Some people liken this movie to the Gary Cooper-starring classic High Noon and after watching this film you can see why they might draw a few similarities between the two. They both feature a lone man going up against greater odds and a town that will do nothing to help them and really, they are probably more alike than they should be but that does not stop Firecreek from being a solid western all the same. Carl Foreman, the writer of this picture might have looked to High Noon as inspiration, and maybe not, but he and director Fred Zinnemann delivered a picture that was just as entertaining and just as tense as that other film from sixteen years previous.
The film sees James Stewart as a man with more than a few cares on his mind at the moment, like tending his crops, the birth of his child and getting to see the reverend on time back in town. Everything thankfully is working itself out until a group of men come to town who are at first looking to lay low and yet, when they realize that nobody in this town will do a thing to stop them, they start to cause trouble, even going so far as murder. It is at this point that Johnny Cobb, Stewart’s character, has had enough.
Stewart is as good as ever in this film and the man always seemed more at ease in a western than he ever did in anything else. Perhaps it was the influence of a less complicated time in history or maybe he just liked doing westerns, but whatever the case might have been, the man always delivered a fine performance when appearing in one. Here he is the unassuming hero, the man who rises to the challenge after being pushed to the breaking point. All it took was the murder of a friend for him to get there though you would have thought that the attempted rape of your deceased brother’s wife would have done it first. Suffice it to say, Cobb is a fairly meek man until the circumstances warranted otherwise. Starring opposite him was Henry Fonda as the villain of the picture, though the two would hardly interact nor face off until the end of the picture. For the most part, Fonda’s henchmen played by Gary Lockwood, Jack Elam and James Best would take center stage in ratcheting up the suspense, the drama and the tension until it finally boiled over in the climactic final scenes of the film.
The picture looks absolutely beautiful thanks to William H. Clothier with a good score by Alfred Newman to help set the mood and the pace of the movie. Though it is a western, there are few of the classic tropes to make it so, but just enough that it is recognizable as one. It could have had a different setting and simply been called a drama, but as it is, there is a gunfight in the streets and your classic, villainous guns for hire to entrench it solidly in the genre. Stewart was great, Fonda was excellent and even the rest of the cast which also included Inger Stevens and Dean Jagger were really good. Like High Noon, Firecreek might have been, but the film is strong enough to stand on its own and deservedly so.