Directed by: Gerd Oswald
Starring: Sterling Hayden, Anita Ekberg, Anthony Steel
A noir in a western's clothing
This strange and forgotten gem begins with John Garth (Hayden), a cattle rancher, showing up at his in-laws' house. He goes in, shots are fired, then he comes out and quietly leaves the scenes. No words are spoken. Then, the camera follows a dog inside the house, where we pan across the dead bodies of the old man and woman and we pause on Anita Ekberg's wounded body in an armchair, an image which remains in the background of the opening credits. The rest of the movie uses Garth's trial as a plot device for a "Rashomon"-style account of Civil War veteran John Garth's marriage to Valerie Horvat (Ekberg), the daughter of two immigrants. Firstly, we hear it from the point of view of the new preacher (Anthony Steel), who kinda falls in love with Valerie, then from Garth's perspective and, finally, Valerie tells it.
While one of the stories turns out to be more truthful than the others (the filmmakers were probably concerned about the fact than an ambiguous ending would make viewers angry), you cannot doubt the fact that everybody who takes the stand either lies, or o.mits facts, in the interest to create sympathy for himself. It's the reverse of Kurosawa's picture, where everybody blamed themselves. I find this approach more realistic, although undoubtedly less poetic.
"Valerie" was a good stage for Ekberg (much more famous from a certain scene in "La dolce vita") and Steel to show some acting abilities, but it's Sterling Hayden who dominates the screen. The powerful star of so many great movies ("The Asphalt Jungle", "The Killing", "Johnny Guitar" and, of course, "Dr. Strangelove") creates a unique and complex character, whose portrayal changes from one account of the story to another, from the concerned and cheated husband he is in his side of the story to the drunken, abusive maniac he is in Valerie's.