Robber’s Roost (1955), based on a Zane Grey story, stars George Montgomery in the lead as Tex, aka Jim Wall. Opposite him as the sister of the area’s prominent rancher, is Sylvia Findley, as Helen Herrick. Although this western connects all the usual dots such as card playing, drunkenness, barroom beauties, cattle rustling, showdowns, and sweaty machoism leading to fistfights and shootouts, it is a bit different, too. It highlights the chauvinism and brutishness with which some women were treated in the tried but not necessarily fully true mirrored fashion of art imitating reality.
Tex can only allude in terse, dramatic dialogue to the event that motivates him throughout the movie. Rocky K Ranch brands on horses have already indicated that he is in the right vicinity. A scar on Hank Hays (Richard Boone) is another telltale piece of evidence. The details are never gone into, but basically, Tex’s wife has been manhandled and murdered, and a knife was involved. Tex has already run down the other culprits. With one more to go, he must tread softly, wanted for murder, a sizable reward on his head. Helen eventually finds the poster. But by then it is too late. They are already an item.
Another variation on the same theme having to do with the warped mind of the stronger sex continues in a series of scenes that involve Helen’s repeated abuse by various rude and rustic characters. Some of these actions, such as selling her brother’s cattle out from under her, are just plain mean. But others, such as how Hays, slobbering, shows up at the river where she bathes after having been taken captive, are filled with negative connotations. Subsequently, Ms. Herrick, deprived of her freedom, is made to look even more like a sex object. The mid-fifties are a little early for feminists, but parts of this film are certainly relevant to what they later found so objectionable. Some of what is depicted is simply theatrical, offbeat, and quasi-romantic, but the mistreatment shown suggests an unwarranted degree of exploitation not so very nice for matinee fare.
Then again, Robber’s Roost is only being singled out here for the sake of a rather lightweight historical critique. All in all, it is a good western. Helen gets lots of attention. That is another way of putting it. And Tex’s pursuit of revenge along with so much else going on works well in black and white against scenic backgrounds. Everybody is a little daffy anyways. Herrick, Helen’s brother, who owns more much cattle than he knows what to do with, is confined to a wheelchair, and will not listen to any suggestion that he travel east to see a doctor.