Peck first appears as a stranger riding towards a town where he's heard there'll be a hanging. A deputy is under instructions to allow no one into town but Mr. Sims, the hangman, but he decides to escort a disarmed Peck in so the sheriff can question him. That official finds Peck's interest in the hanging a bit ghoulish, -- he claims not to know the four condemned men -- but agrees to let him stay. In these early scenes Peck is almost menacingly taciturn and icily indifferent to what others think of him.
Most people in town mistake Peck for the hangman and open up about the crimes for which the foursome will die; they robbed a bank and killed men doing it. One person knows him, however; Josefa Velarde (Joan Collins), a rancher's daughter who hasn't seen the man she knows as Jim Douglass in some time. For now, Douglass is more interested in meeting the four doomed criminals, the "bravados." The sheriff allows him to take a look, a privilege he'll only grant otherwise to the chubby, avuncular Sims, who's finally arrived in town. Peck gives the quartet a good looking over, but none of them seem to recognize him, and after he leaves, they wonder among themselves who he is and what he's about.Beer is fine for socializing before a hanging, but both Gregory Peck and Joan Collins may want stronger stuff later in the picture.
Ladies and gentlemen, The Bravados: Stephen Boyd and Albert Salmi on top, Lee Van Cleef and Henry Silva below.
By the time he catches up with the posse they've been pinned down by sniper fire by Bravado No. 2 (Albert Salmi), who departs amid their confusion to rejoin his pals. The gang quickly makes out that they man they know only as "the hunter," the stranger who visited them in jail, is their main pursuer. Boyd delegates the weakest link of the foursome (Lee Van Cleef) to ambush the hunter. Being the weakest link, he is himself ambushed by the stealthy Douglass. He's less interested in finding the other three bravados than in showing Van Cleef a pocket watch. It has a photo of a woman and child inside. It doesn't play a tune, but the scene, including Van Cleef's presence, has to have influenced Sergio Leone a little in the making of For a Few Dollars More. In any event, Douglass wants to know if Van Cleef recognizes the woman. He doesn't, he says, but Douglass won't believe him. It becomes clear that Douglass believes that the bravados raped and murdered this woman -- his wife. That's why he wanted to see them die, and why he's out to make them die now....
In a lot of the Fifties Westerns the antihero relearns civilized values in time to back off from committing any real atrocity. The Bravados is one of the exceptional films that doesn't grant its protagonist that luxury, since he doesn't realize the error of his actions until after he's already done them. Douglass has reduced the foursome to a lone survivor (Henry Silva, portrayed as the brains if not the leader of the group) whom he tracks across the Mexican border. He follows Silva to his home, where his wife is tending a sick child. Douglass invades the home to ambush Silva, only to get KO'd with a ceramic pot by Mrs. Bravado. When he wakes, Silva wants to know what it's all been about. Douglass brings out the watch again and, like all the others, Silva denies knowing the woman. Before crossing the border, Silva and Boyd had killed an old miner who lived near Douglass's ranch, and Silva had pocketed a sack of gold the miner had tried to run off with. Douglass now recognizes the sack as his property, lost the day his wife died. As Silva explains how he got it (which we know to be the truth), and as Douglass explains that the miner had tipped him off in the first place to the four men who had passed through the territory that day, Douglass realizes at last that the miner had fingered the bravados in order to throw the trail off himself. The miner had murdered Mrs. Douglass and taken her gold. The realization devastates Douglass, as well it might. We've seen plainly that the bravados are not nice guys. Boyd, in particular, is a rapist, and when Josefa learns of his latest rape she hysterically urges Douglass to wipe out the gang. But if you go after men, and kill some of them, for something they didn't do rather than what they have done, you may as well have killed innocent men. That's the message of this screenplay by the ubiqitous Philip Yordan, at least, and the most it can offer Douglass at the end is the consolation of the Church and the promise of Josefa's healing love.
King gives The Bravados all the sweep you'd want in a widescreen western. The film looks like it was shot entirely on locations, and that seems to have compelled King to do a lot of day-for-night shooting. It almost works when the old hand uses filters to recreate the tinting effects he'd have used in silent days, but the effect is ruined whenever the camera catches bright white clouds in the sky. Peck gives a strong performance, minimalist at first to keep us wondering about Douglass, then more intense as his catharsis is repeatedly denied. The bravados are a fine ensemble and work well together. Especially good is a scene between Boyd and Salmi in which they commit to stick together after they lose the posse. Boyd explains that his one weakness is women, and Salmi admits that his is cards. We finally realize that this has been an elaborate exercise in outlaw etiquette enabling Salmi to gracefully leave Boyd alone with their female hostage. It's a classical male-bonding scene with a chilling effect at the end. While King can't invest the film with all the outdoor expressionism of Anthony Mann or the lean rigor of Budd Boetticher, The Bravados shares much of the mood of their movies and deserves inclusion among the better westerns from the decade when Americans did them best.