get a fair trial and went into hiding.  The authorities find out where he is hiding and sent three Union soldiers to arrest him.  Instead of running, Wes decides to fight it out.  He winds up killing all three soldiers with a double-barreled shotgun and a pistol.    Total dead = 4. 

1868 (four weeks later)  --   playing cards Hardin makes Jim Bradley in Towash, Texas mad by winning too many hands. Hardin leaves. Later Bradley shoots at Wes but misses. Wes shoots back with his two pistols hitting Bradley in the head and chest, killing him.  Total = 5. 

1868 (a month later) – Hardin in Horn Hill, Texas kills a man in a gunfight after an argument at the circus. Total = 6. 

1868 (less than a week later)  -- in Kosse, Texas Hardin kills a man trying to rob him. Total = 7. 

Wes starts working with cattle for his relatives, the Clements family.  He travels to Kansas. 

1869 – the Hardins settle in Sumpter, Texas. Dad teaches school.

1871 (January) – Hardin was arrested for the murder in Waco, Texas of City Marshal L.J. Hoffman. Wes swore he did not kill the man. He was being taken to Waco for trial when he escapes and kills guard Jim Smolly.    Total dead = 8. 

1871  -- on a cattle drive on the Chisholm Trail to Abilene, Kansas Wes gets in a dispute with the leader of a Mexican cattle drive.  He shoots the man in the thigh and then comes back and shoots him in the head.  In the ensuing skirmish with the Mexican cowboys, Wes kills 5 of the men.    Total dead = 14. 

In Abilene, Hardin has a little run-in with Marshal Wild Bill Hickok.  Hardin respected Hickok and did not cause any trouble.  The second meeting with Hickok the two became friends briefly.  Then Hardin gets in trouble by shooting through the hotel walls to protest a man's snoring.  One of the bullets hit the man killing him.  Total dead = 15. 

1872 (August) – John Wesley shot by Phil Sublett with a shotgun during a poker game. Fearing he might die, Hardin turns himself in to Sheriff Reagan and asks to be tried for his past crimes. But there were so many crimes that Hardin changed his mind and escaped from jail.

1873 (May 17) – Hardin was staying with the Clements again. He got involved with the Taylors and their feud with the Suttons. Hardin kills former captain in the Texas State Police and sheriff of DeWitt County, Texas with a shotgun when Helm was advancing on Jim Taylor.  Total dead = 16. 

1874 (May 26) – Hardin shoots dead Brown County, Texas, Deputy sheriff Charles Webb in a gunfight.  Total dead = 17.    A lynch mob hangs Hardin's brother Joe and two of his cousins in reprisal. 

The Texas Rangers’ Jack Duncan intercepted a letter sent to Hardin's father-in-law by his out-law brother-in-law and gets Hardin’s whereabouts on the Alabama and Florida border under the name of James W. Swain. Hardin was arrested on a train in Pensacola, Florida.  At the time Hardin claimed he had killed 42 men.

1892 (November 6) – while in prison, Hardin’s wife died.

1894 (February 17) – Hardin is released from prison after serving nearly 16 years. 

Hardin passes the state's bar examination and gets his license to practice law.

Hardin marries a 15 year old girl named Callie Lewis, but the marriage quickly ended.

1895 (August 19) – John Selman, Sr., whose son had a nasty argument with Hardin, shoots Hardin in the head at the Acme Saloon in El Paso, Texas where he was playing dice.

 

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