The strength of Violent Men doesn’t lie so much in the plot or scenery as it does the cast. Glenn Ford, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Dianne Foster, and Brian Keith are each outstanding. Although, if (like me) you’re most familiar with Brian Keith as loving and kind Uncle Bill on Family Affair, it’s odd seeing him play such a smarmy character!
When I first saw this movie a few years back, my first reaction to seeing him sleaze across the screen was, “Uncle Bill.. what the heck?!”
While Ford and Keith are perfectly fine in their roles, make no mistake about it, this is Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, and Dianne Foster’s movie. More about them in a minute.
The Violent Men Trailer:
However, when he sees what bullies the Wilkisons can be – especially after they murder one of his men – he decides to stay and fight, calling upon his Civil War experience.
The wonderful, strong, and sultry to a fault Barbara Stanwyck plays Martha Wilkison who is married to Edward G. Robinson’s character (Lew) but carrying on a long-term affair with Lew’s brother Cole Wilkison (played by Brian Keith). The fact that Lew has lost use of his legs and is confined to crutches makes it easier for the dastardly duo to cavort behind his back.
Hence the, “Uncle Bill… what the heck?!”
In a relatively small role, Dianne Foster chews up the screen as Lew and Martha’s daughter Judith. Her chemistry with Glenn Ford is the stuff you hope for anytime you sit down to watch a movie. She has an obvious beauty and tons of talent but she has that certain something “special” that, I don’t know, maybe only those of us who are obsessed with movies recognize. You can’t take your eyes off of her when she’s on the screen – which, ironically, is the exact same thing I’ve always said about Barbara Stanwyck who plays her mother in this movie.
Foster (particularly with her hair light, as it was in this movie) reminds me A LOT of Barbara Stanwyck. The casting, makeup, and hair departments hit it out of the park with this one.
As for the one and only Barbara Stanwyck, she was at her best in The Violent Men. Here’s the thing about Stanwyck, whether she’s playing a good character or a bad one (which Martha certainly is), one thing is for certain…. you want her on your side!
Barbara Stanwyck, in any role, is an absolute force to be reckoned with. That’a one of the reasons she’s one of my top all-time favorite actresses. She’s like a female tornado gliding across the screen. And like a tornado, you don’t want to cross her.
What can you say about the great Edward G. Robinson? The man was simply one of the best actors of his time or any other time. Like Stanwyck, he was a force to be reckoned with, so (as you’d imagine) their scenes together left you wanting more and more.
One of the things I liked most about Glenn Ford’s performance in The Violent Men is the fact that he played it with a “quiet strength.” It would have been easy, as the lead in a Western, to dial into a larger-than-life persona. In scenes with Stanwyck and Robinson, it would have been a disastrous ploy. How can you possibly be larger than two tornadoes circling one another?
Ford’s John Parrish was exactly and precisely the sort of hero this movie called for. His understated performance was sheer perfection and, as I said, his chemistry with beautiful Dianne Foster was especially nice.
Whether you’re a fan of one of the stars of this excellent cast (how could you not be??!) or simply love Westerns (again… how could you not??), The Violent Men is one you’ll want to both watch and add to your collection. It seems that each time I watch it, I notice something else phenomenally brilliant Ford, Stanwyck, Robinson, Keith, or Foster do.
Such a strong cast!