|Don Dubbins with his mentor, Cagney|
"You act like a man with a lot of ideas, all of them second-rate and none of them honorable."
"A man doesn't die of a broken heart from his first love, only from his last."
Young Steve Miller, who wants to be a cowboy or wrangler, winds up in the territory owned and run by Jeremy Rodock (James Cagney). Rodock has had to put up with people encroaching on his land and stealing horses and livestock for years, and he enacts his own rough justice, including hanging the perpetrators. The latest to earn his enmity is his old partner, L.A. Peterson (James Bell), and his son, Lars (Vic Morrow), but he may be wrong in his belief that either murdered one of his ranch hands. Rodock lives with Jocasta (Irene Papas, in her American debut), a woman with a past who is coveted by McNulty (Stephen McNally) and for whom Steve develops a growing infatuation. Finally tensions begin to boil over and Jocasta fears that Steve may develop the same hardness she sees in Jeremy, but is it possible that Rodock can mend his ways? Tribute to a Bad Man is an interesting western with some intriguing characters, and interactions among them, and the acting is uniformly good. Cagney is marvelous as the crusty autocrat with romantic leanings, and Papas gives a lovely performance as the woman he is devoted to. ("Introduced" in this film, Papas had already made several films overseas.) Don Dubbins was Cagney's protege, and the boyishly handsome actor always gives sensitive portrayals as he does here. McNally [The Lady Pays Off] and Morrow [Great White] make multi-dimensional villains, and James Bell and Jeannette Nolan [My Blood Runs Cold] score as Morrow's parents. Lee Van Cleef, Royal Dano, Peter Chong, and Onslow Stevens also make notable, if briefer, contributions. Cagney's patronage led to Dubbins appearing in this and These Wilder Years with Cagney, but the long career that followed consisted mostly of television work. This has nice widescreen Robert Surtees cinematography, adroit Robert Wise direction, a good Miklos Rozsa score, and a touching ending, although one could argue that the film certainly glosses over certain aspects of Rodock's character and actions.
Verdict: Romance and hangings in the wide open spaces. ***.