Deadman Standing is about many things: courage, cowardice, the Old West, gunfights, a women's place in the Old West, good vs. evil. But first, this film is based on a true story of a gunfight in Newton, Kansas (Hyde Park) in 1871. The story is largely unknown, but it should be just as well known as the O.K. Corral and others. One of the reasons it is not more well knowns deals with the nature of the major hero in the film. He was not a self-promoter.
I am thrilled that Nicholas Barton took the time to draw America's attention to this undervalued tale in American history--the gunfight at Hyde Park. Bringing light to a new story is better than just making new movies about the same gunfights that Hollywood has done again and again. This is new material.
The cast is excellent, the cinematography is outstanding, the sound is very good and the story is well drawn. The story of the 1871 gunfight is being told by the sultry Rosie (Viva Bianca), a saloon and brothel owner who survived the melee.
Bianca, of course, was featured in the "Spartacus" series on Starz Network. She is a beautiful and clever woman, and Director Barton wisely doesn't rely on her sexual allure to the extent he could have, but instead emphasizes her canny nature and good heart. Bianca is the centerpiece of the film, telling the story of what happened in the Newton, Kansas shootout two years later at her new joint in Medicine Lodge, Kansas.
Rosie tells the story to a stranger who enters her bar randomly, two years after the incident. The Stranger is played by C. Thomas Howell, and he looks and plays the part; sort of a Tommy Lee Jones type of toughness and grit.
As the story is shown in flashbacks, it comes down to a showdown over property and jurisdiction between two lawmen, Mike McCluskie (Luke Arnold), and Billy Bailey (Peter Douglas). When you first see Sheriff McCluskie standing next to the newly-appointed Sheriff, Billy Bailey, one thinks of Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago. Billy Bailey is a mountain of a man, and appears to be about 6'6" and 250 pounds in the film. Billy Bailey looks like a linebacker for the Chiefs, compared to the smaller, but determined Mike McCluskie.
Meanwhile, a corrupt local Judge, Clarence Potts (Richard Riehle), plays the part of the bought-and-paid-for judge flawlessly. He is sort of a Wilfred Brimsley character.
Throughout the film, with almost each character, I thought: "If this was a Hollywood Blockbuster, this part would be played by Tommy Lee Jones, or Russell Crowe, or whoever." But that's the magic of the film: it not only tells the story of a gunfight that few Americans have heard of, but it gives exposure to an outstanding cast that is undervalued.
Courage is a rare commodity, while cowardice is rampant in life. And this film reminds me that if someone has Courage (or the ancient Virtue of Fortitude), they have a cherished possession. The McCluskie figure and the canny Rosie know courage when they see it.
They give the gift of attention to a boy with tuberculosis, James Riley (Quinn Lord). Rosie and Sheriff McCluskie basically serve as stand-in parents for down-on-his-luck James Riley, because they see something in him.
A stark counterweight to James Riley is the cowardly Hugh Anderson, Jr., (Douglas Bennett) who had every break in life one could imagine, but whose father obviously didn't give him the gift of attention. His father never showed him how to be a man.
There are many messages in the film, but to me, the central message is that if someone has the rare virtue of fortitude, or courage, they are far ahead of any coward on earth, regardless of their station in life. Such people need the gift of attention, because they are rare.
We know the names of great gunfighters in the Old West, in part, because many of them were self-promoters. But sometimes the best gunfighters walk away quietly and without fanfare.