For, March 13, 2015

Several boutique DVD labels continue to release movies that are not only rare but largely forgotten, many of them B-movies that have been out of circulation for decades.

To say they’ve fallen off the radar is to understate. Even die-hard movie buffs haven’t seen (or in some cases even heard of) some of these.

A nice little surprise that has arrived on DVD and Blu-ray for the first time is the B-Western “The Woman They Almost Lynched” (1953, b/w), which has been rescued by Olive Films, and which proves to be a snappy little 90-minute programmer from Republic Pictures with a distaff twist on the usual low-budget Western motif.


       Audrey Totter, 'The Woman They Almost Lynched'

This one came out a year before the more famous Joan Crawford film “Johnny Guitar,” and there’s a strong resemblance (it was produced by the same studio) but the lower-tier stars here turn in solid performances and everything moves at a rapid pace, interspersed with lots of action. It’s fair to say “The Woman They Almost Hanged” holds its own pretty well.

The story is against a small town on the Missouri-Arkansas border that is trying to remain neutral during the Civil War, but Quantrill’s Raiders hang around nearby and continually stir up trouble.

The intriguing title tells some of the story — but it could refer to either of the two female leads: Veteran film noir regular Audrey Totter is the feisty, tough-minded Kate, wife of William Clarke Quantrill (Brian Donlevy), or Joan Leslie as nice-gal Sally, who has just arrived to help her brother, owner of the saloon — and who proves surprisingly handy with a pistol.


For Kate, Sally’s arrival is just one woman too many in this small town, and she declares war on her. But Sally isn’t about to back down quietly, so a showdown is inevitable.

To have the primary characters be women is a most unusual step for a 1950s Western. Even the mayor is a woman in this one.

I don’t want to oversell “The Woman They Almost Lynched.” It is, after all, a very low-budget effort with fight scenes using obvious doubles and dialogue that is occasionally inspired but often clichéd.

But for fans of Westerns, or of Totter or Leslie, or even those who just enjoy what my wife refers to as “a good ol’ black-and-white, this one fills the bill.