The Iron Captain

Review written by Kerri Hammer

First Impressions:    I really like this one. It’s got tension, it’s got a charismatic, very dislikable bad guy, and it’s got loads of Slim and Jess.

The Story:   Two riders crest the hill overlooking the Sherman ranch and sit for a moment, studying the layout. They get down, strip the gear from their horses and sneak over to the Sherman’s corral. They saddle the Sherman horses and one of the animals puts up a fight, causing Andy to come outside to take a look. He sees that one of the horses is saddled and calls for Jonesy. The two men catch Andy as he runs for the house and Jonesy comes out and demands the boy’s release. One of the men hits Jonesy with a pitchfork and they prepare to ride off.

Sometime later Slim and Jess find two unsaddled horses alone in the hills outside the Sherman ranch. Both horses have been ridden hard and are wearing US Army brands. Concerned at this strange occurrence, Slim and Jess ride for the ranch and return in time to catch the two outlaws before they leave. They exchange gunfire with the outlaws and manage to wound one of them. The other runs behind the barn, hoping for better cover, and then throws his saddle bags down the well before Slim can find him.

Slim disarms the man and returns to the front yard. He sends Andy and Jonesy inside and the boys begin to question the outlaws. They are identified as Dixie Anderson and ‘Captain’ Sam Prado. Jess tells Slim that Prado robbed an army payroll and killed three men. The men are tied up and Jess comments to Prado that they can hang him in Laramie as well as anywhere else. Prado is unconcerned and responds coolly “They can try.”

That afternoon Jess is forced to suffer through a haircut. When he’s finally free of Jonesy’s ministrations, Jess goes into the house to talk to Slim. He comments that Andy is buzzing with excitement and Slim tells him that Andy has never been to court before. He also worries whether or not he should take Andy. Jess says that Slim will have a real fight on his hands. When Slim is finished dressing, they leave for town.

In the Laramie jail, Prado tells Anderson that his payroll is “safe”. Anderson wonders if maybe Prado is planning to leave him and the others out.

The trial is over and a group of men stand around waiting for the verdict. As they wait, Prado and Anderson walk down the street, escorted by two deputies. As they come closer a man steps from the group and loudly announces that it was Prado who had burned him and his family out of their home. He aims a punch at Prado that misses and surreptitiously slips him a derringer.
Everyone assembles inside the courthouse and the sheriff calls order. A long moment passes and the judge never shows, so the sheriff sends a man to fetch him. The door to the judge’s office opens to reveal the judge gagged and tied to a chair. As people stare in shock Prado pulls the derringer from his pocket and orders everyone to sit down. Prado and his men take Jess, Slim, and one other man and put them on horses. The gang then rides away under a hail of gunfire.

The sheriff gathers a posse and Jonesy volunteers despite his bad back. The posse rides out into the hills in pursuit of the Prado gang.

The Prado gang pauses for a moment and Prado calls up the other hostage. The man identifies himself as Clem Waters and Prado tells him to dismount. He orders Waters to tell the posse that if they continue their pursuit of Prado’s gang Slim and Jess will die. Slim tells him it won’t work, but Prado ignores him and the group rides off.

The posse finds Waters and debates whether or not they should continue the pursuit despite the warning. The sheriff decides that they can’t risk Slim and Jess’s lives, but they’ll spread the word for everyone to be on the lookout for Prado.
The Prado gang ride up to a small ranch and are greeted by the owner, Jake Strome, who has procured them horses. Prado orders him to fix them food and when Jake goes inside Prado speaks to Slim and Jess as his men line up with rifles in hand. Jess asks when he was a captain, and Prado replies that he’d been a captain in both the Union and Confederate armies.

He goes on to say that two such fine gentlemen like Jess and Slim deserve a dignified execution. The men ready their rifles, aim, and fire into the air. The entire gang erupts into laughter and Jess launches himself at Prado in a fury. Slim tries to hold him back, but Jess gets loose at swings a punch at Prado. The deranged captain easily deflects the blow and proceeds to punch and slap Jess as several of his men restrain Slim. When Prado has had his fun with Jess he orders the two tied up and goes into the ranch house.

Jonesy, the sheriff and the deputy ride into a nearby town and stop in front of the saloon. Jonesy asks if this is the place and the sheriff assures him that it is, telling Jonesy that Prado’s girlfriend works here and showing him the poster outside announcing the presence of Lita Ray, the featured dancer.

In her dressing room, Lita is preparing for her performance when there is a knock on the door. The saloon keeper enters and tells Lita that there’s a sheriff downstairs who wants to talk to her. She comes downstairs and is presented to the sheriff. He says he wants to ask her a few questions about Sam Prado. She says she doesn’t know where he is and asks what he’s done now. He answers “Nothing we can hang him more than once for” and warns her that if she helps him she could be in real trouble. Lita tells him that she’s been on speaking terms with trouble for most of her life and returns upstairs.

Back at Strome’s ranch Jess and Slim are tied to a tree and listen to two of Prado’s men discus the location of the treasure. The two men are presented to Prado and he presents them with a ‘bargain’.

The Captain tells Slim that he is to ride into Sweetwater and bring back Lita Ray. He then brutally pistol whips Slim’s hand, telling him that it’s a reminder to keep his hands to himself. Prado gives Slim twelve hours to get to Sweetwater and back, warning him that if he doesn’t return in time Jess will be killed. As Slim wraps his bandana around his injured hand Strome protests the sending of Slim into town, saying that Slim will tell everyone that he was involved and will ruin his reputation. Prado is unmoved and Strome decides to pull out until Prado leaves. As he goes for his horse Prado shoots him in the back, killing him.

That night in her dressing room Lita Ray is packing her things. The saloon keeper comes in and begs her to stay. She says that she doesn’t want to be in town when Prado comes for her, but she agrees to stay for one more performance.

Slim rides into town that night and enters the saloon, unaware that he’s being followed by Finch, one of Prado’s men. Lita’s performance begins just as Slim walks in and he watches her dance seductively with a slight smile on his face.

Back at Prado’s hide out, the Captain comes to taunt Jess. He offers Jess a job with him but Jess refuses, saying that he’d kill Prado if he had the chance. Prado says that maybe Jess should have his chance and takes Jess inside the ranch house.

In town, Slim barges into Lita’s room and tells her that Prado sent him to get her, but she refuses to come. Slim wraps her up in her cloak, hauls her outside, puts her on his horse and rides off with her.

Inside the ranch house, Prado offers Jess a drink, which he refuses. Prado asks if Jess doesn’t like mescal and Jess replies that the Shoshone don’t call it the ‘brain killer’ for nothing but that Prado’s mind is so far gone it doesn’t matter. Prado throws his drink in Jess’s face, pulling his gun as Jess lunges for him. Jess is unimpressed, saying that Prado is only a brave man as long as he has his gun. Insulted, Prado places the gun on the table and slides it toward Jess. He goads Jess into grabbing the gun, but when Jess tries to shoot Prado the gun is empty. Prado laughs maniacally and Jess hurls the empty gun at the Captain and leaps at him, but Prado produces a tiny derringer and stops Jess in his tracks. He tells Jess to think over his offer and sends him out.

Slim and Lita stop for water and she bandages Slim’s hand for him. Slim goes to put Lita back on her horse, but they are interrupted by Finch who has been following Slim from the beginning. He comments that Prado would like to hear about how friendly Slim and Lita have become. Slim fights the man and eventually overpowers him, knocking him into the river. While Slim retrieves Finch, Lita climbs on her horse and rides off, but Slim catches her easily and returns to where Finch still lies unconscious by the river. He wakes the man up and orders him to ride back and tell Prado that he’ll be waiting at his ranch, and that if Prado wants the girl he’ll have to give up Jess.

Back at Strome’s ranch, Finch returns with the news. Prado orders the men to mount up, but Finch wants to know when he’ll get his money. Prado tells him that he’ll get his money when Lita is with the gang, and that the payroll has been left at the Sherman ranch. Prado unties Jess and men head for Slim’s ranch.

Slim makes it home and Andy is amazed to see Lita there, still dressed in her stage costume. Slim tells Andy to ride into town and tell the sheriff that the Prado gang is coming. Before preparing the oncoming assault of Prado’s gang, Slim takes care of a mare’s newborn foal. The foal nickers and Lita asks Slim if he’s crying. Slim replies that the foal is “just trying out his new voice”. He then retrieves a gun from a cabinet in the barn and begins loading it. Lita comments that he must be afraid of Prado, but Slim tells her that he knows the Captain’s weak spot; her.

As they’re talking the Prado gang rides into the yard. Slim orders Jess to be set free and the gang complies. Slim realizes that he can’t give Lita to Prado and the gang spreads out around the ranch yard and lays siege to the barn. After a while, Prado tells Slim that if Lita isn’t surrendered to him in five minutes the gang will burn down the barn and the entire spread. Lita knows how important the ranch is to Slim and prepares to give herself up.

Before she leaves the barn she retrieves a tiny derringer from the gun cabinet. Slim tries to stop her, but she runs out into the yard. Prado tells Finch to get the money and burn the spread. Lita approaches Prado and coolly shoots him dead. Finch and the gang decided to take the money and run, but are stopped by the posse that Andy rounded up. The money is retrieved and Lita is put on the stagecoach. Lita invites Slim to visit her in Sweetwater, then kisses him goodbye.

Kerri's Favorite Moments:   I love the part where Jonesy gives Jess a haircut. Jess looks so miserable during the entire thing! He tells Jonesy that he’d been to court before and never had to get cleaned up, and Jonesy answers that he’s never been a witness before. He’s always been the defendant. I also like the part with the newborn foal. It’s sweet to see Slim be so good with baby animals. And I will unashamedly list the thirty seconds or so of shirtless Slim as one of my favorite moments.

Notes of Interest:   Two years later, James Coburn played Gil Spanner in The Mark of the Manhunters.    

The Owie Factor:    I’ll give this two band-aids. Jess gets himself beaten up by Prado and his gang, and then Slim gets his hand fairly broken.

Kerri's rating: 5 out of 5 stars

  • Edmond O'Brien as Sam Prado
  • James Coburn as Finch

    The Lawbreakers



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