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57 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The real deal
Burt Lancaster plays a marshall that is going to take some men in for trail or kill them. That is the beginning and the end of the discussion.
This is a fascinating film. What makes it so is the reaction everyone has to such an unbending, uncompromising man. The townspeople are not behind Lancaster because the men he wants to take in all work for a very important...
Published on November 24, 2003 by M. Dog

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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A great Western but a criminal DVD transfer
If nothing else, Lawman proves that there is such a thing as a script so good that not even Michael Winner could screw it up, although having an excellent cast doesn't hurt. Burt Lancaster is the lawman of the title, determined to bring in several cattlemen (Robert Duvall among them) only to find that the local boss Lee J. Cobb owns the town and its once famous, now...
Published on March 4, 2007 by Trevor Willsmer


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57 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The real deal, November 24, 2003
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This review is from: Lawman (DVD)
Burt Lancaster plays a marshall that is going to take some men in for trail or kill them. That is the beginning and the end of the discussion.
This is a fascinating film. What makes it so is the reaction everyone has to such an unbending, uncompromising man. The townspeople are not behind Lancaster because the men he wants to take in all work for a very important town leader that has done much to support and help the town grow. The town boss, played with complexity by Lee J. Cobb, admits his men did wrong, but wants to "negotiate" a kind of deal with Lancaster.
Lancaster is not a negotiator. He is a killer with a star on his chest.
This is the other interesting aspect of this film: as the Lancaster character tells an idealistic cowboy, "a lawman is a man-killer. That is his business."
All in all, a tough, lean Western with an unusually hard edge. Lancaster's ice-blue eyes dominate the film, with great performances throughout by, notably, Lee J. Cobb, Robert Ryan (as an aging gunfighter looking for an easy slide), and Robert Duvall. The writing is excellent, also, with many memorable lines that say a lot with few words.
A little-known Western but, in my opinion, one that wouldn't be out of place in any discussion of the all time greats of the genre.
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62 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Comes with the job", July 31, 2004
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This review is from: Lawman (DVD)
I am compelled to write a review of Lawman in an attempt to dispel some oft repeated misunderstandings about the film. The most common error applied to the film is that it is morally ambiguous. Lawman the film is not morally ambiguous as such. The Lawman, Jered Maddox (Lancaster), is clearly the most outstanding and praiseworthy character in the film. The confusion comes in only if we attempt to universalize morality in a Kantian fashion, thereby making the actions of the Lawman "immoral" because of his willingness to use force when discharging his duties. The fact that the majority of the other characters are immoral or simply utilitarian (looking only to their self-interest) in their moral views does not in any way mystify the issue to those willing to clearly look at the circumstances of the story. A bunch of drunken cowboys accidentally killed an old man and refuse to return to the scene of the crime to stand trial, insisting it was an accident and that it should not matter anyway. Thus Maddox, knowing full-well the kind of arrogance and blatant disregard for juridical authority he is up against, states "I'm going to take these men back with me or kill them where they stand." Maddox is under no illusion about the outcome of the trial if and when it does take place. He knows the leader of the cowboys, Bronson (Lee J. Cobb), is a wealthy cattle baron and will be able to "buy the circuit judge cheap." But he is committed to his duty. Maddox is his duty: the guardian of the law. We find this hard to accept today in our era of feel good humanism which seeks to muddy everything in the waters of "moral ambiguity." Why will he not compromise? That is exactly what the cowboys who killed the old man want, a compromise, i.e. they want to get off without any trouble and without accepting any responsibility for their actions. They want Maddox to "be reasonable." Maddox refuses, however, to be dissuaded, bought-off or bullied into giving in; he is unmoved and unwavering in his devotion to his duty, fully knowing his duty is both dangerous and unpopular with the demos. Maddox does briefly consider giving in after a little female persuasion, but realizes he can do no such thing. "You can't change who you are and if you try something always calls you back."

Most of us are simply not like Maddox--which is the point of the film--and thus find ourselves disliking the Lawman and feeling sympathy for the criminals. After all, Maddox is a killer too, as he readily admits. The difference is that Maddox's job is to protect the law under the very difficult circumstances of trans-Pecos Texas in 1887. Since humans are not by nature just or lawful (for why would we need "the law" otherwise?) the guardian of the law cannot himself be just by the ambiguous standards of a demos that reduces everything to trade--which is inevitable when social relations revolve around making money(cf. Rousseau, _First Discourse_)--or there would be no legal order. When facing men willing to use force and other illegal means to evade the law the Lawman must have extraordinary means at his disposal. In such circumstances the function of the Lawman is not to be moral as such but rather to make it possible for others to be moral. We find this distasteful because of our belief in "equality" and other nonsensical Enlightenment anthropological concepts. But it is important to remember that the Lawman has no choice but to act in such a way (unless he too sells out), given the corrupt nature of the demos that equates justice with the equivalency mechanism of trade. (Another problem being indirectly pointed to here is that the law is not always just. In itself, however, this does not affect our analysis of Lawman here, except to point out that the prohibition against murder is not absolute in a Kantian fashion. Lawman is Hegelian ethically.) It is indeed an awesome responsibility to be the guardian of the law under such circumstances. At least in this case, however, the Lawman is up to it. He will not be bought-off or bullied. Lawman the film is Shane, High Noon and Rio Bravo rolled into one, and better than all of them precisely because of its more authentic view, assessment and representation of human depravity.

Those familiar with Eastwood's Unforgiven will notice some striking similarities. The writer of Unforgiven (David Webb Peoples) had doubtlessly seen Lawman, for it seems he borrowed a few scenes and a bit of dialogue from Lawman. The difference between Lawman and Unforgiven is that Maddox is clearly the protagonist of this film whereas in Unforgiven the lawman, Little Bill, attempts to adapt his behavior to the moral standards of the community (by accepting the demos' desire to reduce law to commerce or trade negotiations) and thus becomes "morally ambiguous." Maddox however is not interested in conformity to anything but his duty. As the morally ambiguous marshal of Sabbath, Ryan, tells Bronson: "Some men just go to things in a straight line Mr. Bronson. They don't bend and they don't trade." What makes Lawman a better film than Unforgiven is that it does not attempt to play on present day sympathies. Lawman scorns identity politics and the over-all moralizing atmosphere of Unforgiven. In Lawman there is the hint of the feeling of loss for the time--prior to the complete commercialization of Western nomoi--when a man could devote himself to his duty as Maddox does.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astoundingly Underrated--Brilliant, Complex--One Caution, July 14, 2004
This review is from: Lawman [VHS] (VHS Tape)
First, the caution: the "widescreen" VHS version is a sham! It doesn't show you the actual original widescreen film, it simply chops off the top and bottom of the already reduced TV image! So just buy the regular VHS or the DVD,and make some noise on chat boards and elsewhere till they release a true widescreen version of this beautiful, beautiful film.
Okay, this is the longest review I've ever written, but here's why. I watch a LOT of movies (I'm a film and lit prof). IMHO, this is the most underrated film I've ever seen.
First off, DON'T THINK OF THIS FILM AS A WESTERN! If you do, you'll miss out on a great artistic experience, and that would be a shame. It is a film that, among several other things, bravely challenges the macho ethic while presenting characters of enormous moral ambiguity, all the while featuring a) some of my favorite direction ever, and b) simply unmatchable acting. Oh yeah, it takes place in the West :-).
Winner's directing is incredibly thought-provoking, literally second-by-second. Never, ever have I seen a more thoughtfully directed film--every once in a while he over-thinks, but it's more than forgivable. Just two of many elements: The cuts from scene to scene are ALL great, and there are no wasted moments, everything provokes thought.
Two examples: 1. Two macho guys are talking about all the land they own, and this weird flute theme slowly rises, creating an odd dissonance--suddenly we cut to a mouth playing the flute, then we realize it's Lancaster: Mr. Macho himself, out to get the other two, but differentiated from them through his flute playing--yet he then has to grab a gun because of a simple knock on the door, and we're reminded of his reality, and then we're presented with the sad irony of his throwing open the door and pointing the gun at his long-lost love...just moment after moment after moment, nothing wasted. 2. A shot of the marshal in bed with a prostitute jumpcuts to a close-up of a beautiful desert flower on a cactus, a subtle echo of both the dissipated marshal and the prostitute--but it's not a gratuitous shot, because behind the flower we then see 4 guys riding in to the climax of the film. Every symbol or image in this film is neatly tied in with the action: nothing feels cheap or forced. Virtually every scene is as thoughtfully constructed as the two moments I just described.
The moral complexity of the film. Everybody has a different reaction to this film, and that reaction tells the viewer something about him/herself--what more do you want from art? (Aside from that it entertain, which this film does.) Most of my students find themselves defending a group of men who begin the film by randomly shooting and burning a small town and are so arrogant that they then refuse to attend even a sham trial. Winner achieves these myriad reactions through his brilliant work with Lancaster, Cobb, and Ryan, all of whom are as multilayered as one could hope for in 100 minutes. For me, Lancaster's character is a near-hero, yet I understand why many of my students despise him. Rarely, very rarely, is a U.S.-studio film this morally complex and ambiguous.
The acting. The first scene between Lancaster and Ryan consists of two marshals standing around talking about a case for about four minutes, essentially giving necessary background plot--not the stuff of riveting cinema, right? Yet it's without question one of my favorite scenes in film history. That's how good the acting is in this film. Lancaster puts across sarcasm and disgust with a subtlety few others can equal, concluding, "Just good cowboy fun. (pause) They killed an old man." Ryan's weathered, cynical face takes on the slightest bit of interest as he says, "Kin?" These are two guys who have transcended the cliches of their acting generation and simply become uniquely superb actors. Don't expect Method (and I've nothing against Method!); just expect Lancaster and Ryan at their absolute peak. Same with Cobb, and the supporting cast is just about perfect, led by Richard Jordan and Sheree North. (An aside: a strong case can be made that North's character--essentially the only woman with a speaking role in the film--is the most admirable, strong, and intelligent person in the film: another thing that sets this apart from typical "Westerns," or typical anything!)
I've found in my studies that it's pretty random what gets labelled a "classic" and what gets forgotten--it has so much to do with studio politics of the time, what other films came out that week, how a film is promoted (the promo for Lawman is horrid), the personal taste of the hip critics, etc. If you like thoughtful, beautifully acted and directed films, PLEASE GIVE THIS FILM A CHANCE: I think you'll like it! Thanks for reading this whole thing :-)!
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One man who doesn't bow to people who break the law, July 12, 2001
By 
Erik North (San Gabriel, CA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Lawman [VHS] (VHS Tape)
One of the most underappreciated westerns ever made, LAWMAN stars Burt Lancaster as a hard-bitten, taciturn lawman from the town of Bannock who rides seemingly for a hundred miles to the town of Sabbath to take in a group of cowboys who, in a drunken shooting spree, had shot up his town and killed an old man.
But his appearance in Sabbath causes considerable hostility among the townsfolk, because they owe their livelihoods to that same bunch, led by Lee J. Cobb, and are unwilling to give it up. Lancaster, unsurprisingly, is unmoved. Therein hangs this solid, almost psychological, sagebrush saga.
Lancaster, as usual, is brilliant in his role of an efficient, cold-blooded lawman, and Cobb is equally special as the leader of the group of cowboys being sought. This is not your typical good guys/bad guys saga: what happened in Bannock was a tragic accident, and Lancaster may be pushing his authority a bit too far. Robert Ryan, always one of the better and more overlooked actors in Hollywood, gives one of his greatest performances as Sabbath's aging, pragmatic marshal.
Probably Michael Winner's best film as a director, LAWMAN was shot on location in central Mexico and has some stark photography by British cameraman Robert Paynter, giving it a look not out of place in a Sam Peckinpah or Sergio Leone film. It is violent in places, but it makes for very good viewing, especially for those who appreciate westerns of this type.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eastwood has Unforgiven, Lancaster has Lawman, January 11, 2001
This review is from: Lawman [VHS] (VHS Tape)
As the unbowed and unquestionable lawman, you see how Lancaster went about making his movies: totally in charge and woe to anyone who got in his way. Maybe those cowboys he takes down one by one really symbolize directors who had run afoul of him. This film, like Eastwood's Unforgiven, is made full in the knowledge that it may be the Star's last go around in a familiar genre. And it does not disappoint.
It is almost an inverse tale of the later Unforgiven from the start in a scene of debauched cowpokes running a bit too wild in town. All the impending mayhem is launched from this initial act and cannot be stopped. But this is the lawman's side of the story, even though he too is a killer. Lancaster is the "official" hired gun trying to set things back to right, but his hunted men refuse for various reasons to be held accountable. This is not a good guy/bad guy conflict as we soon see with the terrific performance by Lee J. Cobb as the head rancher who doesn't like to be pushed around. It is also one of the first times I saw Richard Jordan and he gives a real human touch to the oft stereotypical young gunfighter role. Throw in Robert Duvall, Albert Salmi, and a half-dozen other good character actors and you've got an amazing depth of talent in a relatively little known film. But it is Burt Lancaster who is in charge here and he was never more like a prowling leopard with his trademark graceful moves and quick, efficient violence. There is some discussion about whether Lancaster should have shot the last man, but I think it was the ultimate statement of his character: weary of the miscreants he deals with, he is no longer the lawman, but an avenging angel. He is committing to action what could be remembered as Lancaster's signature catchphrase, "See you in Hell!"
The ending may leave you wanting or satisfied, but it is consistent for a man who has alienated all around him. He has done his job and is damned for it. Lawman, like the title, is quintessential Western lore, exploring an area that had been dealt with before, but never better. No Western Movie collection is complete without it.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A really good western; but one caution, November 12, 2001
This review is from: Lawman (DVD)
This movie remains one of my favorite westerns and Burt Lancaster is excellent as the lawman who won't be bought off or scared off. The entire cast is excellent with Lee J. Cobb, Robert Ryan and lots of familiar faces.
The ending has been criticized and I don't find it entirely satisfying. If the ending made more sense to me this movie would get a 5-star rating.
The DVD lacks any real extras but the picture and sound are really good.
The one caution I would give is that this DVD does NOT have any nudity by Sheree North. I know that the Bare Facts Video Guide says she is topless in this film, and I have a tape of the movie from a television airing that contains the footage. But in this version that scene, although still in the film, is an alternate take with a sheet pulled up and no nudity. Just in case anybody was interested.
This is movie worth having on DVD.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tough western, with an edge on it., April 4, 2000
By 
Lee J. Stamm (Kennewick, WA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Lawman [VHS] (VHS Tape)
This is the most hardbitten of several excellent Burt Lancaster westerns from the 1970's. Burt is great as the uncompromising Lawman, an outsider who grinds through the various layers of the town harboring his quarry. Many memorable scenes and lines. Well written and directed, with fine location photography and a skilled cast of veteran performers which includes Robert Ryan, Lee J. Cobb and Robert Duvall. Highly recommended.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Lawman, March 25, 2000
By 
Deborah Koontz (Tillamook, Oregon) - See all my reviews
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This is the best western ever made. The realism and the script are perfect. The scene in which Burt Lancaster, the lawman, explains to a young gun fighter the difference between them has stuck with me since the first time I saw this movie. Some found the ending difficult. I thought it was the only way it could have ended. If you like realism in westerns, this is the best one ever made.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A frontier sheriff with an icy heart of stone, January 27, 2003
This review is from: Lawman (DVD)
Burt Lancaster and Robert Ryan star in this grim, hard-edged western, wherein Lancaster is a unremitting and efficiently violent lawman, who will give his all to get his man, even if he doesn't believe that justice will be served once the accused is brought to trial. Everyone butts up against his hardass attitude, and he rebuffs repeated pleas to take things easy and turn a blind eye. To Lancaster's marshall, it's not so much about right and wrong as it is about doing the job right: if you falter or give an inch, you'll probably wind up dead. The first half on this film is tautly scripted and relentless; it kind of falls apart by the end, at first in little bits and pieces, and then all at once. Overall, though, it's very good, and if you're looking for a superior western, this is definitely worth checking out.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A great Western but a criminal DVD transfer, March 4, 2007
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This review is from: Lawman (DVD)
If nothing else, Lawman proves that there is such a thing as a script so good that not even Michael Winner could screw it up, although having an excellent cast doesn't hurt. Burt Lancaster is the lawman of the title, determined to bring in several cattlemen (Robert Duvall among them) only to find that the local boss Lee J. Cobb owns the town and its once famous, now cowardly world-weary sheriff Robert Ryan, who all but steals the film. Curiously, Ryan far preferred this film to The Wild Bunch, though that may be down to Winner's deference to his stars compared with the thoroughly miserable time he had working with Peckinpah (there's another Peckinpah connection in composer Jerry Fielding, who contributes a good, brooding score). Joseph Wiseman, Richard Jordan, Albert Salmi and Sheree North are also thrown into the mix, and surprisingly all of them have well defined characters in what becomes an increasingly complex morality play about the void between what's legal and what's practical as Lancaster begins to realize that his strict adherence to the letter of the law has left him with nothing else in his life.

At times Gerald Wilson's script is perhaps a tad overwritten - everyone gets their big scene explaining their worldview, with no-one truly bad, merely weak - but it's a forgivable weakness. Winner's not quite as overly reliant on crash zooms as usual, though his characteristic laziness does manifest itself in one scene that has characters ride up to Cobb's house in darkness and come into the room in daylight, but for someone like Winner that's almost verging on the competent by his standards. Sadly MGM/UA's Region 1 DVD is a stinker of a transfer, looking like it was shot through a dirty window. The trailer is the only extra.
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Lawman
Lawman by Michael Winner
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