John Wesley Hardin, who claimed to have killed at least 42 men, was one of the most notorious outlaw gunfighters from the Wild West days of American history. However, he didn’t spend all of his life in the American West. In fact, for about 18 months, he lived quietly under an assumed name in the Southwest Alabama town of Pollard, which is why I’ve always had a special interest in this infamous outlaw.
One of the most famous movies about Hardin’s life was 1953’s “The Lawless Breed,” which starred Rock Hudson in the lead role as Hardin. Over the years, it’s sort of irked me that I’d never see this movie, which is why I added it to my “bucket list” a few years ago. This past Sunday, with the help of NetFlix, I officially watched this movie from start to finish and scratched it off my list of movies to watch.
For those of you unfamiliar with “The Lawless Breed,” it was released in theaters on Jan. 3, 1953. Directed by Raoul Walsh, the movie’s cast included Hudson, Julie Adams, Mary Castle, Hugh O’Brian and Lee Van Cleef. By modern standards, this movie is relatively short, coming in at just 83 minutes long, that is, less than an hour and a half.
This movie is supposedly based on the somewhat slanted autobiography that Hardin wrote while in a Texas prison in the 1890s, “The Life of John Wesley Hardin As Written by Himself.” The movie begins with Hardin being released from prison and taking the manuscript of his autobiography to a local newspaper office. The newspaper’s editor sits down to read the tale to see if it’s worth printing and the movie rolls on from there.
A good portion of the movie does show Hardin living in Alabama, but it's not very historically accurate. Hardin actually lived in the town of Pollard, which is in present-day Escambia County, Ala., but in the movie, the town is referred to as Poland, as in the country in Europe. At one point in the movie, viewers can actually see a sign at the top of two tall fence posts that reads “Poland, Alabama.”
In the movie, Hardin, who has taken on the assumed name of "John Swain," is shown living on a horse farm with his wife. One day, he decides to travel to Pensacola, Fla. by train to check out some new horses for possible purchase. When he goes to the ticket office to purchase a round-trip ticket for the train ride to Pensacola, he’s roughly arrested by a sizable group of Texas Rangers.
This part of the movie, while action packed, isn't 100-percent accurate. Rangers and local law enforcement officials actually arrested Hardin on a train in Pensacola, not in an Alabama ticket office. It’s said that when Hardin realized what was happening, he tried to draw his gun, but it supposedly got caught in his suspenders. This may have saved his life for if he’d been able to draw his gun, the Rangers may have blown him away.
Aside from its inaccuracies, this movie was entertaining and fun to watch. It showed Hardin's famous run-in with Wild Bill Hickok, and there's plenty of shooting and fighting throughout the movie. There's also a fair amount of horse racing and gambling to boot, so if you like Westerns, you'll probably enjoy "The Lawless Breed."
In the end, how many of you have watched “The Lawless Breed”? What did you think about it? Let us know in the comments section below.