Lawman (film)

Lawman is a 1971 American western film produced and directed by Michael Winner and starring Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, Lee J. Cobb and Robert Duvall. The film is about the quest of a lone peace officer, Marshal Jared Maddox (played by Lancaster), to bring several men to justice. Its hero and the motives of the other characters are not as defined or clear-cut as in some Westerns.[1] Cobb's character, Vincent Bronson, is not a typically evil cattle baron but is portrayed with a sense of humanity.[1] The marshal and the guilty men nevertheless come to a series of deadly confrontations. Maddox can be seen as an anti-hero dedicated to upholding the law regardless of any extraneous code of honor, or personal feelings. The plot generates questions regarding honor and under what circumstances murder becomes legal.[1]

Directed byMichael Winner
Produced byMichael Winner
Written byGerry Wilson
Music byJerry Fielding
CinematographyRobert Paynter
Edited byFrederick Wilson
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • March 11, 1971 (1971-03-11)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited States


The film starts with a scene common to many Westerns, cowboys in a drunken state shooting up a town and wreaking havoc.[2] The rowdies are from the town of Sabbath and are visiting the town of Bannock for a little recreation that gets out of hand. The town's marshal, Jared Maddox, rides into Sabbath and is not alone. He brings along the body of Marc Corman, one of the unruly cowhands from the recent drunken spree in Bannock, carrying it on the back of a horse.[2] Corman and five others were involved in the accidental killing of an old man and Maddox has warrants for them. The remaining five are Vernon Adams, Choctaw Lee, Jack Dekker, Harvey Stenbaugh and Hurd Price, all hired hands at wealthy Vincent Bronson's ranch.[2]

Maddox follows protocol and calls on Sabbath's sheriff, Cotton Ryan. He demands that the five surrender to him within 24 hours.[2][3] Ryan is a lawman whose career had seen better days. He urges Maddox to avoid a confrontation with Bronson. Maddox won't back down, although he believes the suspects are likely to get light sentences due to the accidental nature of their crime and the fact that the justice system of Bannock can easily be influenced by bribes. Ryan goes to Bronson's ranch to inform him of Maddox's demands.[2]

Bronson, unaware of the killing in Bannock up to this point, tries to negotiate by offering compensation to the victim's family and even to Maddox. Ryan explains that Maddox will not agree to anything other than an unconditional surrender of all five men.[2] One of the suspects, Stenbaugh, who is Bronson's foreman, tries to persuade Bronson to have Maddox killed. Despite his violent past, Bronson is tired of death and violence and refuses Stenbaugh's suggestion, insisting on further negotiations.[2] Laura Shelby, a romantic interest from Maddox's past, tries to negotiate on behalf of Price, one of the suspects, who is now her common-law husband.[2] Maddox is unmoved by Laura's pleas for mercy. Bronson gives up hope of reasoning with Maddox and asks his men if they wish to surrender.[2] Adams refuses, claiming that he would go bankrupt if in jail. Retired gunfighter Choctaw volunteers to join forces with Stenbaugh in killing Maddox.

Bronson offers to compensate his men for any financial losses while at the same time trying to persuade Maddox that some compromise must exist short of total surrender. Stenbaugh and young Crowe Wheelwright come to town. Despite being told by Bronson to avoid confrontation, Stenbaugh draws out Maddox for a showdown and is killed. Crowe (who is not wanted by the law) backs down from Maddox after a brief discussion.[2] Back at the ranch, Bronson grieves upon hearing of his close friend Stenbaugh's death. He is comforted by son Jason. Maddox's breakfast is interrupted by local businessman Harris, leading a delegation of armed citizens concerned that the lawman is creating a lot of problems for them.[2] Not a man to be intimidated, Maddox stands up to the townspeople and they flee the hotel. Maddox goes to find sheriff Ryan but is confronted again by Crowe. A shot is fired by a hidden gunman, Dekker. A disgusted Ryan does place Dekker under arrest, calling him a "back-shooter", but advises Maddox to leave town as the violence seems to be spiraling out of control. Maddox reiterates his position that a lawman never compromises.[2]

Price tries to leave town. Crowe meets with Maddox to swear that he did not set him up for Dekker's ambush. Maddox reveals his disillusionment with his job and admits that lawmen are little more than professional killers.[2] Price, while fleeing, joins Adams on the ride to Bronson's ranch. On the way they spot Maddox. In the ensuing gunfight, Adams' horse is shot while Price escapes. The marshal captures Adams and takes him to Laura's home, where they tend to his gunshot wound. During a romantic interlude, Maddox rekindles old feelings for Laura. He asks her to leave with him once his mission is done. She agrees under the condition that he resign as marshal.[2]

Maddox turns over Adams to sheriff Ryan and announces his intent to leave town and start a new life.[2] Bronson and his remaining men come looking for Maddox without realizing he is a changed man. They don't act immediately.[2] When businessman Harris, who was waiting on the sidelines, opens fire at Maddox, the others follow suit. Choctaw draws on Maddox but is killed.[2] Maddox insists that he seeks no further trouble. Bronson's son, Jason, is not satisfied and seeks revenge. He too, is killed by the marshal.[2] Price panics and, as he runs toward Laura, Maddox shoots him in the back, despite his code of never drawing first on a man. Seeing his son dead, a grief-stricken Bronson kills himself in the street. Maddox can do nothing more but ride by himself out of town.[2]


Release dates

UK11 March 1971 (London premiere)
AustriaApril 1971
Finland2 April 1971
West Germany2 April 1971
Sweden5 April 1971
Norway10 June 1971
France21 July 1971
United States4 August 1971
Mexico16 September 1971

Alternative titles

HungaryA törvény nevében
Brazil, PortugalO Homem da Lei
Austria, West GermanyLawman
SpainEn nombre de la ley
FranceL'Homme de la loi
ItalyIo sono la legge
SwedenLagens män
MexicoYo soy la ley
BrazilMato em Nome da Lei


Howard Thompson of The New York Times called the film "a potent but curiously exasperating Western" with "a baffling, oblique arrogance about the central character, played well by Lancaster, that belies his seeming quest for justice ('the law is the law'), the point of the film. But he is also a cold, egocentric fish."[4] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film two stars out of four and called it "a Western with a lot of sides but no center. The bad guys are too monotonously bad to be interesting. The characters played by Lee J. Cobb and Robert Ryan are more interesting, but never get a proper chance to influence events. And the Lancaster character, as limited by Winner, seems driven by some unhealthy inner hang-up that causes the whole movie to go sour. Winner should have told us a lot more about his lawman, or a lot less."[5] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune awarded two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, "It's the opportunity to see some familiar faces that makes 'Lawman' an entertaining Western. It just has to be the faces, because the story is so depressing and poorly conceived."[6] Variety described it as "a quite entertaining film that never hits many high spots but will amuse western addicts," adding, "Lancaster, as usual, is a highly convincing marshal, tough and taciturn. Ryan is also excellent as the faded, weak marshal with only memories. But it's Cobb who quietly steals the film as the local boss who, unlike many in such films, is no ruthless villain."[7] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called it "a good solid western" with Cobb "a fine and worthy adversary" to Lancaster.[8] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post stated that the film "smells of confused plotting, gratuitous brutality and a veritable outbreak of overripe dialogue."[9] John Pidgeon of The Monthly Film Bulletin called the story "utterly conventional" and concluded that "despite the acting, the theme—of the morality of taking life in the name of the law—is ill-served by Winner's fashionable attention to gore, not to mention his hotch-potch of styles, as tiresome as the frenetically zooming camera."[10]

The film holds a score of 67% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 6 reviews.[11]

See also


  1. Apollo movie guide Archived 2004-01-09 at the Wayback Machine Quote: While Winner’s screenplay is certainly not the model of originality, the old west clichés are presented with a fresh slant, and Lawman proves to be an engrossing film despite the familiar trappings. and Maddox comes across an old flame tangled up with the wrong guy, a nemesis from the past who may or may not be on the right side of the law and a young cowboy eager to make a name for himself. also Lee J. Cobb plays the "evil cattle baron" role with a surprising degree of sense and humanity. and But thanks to some thought-provoking ideas on 'legal murder' and 'honour amongst thieves,' this is better than a straight shoot 'em up.
  2. TCM on Lawman
  3. imdb on Lawman Quote: Robert Ryan Sabbath marshal Cotton Ryan
  4. Thompson, Howard (August 5, 1971). "A Shoot-'Em-Up 'Lawman' Bows". The New York Times. 25.
  5. Ebert, Roger (August 31, 1971). "Lawman". Retrieved May 26, 2019.
  6. Siskel, Gene (September 2, 1971). "Lawman". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 15.
  7. "Film Reviews: Lawman". Variety. March 24, 1971.
  8. Thomas, Kevin (September 1, 1971). "Lancaster a Fast Gun in 'Lawman'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 11.
  9. Arnold, Gary (July 17, 1971). "Corrupted, Cliched 'Lawman'". The Washington Post. E7.
  10. Pidgeon, John (April 1971). "Lawman". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 38 (447): 78.
  11. "Lawman". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 26, 2019.
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