A Movie A Day #154: The Day They Hanged Kid Curry (1971, directed by Barry Shear)


Welcome to the Old West.  Hannibal Heyes (Pete Duel) and Kid Curry (Ben Murphy) are two of the most wanted outlaws in the country, two cousins who may have robbed trains but who also never shot anyone.  After being promised a pardon if they can stay out of trouble for a year, Heyes and Curry have been living under the names Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones.

During a trip to San Francisco to visit his old friend, a con artist named Silky O’Sullivan (Walter Brennan), Heyes is told that Kid Curry is currently on trial in Colorado.  When Heyes goes to the trial, he discovers that the accused (Robert Morse) is an imposter and that the real Kid Curry is watching the trial from the back of the courtroom.  It turns out that the man of trial is just an attention seeker , someone who is so desperate for fame that he is willing to be hanged to get it.  At first, Curry thinks this is a great thing.  After the imposter hangs, everyone will believe that Curry is dead and they’ll stop searching for him.  Heyes, however, disagrees, especially after the imposter starts to implicated Heyes in crimes that he didn’t commit.

Obviously inspired by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Alias Smith and Jones was one of the last of the classic TV westerns.  Though I originally assumed that it was the show’s pilot, The Day They Hanged Kid Curry was actually the first episode of the second season.  With commercials, it ran 90 minutes.  Because of its extended running time, The Day They Hanged Kid Curry was not included in Alias Smith and Jones‘s standard rerun package.  Instead, it was edited to remove the show’s usual opening credits and it was then sold as a motion picture, despite the fact that it is very obviously a television show.

As long as no one is expecting anything more than an extended television episode, The Day They Hanged Kid Curry is okay.  I have never been a big Alias Smith and Jones fan but this episode’s plotline, with Robert Morse confessing to crimes he didn’t commit just so he can have a taste of fame before he dies, feels prescient of today’s culture.  For classic western fans, the main reason to watch will be the chance to see a parade of familiar faces: Slim Pickens, Henry Jones, Paul Fix, and Vaughn Taylor all have roles.  Most important is familiar Western character actor and four-time Oscar winner, Walter Brennan, as Silky O’Sullivan.  This was one of Brennan’s final performance and the wily old veteran never loses his dignity, even when he’s pretending to be Kid Curry’s grandmother.

As for Alias Smith and Jones, it was a modest success until Pete Duel shot himself halfway through the second season.  Rather than retire the character of Hannibal Heyes, the show’s producers replaced Pete Duel with another actor, Roger Davis.  One day after Duel’s suicide, Davis being fitted for costumes.  This move was not popular with the show’s fanbase and Alias Smith and Jones was canceled a year later, though it lived on for years in reruns.

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