Burt Lancaster: ‘Lawman’ on Prime Video

Burt Lancaster is excellent as the Lawman (1971), a pitiless, unbending Marshall out to arrest seven cowhands who left a dead man in the wake of a drunken tear, in this stoic modern take on a classic Western theme.

He confronts a rancher baron, trigger-happy gunmen, and the cowardly hypocrites of a frontier town: the usual bunch of old west types sculpted into intriguing character by a crack cast. Robert Ryan brings a sad dignity to his former gunfighter tamed into a meek town Marshall and Lee J. Cobb is introspective and thoughtful as the aging cattleman weary of his life of violence: “It took guns to take this land, guns to keep it, and guns to make it grow.… Each time we bury the cost.”

This is the end of frontier justice, the age when the legendary gunslingers are getting old and the firebrands of the past are mellowing, and director Michael Winner’s approach is lean and tough, with a streak of “passing of an era” melancholia, but surprisingly old fashioned. The hard-edged, unsentimental violence, arid, austere look of the picture, and distracting over-use of zooms mark it as an unmistakable product of the early 1970s. Yet it’s not so much cynical as sorrowful in its clash of ideals, and never less than clear-eyed in the presentation of harsh frontier realities.

It’s the first American feature by British director Winner, who left the world of British social satires and quirky psychological dramas for Hollywood and a career of hard edged westerns and ruthless crime films, most famously the first three Death Wish movies. This is one his best.

Robert Duvall, Sheree North, Albert Salmi, and a young Richard Jordan (as an idealistic cowpoke whose sense of honor gets a workout in the complex conflicts) co-star.

Rated R

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Lawman [Blu-ray]
Lawman [DVD]

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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