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Film / One Foot in Hell

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One Foot in Hell is a 1960 Western noir film starring Alan Ladd, Don Murray and Dan O'Herlihy, directed by James B. Clark and co-written by Sydney Boehm and Aaron Spelling from a story by Spelling.

Mitch Barrett becomes embittered because his wife is allowed to die when he can't pay for the medicine she needs. The remorseful townspeople hire Mitch to be a deputy sheriff, thereby enabling him to plot an elaborate bank robbery with the help of an artist, a pickpocket, a gunslinger and a bar-girl. In conjunction with the robbery, Mitch plans to avenge himself upon every man who hindered his purchase of a single bottle of medicine costing one dollar and eighty seven cents so many years ago.

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Contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Julie tells Dan that her father was a drunk who used to pimp her out to his friends to earn drinking money.
  • The Alcoholic: At the start of the film, Dan Keats is an alcoholic confederate veteran who is attempting to drink himself to death. Mitch tries to keep him sober for The Heist, but Dan keeps sneaking booze. He only sobers up when he is hiding out with Julie and they start to develop feelings for each other.
  • Alcoholic Parent: Julie tells Dan that her father was a drunk who used to pimp her out to his friends to earn drinking money.
  • Animal Stampede: When Ivers sets fire to the store, it creates an explosion which cause the cattle being driven through the town to stampede.
  • Badges and Dog Tags: Mitch Barrett is a Confederate veteran who takes a job as a deputy sheriff.
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  • Best Served Cold: Mitch Barrett cooks up a revenge scheme to ruin the town of Blue Springs, and to kill the three men he holds directly responsible, for the death of his wife that takes more than a year to come to fruition and involves him becoming sheriff and a respected member of the community.
  • Cacophony Cover Up: Ivers and Stu use the noise of the cattle herd being driven through town to cover the sounds of their shots when they murder the storekeeper and the hotel clerk.
  • Call to Agriculture: Mitch plants the idea of buying back and rebuilding his family farm in Dan's brain to persuade him to agree to the robbery. The idea grows and becomes Dan's driving goal, allowing him to sober up, and he persuades Julie to share the dream with him. At the end of the film, they are still panning on doing this after they get out of prison.
  • Chairman of the Brawl: When Dan is threatening the bartender in the saloon, he hefts a chair and waves it about threateningly.
  • Crusading Widower: After his wife dies, Mitch Barrett starts on a long term plan to take revenge on the town he blames for her death.
  • Death by Childbirth: Mitch Barrett's wife Ellie and their unborn child die as a result of complications of childbirth when three small-minded townsfolk delay Mitch returning with vital medicine.
  • Detective Mole: Sheriff Mitch Barrett masterminds the robbery of the Blue Springs bank and then leads the Posse to hunt down the bank robbers. His accomplices believe he will steer the posse away from them, but he actually does the opposite: hunting them down and killing them so he doesn't have to split the loot.
  • Frontier Doctor: Doc Seltzer is the town doctor of Blue Springs: a truly decent man who seems to be the moral centre of the town. He comes to aid Ellie in the middle of the night without question and without thought of payment, and does his best to save her. Tellingly, he is not not one of the townsfolk Mitch blames for her death.
  • Gotta Kill Em All: As part of his revenge scheme, Mitch Barrett is determined that all three men who hindered the purchase of his wife's medicine will die, and know why they are being killed before they die.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Julie smashes a bottle over the head of one one the barflies in the cantina during a disagreement.
  • His Name Is...: After he tricks Stu into being shot by the Posse, Mitch is alarmed when someone announces that he is still alive. As sheriff, Mitch pushes his way to the front and pretends to listen to Stu's dying words. Actually, he only does it to make sure no one in the posse is close enough to her what Stu says, which would have been a denunciation of him.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: One of the crooks Mitch recruits for his scheme is Julie Reynolds, a prostitute who hopes for enough money to go East and make a respectable life for herself. Over the course of events, she falls in love with fellow conspirator Dan Keats, and the two of them plan to go straight and buy back Dan's farm in Virginia.
  • In Vino Veritas: Dan blabs Mitch's plans to Julie while drunk.
  • Killed Offscreen: Harry Ivers is killed offscreen. Dan sees Mitch and the Posse returning to town with Ivers body slung over a horse, and knows that Mitch must be planning to double-cross him and Julie as well.
  • Make It Look Like a Struggle: After shooting the bank manager and the cattle buyer, Mitch has Stu wing him in the shoulder so it will look like he was trying to stop the bank robbery rather than a part of it.
  • Meek Townsman: Ellie dies in childbirth in a small cattle town in Arizona because of what Mitch sees as the heartlessness of three local men – George Caldwell the hotel keeper, Sam Giller the general store owner and Ole Olsen The Sheriff.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: Mitch Barrett intends to murder the other criminals he recruits for his scheme of robbery and revenge so he can keep the $100,000 for himself. He manages to kill two of them, and might have killed the other two if not for a Spanner Inthe Works.
  • Nothing Up My Sleeve: Ivers has a derringer on a sleeve rig hidden up his sleeve.
  • Percussive Pickpocket: Ivers bumps into a drunken prospector in the saloon in Royce City and lifts his poke off him. He is almost caught, but manages to pass the poke off to Mitch.
  • Posse: After the bank robbery, Sheriff Mitch Barrett organises a posse to hunt down the bank robbers, despite being the one who masterminded the robbery.
  • Remittance Man: Dan O'Herlihy plays Sir Harry Ivers, a Con Man who passes himself off as this trope.
  • Spanner in the Works: Mitch's plan to kill Dan and Julie probably would have worked if Dan hadn't disobeyed Mitch's orders and gone to town to tell Mitch that he and Julie had fallen in love. Because of this, he is at the sheriff's office when the Posse arrives back with the bodies of Stu and Ivers and immediately realises that Mitch has double-crossed them.
  • Still Wearing the Old Colors: Dan Keats is still wearing wearing his Confederate lieutenant's uniform, despite the war being over for years. It is implied he may not own any other clothes.
  • Ten Paces and Turn: The final of the quick draw competition in Royce City has two gunslingers standing back to back and taking 10 paces before turning, drawing and firing. Stu wins, killing is opponent, and Mitch knows that he has found his man.
  • Unfriendly Fire: Mitch murders Sheriff Ole Olsen while they are out hunting rustlers, and claims he was shot by the rustlers.
  • Villain Protagonist: The protagonist is Mitch Barrett: a man who methodically plans a campaign of robbery and murder to take vengeance on the men, and the town, he blames for his wife's death.
  • Would Hit a Girl: During the climax, Mitch slaps Julie across across the face hard enough to knock her to the floor when she yells to warn Dan that he is walking into a trap.
  • Wretched Hive: Mitch heads to Royce City, a disreputable border town, to recruit the criminals he needs to pull of his scheme of revenge:
    Mitch: Well, everything's set on his end. Now we tie up the other end.
    Dan: Where's that?
    Mitch: The border - Royce City.
    Dan: That hellhole? There's nothing there but lice!
    Mitch: That's what we're looking for, isn't it - human lice?


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