Cassidy Red

The wild west can seem like a pretty dangerous place to the modern eye, but a lot of that danger was a side effect of the seemingly endless possibilities the west also offered. With the right combination of nerve, skill, and a healthy dose of luck, anyone might strike it rich or win fame -- or infamy. Of course, not everyone started on equal footing, and the resulting jealousy could be one of the strongest motivators. Cassidy Red, for instance, is a tale of love, hate, and quite a lot of envy.

Josephine Cassidy (Abby Eiland), known as Joe, started her life with a lot of disadvantages -- just being female was considered quite a disability -- but perhaps the biggest is that she's the illegitimate daughter of a prostitute called Harley (Mercedes LeAnza) and one of her most regular customers, an alcoholic gunslinger named Cort Cassidy (Rick Cramer). Along with her friend Rowena (Lola Kelly), who was born into a very similar situation, she lives in the mining boom town of Ruby, Arizona. It's a real place, or it used to be -- it's now a well-preserved ghost town set up for tourists to visit -- but in its heyday it was a classic frontier town.

As with any such town, the members of the wealthiest family naturally end up with a lot of power. In Ruby, that's the Hayes family, and only son Tom (David Thomas Jenkins) is, unsurprisingly, a spoiled brat. He expects everything to go his way, and at first it seems like he'll get everything he wanted: his father's money and land, the respect of the town, and even the lovely, spirited Joe as his wife. But he doesn't count on Jakob (Jason Grasl), an Apache who was brought into the community as a child, getting in the way, which of course is exactly what happens. Before Tom knows it, his perfect world is falling apart -- and he'll do whatever it takes to put things right.

The movie is framed as a story being told to Quinn (Jessy Knudsen), a down-on-her-luck young prostitute who feels trapped in Ruby and seems set on slowly drinking herself to death. The storyteller is the wise piano player, known as Cricket (Gregory Zaragoza), entertaining what few customers remain in the brothel / tavern where Joe was born. It's a tale he's told many times, but perhaps never before with quite such significance -- his listener, like Joe, is struggling to take charge of her own destiny and is drawn into the story despite her natural cynicism.

I'll give it three and a half out of five. The plot is a simple one, in many ways an old west version of Wuthering Heights, but there were also a couple of unexpected touches I enjoyed, like the scenes where Cort teaches his daughter how to shoot. Both setting and characters are vivid and realistic, and more than once Joe's wild hotheadedness made me want to sit her down and try and talk some sense into her. But it's a convincing and compelling portrayal of the possible fate of a young woman trying to forge her own path on the frontier as well as an entertaining revitalization of an old genre, one that isn't quite ready to ride off into the sunset just yet.

Cassidy Red shoots a bad guy. Take that!


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