Cast & Crew
In the Southwest in the 1920's, a young woman is found strangled in her bedroom. Her husband, Bryan Talbot, the town libertine, is found drunk and incoherent. He is arrested and subsequently convicted of murder by circumstantial evidence stemming from his frequent violent outbursts on the promiscuous conduct of his wife. Judge Hochstadter leaves on a fishing trip, thereby placing a younger judge, Ben Morealis Lewis, in charge of Talbot's hanging. A Mexican-American, Lewis is having an affair with a Swedish woman, Rosemary Berquist, despite the objections of his somewhat domineering mother. On the day of the hanging, Talbot goes berserk at the gallows. During his frenzied outburst proclaiming his innocence, he pushes the hangman from the scaffolding and kills him. A few moments later Lewis learns that one of Talbot's neighbors, Bruce Donnelly, has confessed to the murder in a suicide note. Although absolved of his wife's death, Talbot is arrested for the murder of the hangman. Before the second trial begins, Lewis ends his affair with Rosemary and begins a new one with a young Mexican woman, Rafaela. He also runs into Talbot in a tavern and is nearly killed in a fight when the drunken Talbot accuses him of infidelities with his late wife. Forgetting personal feelings, Lewis acquits Talbot on the grounds that an innocent man, even under sentence of death, has the right to defend himself against a society that has unjustly convicted him, threatening to take his life.
Jose De Vega
Larry D. Mann
Albuquerque Polo Club
Santa Fe County Sheriff's Posse
Ralph S. Hurst
J. Russell Llewellyn
Lawrence B. Marcus
Jean Burt Reilly
A Covenant with Death
The answer comes in the climax to a film that actually centers more on the presiding judge in the case, a 29-year-old part-Mexican man (George Maharis). He engages in a clash of judicial philosophy with an older jurist (Arthur O'Connell), but all the while seems more interested in girls than the law; his mother (Katy Jurado) is pressuring him to marry a Mexican woman instead of the white woman he desires. Maharis must grow up fast, in all ways.
This picture, shot near Santa Fe, New Mexico, was made by Warner Brothers under Jack Warner's new "William Conrad production unit." Conrad was a former actor (memorable as one of the heavies in the opening of The Killers ), who seven years earlier had moved into producing television, and now had a deal to produce features. In later years, he would return to acting full-time.
Director Lamont Johnson had also started as an actor, in 1951, and began directing for television in 1957. This was his first feature film. He would continue to work in both mediums more or less equally, racking up eleven Emmy nominations and winning the award twice. His best-known works are probably A Gunfight (1971), The Last American Hero (1973), and the TV movie The Execution of Private Slovik (1974).
The cast is an appealing blend of veterans (O'Connell, Jurado, Kent Smith, Sidney Blackmer, Whit Bissell,) and younger actors (Maharis, Holliman, Gene Hackman, Wende Wagner). Jurado drew fine notices for her warm and wonderful turn as the cigar-smoking mother, or as The Hollywood Reporter called it, "Miss Jurado's first role as an older woman."
Maharis had achieved fame for his role as Buz Murdock in 82 episodes of the hit TV series Route 66, beginning in 1960, and he also found success as a singer, recording six albums. At the height of his TV stardom, he left Route 66 to pursue feature films, but most of his movies were critical and commercial duds.
Earl Holliman, meanwhile, had appeared almost fifty times in movies and on television since 1953, but his most memorable role would come later in the 1970s, on the hit show Police Woman.
Gene Hackman had been working primarily in television since 1961, and this was one of his earliest features. He later told biographer Michael Munn, "I can't say I was any good in those films because I hadn't learned how to do movie acting. My main function in A Covenant With Death was to find a suicide note from the real murderer, so that didn't take much emoting." Still, his performance impressed producer William Conrad enough that he cast him in his next film, First to Fight (1967).
25-year-old beauty Wende Wagner, playing the Mexican girl in this movie, was actually of French, German, and American Indian descent. She had a decade-long career and married James Mitchum (son of Robert) soon after filming.
Critics generally agreed that the premise of A Covenant With Death was provocative and the movie at times riveting, but overall it meandered too much. "A genuinely original idea for a drama weighing justice, prejudice and the human conscience is studiously frittered away," declared The New York Times. "Three performances stick: Katy Jurado, Emilio Fernandez, and Wende Wagner, as Mexicans. But a fine idea, instead of tightening into a hangman's knot, slackens."
The production values were superb, however, as trade paper Variety noted: "Johnson's visual style is good, and at home in a large-screen environment. Robert Burks and his Technicolor camera provide mobility. A substantial, and rewarding, assist is the full-bodied score by Leonard Rosenman: it is a refreshing and welcome change of pace from contemporary scoring which often is little more than isolated riff gimmickry."
A Covenant With Death was released in major cities as part of a double feature with a re-release of Battle of the Bulge (1965). In Britain, the film was cut by 25 minutes to make it a true B feature.
By Jeremy Arnold
A Covenant with Death
TCM Remembers - Katy Jurado
KATY JURADO, 1924 - 2002
Katy Jurado, an Oscar nominee and major actress in Westerns, died July 5th at the age of 78. She was born in Guadalajara, Mexico on January 16th 1924 as Maria Cristina Estella Marcela Jurado Garcia, daughter of a cattle rancher and an opera singer. Jurado started to appear in Mexican films in 1943. After 15 films in her native country, director Budd Boetticher saw Jurado attending a bullfight (Jurado wrote about the subject for Mexican newspapers) and cast her in his Bullfighter and the Lady (1952), her Hollywood debut. For much of her career Jurado alternated between the two film industries. In the US, she was memorable for the sensual energy she brought to roles in High Noon (1952), One-Eyed Jacks (1961) which was directed by Marlon Brando, Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) and John Huston's Under the Volcano (1984). She was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for Broken Lance (1954). Jurado's Mexican films were in a broader range of genres and included Luis Bunuel's El Bruto (1952), Ismael Rodriguez's We the Poor and Miguel Littin's The Widow Montiel (1979). She won three Ariel Awards (Mexican equivalent to the Oscars) and one special award. She was married to Ernest Borgnine from the end of 1959 to summer 1963. One of her final films was The Hi-Lo Country (1998), a contemporary Western directed by Stephen Frears and co-starring Woody Harrelson, Billy Crudup and Penelope Cruz.
by Lang Thompson
DOLORES GRAY, 1924 - 2002
Broadway and nightclub star Dolores Gray died June 26th at the age of 78. Her movie career was brief but consisted of high-profile MGM musicals which guaranteed her a place in film history. Gray was born in Chicago on June 7th, 1924 (and where, according to a common story, she was accidentally shot by a gangster as a child and had a bullet in her lung her entire life). As a teenager she began singing in California until Rudy Vallee featured her on his radio show. Gray moved to Broadway in 1944 and then to the London stage in 1947, solidifying her reputation as a singer/actress while constantly giving the gossip columnists plenty to write about. She had two small singing roles in Lady for a Night (1941) and Mr. Skeffington (1944) but didn't really light up the big screen until It's Always Fair Weather (1955) even though Gray reportedly didn't much care for the role. Her rendition of "Thanks a Lot, But No Thanks," which has her gunning down a slew of male dancers on-stage and kicking them through trap doors, is a genuine showstopper. Three more unforgettable musical roles quickly followed: Kismet (1955), The Opposite Sex (1956, which Gray turned down Funny Face to do) and Designing Women (1957). That was it for Gray's film career. She kept busy with TV appearances (mostly singing though she did one 1988 episode of the cult show Dr. Who) and a busy recording and nightclub schedule. In 1987, she appeared in a British production of Follies at Stephen Sondheim's request.
by Lang Thompson
ROD STEIGER, 1925 - 2002
From the docks of New York to the rural back roads of Mississippi to the war torn Russian steppes, Rod Steiger reveled in creating some of the most overpowering and difficult men on the screen. He could be a total scoundrel, embodying Machiavelli's idiom that "it's better to be feared than loved" in the movies. But as an actor he refused to be typecast and his wide range included characters who were secretly tormented (The Pawnbroker, 1965) or loners (Run of the Arrow, 1965) or eccentrics (The Loved One, 1965).
Along with Marlon Brando, Steiger helped bring the 'Method School' from the Group Theater and Actors Studio in New York to the screens of Hollywood. The Method technique, taught by Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg, insisted on complete immersion into the character's psyche and resulted in intense, dramatic performances and performers. Steiger made his first significant screen appearance as Brando's older brother in On the Waterfront (1954). Their climatic scene together in a taxicab is one of the great moments in American cinema.
It was a short leap from playing a crooked lawyer in On the Waterfront to playing the shady boxing promoter in The Harder They Fall (1956). Based on the tragic tale of true-life fighter Primo Carnera, The Harder They Fall details the corruption behind the scenes of professional boxing bouts. Steiger is a fight manager named Nick Benko who enlists newspaperman Eddie Willis (Humphrey Bogart in his final screen appearance) to drum up publicity for a fixed prizefight. While the boxing scenes were often brutally realistic, the most powerful dramatic moments took place between Steiger and Bogart on the sidelines.
As mob boss Al Capone (1959), Steiger got to play another man you loved to hate. He vividly depicted the criminal from his swaggering early days to his pathetic demise from syphilis. In Doctor Zhivago (1965), Steiger was the only American in the international cast, playing the hateful and perverse Komarovsky. During the production of Dr. Zhivago, Steiger often found himself at odds with director David Lean. Schooled in the British tradition, Lean valued the integrity of the script and demanded that actors remain faithful to the script. Steiger, on the other hand, relied on improvisation and spontaneity. When kissing the lovely Lara (played by Julie Christie), Steiger jammed his tongue into Christie's mouth to produce the desired reaction - disgust. It worked! While it might not have been Lean's approach, it brought a grittier edge to the prestige production and made Komarovsky is a detestable but truly memorable figure.
Steiger dared audiences to dislike him. As the smalltown southern Sheriff Gillespie in In The Heat of the Night (1967), Steiger embodied all the prejudices and suspicions of a racist. When a black northern lawyer, played by Sidney Poitier, arrives on the crime scene, Gillespie is forced to recognize his fellow man as an equal despite skin color. Here, Steiger's character started as a bigot and developed into a better man. He finally claimed a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance as Sheriff Gillespie.
Steiger was an actor's actor. A chameleon who didn't think twice about diving into challenging roles that others would shy away from. In the Private Screenings interview he did with host Robert Osborne he admitted that Paul Muni was one of his idols because of his total immersion into his roles. Steiger said, "I believe actors are supposed to create different human beings." And Steiger showed us a rich and diverse cross section of them.
by Jeremy Geltzer & Jeff Stafford
TCM Remembers - Katy Jurado
Location scenes filmed in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Released in United States Winter December 1966
Released in United States Winter December 1966