Burt Lancaster in his final western plays an incomparably gallant and commanding Bill Doolin, head of the Doolin-Dalton gang. Flamboyant Amanda Plummer, in her screen debut, and soulful Diane Lane provide perfect youthful counterpoints to this weary wild bunch. By demanding that the outlaws live up to the images they cut in Ned Buntline’s dime novels, Plummer’s Cattle Annie revives Doolin and his outfit, including the superbly laconic Scott Glenn as Bill Dalton and a scarily intense John Savage as her lover, Bittercreek Newcomb. When disaster strikes—in the form of Rod Steiger’s cagey, weathered lawman Bill Tilghman and his Pinkerton goons—the filial passion of Lane’s Little Britches for Doolin ultimately catalyzes their redemption. Balancing the story’s emotions beautifully, director Lamont Johnson uses Larry Pizer’s lyric cinematography and Sahn Berti and Tom Slocum’s resonant country and western score to create a tall tale with the pull of a romantic ballad.
Michael Sragow is a contributing editor to Film Comment and writes its Deep Focus column. He is a member of the National Society of Film Critics and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.