Sunday, Apr 2024
Director: Delmar Daves
Screenwriters: Wendell Mayes & Halsted Welles from Dorothy Johnson's novel
Length: 106min.
Theme Song: The Hanging Tree, Marty Robbins
Released: 1956

poster of the movie the hanging treeDoc Joe Frail (Gary Cooper) rides into the town of Skull Creek, Montana and hangs a shingle, the frontier mining town now has a doctor. He is a complex man. He is a compassionate doctor, willing to provide free services, he is also a gunslingin', tough talking, card sharp. A man of great principle, Doc can be stubborn. After nursing Swiss immigrant, Elizabeth Mahler (Maria Schell) back to health, he insists that she return east. Mahler proves herself to be equally principled and resilient. She is a strong women, who thwarts the lecherous advances of Frenchy (Karl Malden). She is also a kind and charming lady, strikingly different from the gossipy women in town. Rounding out the cast are drunken faith healer, "Dr." George Grubb (George C. Scott's movie debut), and Doc Frail's indebted "man servant", Rune (Ben Piazza). Doc, Elizabeth, and Rune are outsiders in the mining town. Unlike the gold-grubbing townsfolk, Doc and Elizabeth are tough yet kind people. Doc is educating the young Rune on ethics and responsibility. The three are better than others in Skull Creek. Delmar Daves accentuates this superiority by placing the homes of Doc, Elizabeth, and Rune high above the town, on a ridge overlooking all. Daves' use of space to convey moral standing is effective and somewhat rare in Westerns.

The Hanging Tree was one of the last movies that Gary Cooper made. He made ~37 westerns beginning with silent films in 1927. A native of Montana, The Coop returns home to film the Hanging Tree. His halting, taciturn speaking style is in top form, delivering maximum impact.

Max Steiner scores the film and Marty Robbins sings a classic Western theme song; The Hanging Tree.


  • Gary Cooper ....Doc Joe Frail
  • Maria Schell ....Elizabeth Mahler
  • Karl Malden ....Frenchy Plante
  • George C. Scott .... Dr. George Grubb
  • Karl Swenson .... Tom Flaunce
  • Virginia Gregg... Edna Flaunce
  • John Dierkes .... Society Red
  • King Donovan .... Wonder
  • Ben Piazza .... Rune, Frail's Bond Servant
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