bbbgtoby’s review published on Letterboxd :
E.L. Doctorow's debut novel was a piece of literature in a popular style as an allegory for human nature whilst at the same time analysing what happened in Europe and specifically Germany in the 1930s.
Bad Man is the embodiment of all human evil and weakness, and in the face of such evil people have a habit of doing nothing. As far as revisionist westerns go this has to take pride of place in its rejection of the John Wayne ideal. There's a story that Clint Eastwood once wrote to John Wayne suggesting they work together on a western and in response John Wayne let Eastwood know in no uncertain terms that what he was doing to the genre was a disgrace.
The characters are are all weak, they are all cowards, and the novel is better for it, the movie on the other hand tries to sugarcoat it, uses sleight of hand and jolly stagecoach tunes in an attempt to appear less brooding and dark.
It has a fair few faults as it removes a lot of the meat from the bones of Doctorow's story and replaces it with that gelatinous substance you find is most of your pork pie if you buy the supermarket value brand. But the bones remain and if you can see beyond the fat/window dressing the message and the allegory can still be found.