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Strangely Dated Daguerreotype of the Old West.
on 9 July 2010
Not to be confused with the famous TV series 62-71, that starred James Drury and Doug McClure. Owen Wister's epic romance of the west, first published in 1902 has certainly had the full treatment on screen. Five films altogether, the first being by that Hollywood heavyweight Cecil B DeMille in 1914, and the last as recently as 2000, starring Bill Pullman and Diane Lane in the lead roles. This film was the fourth attempt and the format was beginning to get a bit stale even by then. It is almost the film equivalent of an old fashioned daguerreotype of the old west. The language used seems strangely hackneyed even for audiences of 1946 to accept. The old "When you say that smile", and "If you aint outta town by sundown I'm gonna shoot you down", to which I would have added "you dirty dog", seem tired by over use. In fairness to the director Stuart Gilmore, he does try to remain faithful to Wister's book, which means using a lot of the polite, dated language so much beloved of the romantic Edwardian novelists of the period. It can therefore seem quite quaint, but totally unrealistic to modern audieces.
In the film a a pretty young schoolteacher, played by Barbara Britton, arrives on a train from the East in the very western town of Medicine Bow. On arrival she is met by two amorous cowboys, Joel McCrea in the title role and Sonny Tufts as his best friend, who both vie for her affections. Whilst the old fashioned romancing runs its course there are big problems with rustlers led by Trampas, played by a sinisterly black clad Brian Donlevy. It is that kind of film! There is of course to be an inevitable showdown between ranchers and rustlers. McCrea cuts just as imposing a figure as Gary Cooper did in the 1929 version, which is quite an achievement! Donlevy, who actually played quite a few cowboy roles, struggles manfully in his role as the bad guy, not helped by an outfit that reminded me of Dirk Bogarde in that weird and wacky film "The Singer not the Song"(61). Enough said about that! Britton is very annoying at times as the prim schoolmam, who was in dire need of the same sort of treatment that John Wayne dished out to Maureen O'Hara in "McClintock"(63), which was a jolly good spank on the bottom. Perhaps a solution seen as none too politically correct these days! This may however have had the desired effect in stopping her self righteous procrastinations. Unfortunately the support cast was weak with no notables amongst them to liven up proceedings. On the plus side, the colour photography is still vibrant, and there is a genuinely moving hanging scene. Whilst it is not what I would call bad film, it is yet another film that cannot be described as anything other than routine. For the true western geek like me, there is still just about enough fodder to chomp on.