I had read reviews of this film that said it was weakly scripted and weakly acted, which is why it has taken me a long time to get around to watching it. The decision to purchase the DVD was made on the basis that it was a Budd Boetticher directed movie and therefore had to be worth watching, plus it also boasted the talents of Robert Ryan, who I considered to be one of the few truly great Hollywood actors. I’m glad to say that my instincts proved right this time! They don’t always! Budd Boetticher made a series of cheaply made Universal westerns in the early fifties, many of which are forgotten now. These were “The Cimmarron Kid”(52), “Bronco Buster”(52), “The Man from the Alamo”(53) and the 3D western “Wings of the Hawk”(53). “Horizons West” made in 1952 was part of that series. I had watched the two latter films and enjoyed them both, which was one more reason to watch this one.
The film is set at the end of the American Civil War. Ryan and Rock Hudson play the two Confederate brothers returning to their father’s ranch. At home they find things changed with northern carpetbaggers already moving in. The younger brother, played by Hudson is happy to carry on ranching, whilst the older one dreams of becoming ‘nouveau riche’ overnight. He is happy to break the law in order to do this, which comes into conflict with his law abiding family and other criminal elements. Inevitably there has to be a showdown! The script may not have the effortless economy of style that Burt Kennedy brought to some of Boetticher’s later much lauded westerns, but it is certainly above the average for that period. Ryan’s conflicting character is fleshed out well considering the short running time, and a lot of story gets packed in, which means it proceeds at a briskly entertaining pace.
As he so often did, Boetticher managed to conjure up a strong cast. He seemed to have an uncanny ability to spot talent, and many of his support actors went on to greater things. Robert Ryan is perfectly cast as the rogueish brother torn between family and fortune. There were none better than him in those sort of roles! Rock Hudson’s star was beginning to shine brightly, and he took on a co-starring role as the younger brother. Not long before he had played the brief role of an Indian Chief in Anthony Mann’s “Winchester 73”(50). That fine character actor John McIntire plays the father, who was in fact only two years younger than Ryan. Raymond Burr gets to play the heavy again, James Arness the reliable buddy, Dennis Weaver a willing accomplice to Ryan, and Rodolfo Acosta yet another dodgy Mexican. The pretty, sugar wouldn’t melt in her mouth Julia Adams, unusually for her, gets to play a morally dubious Jezebel. They all performed well in their roles, proving there was no substance to the poor acting accusations.
Sibling rivalry has been around for a long time, in fact since Cain and Abel had their little differences! This one is perhaps not as nuanced as those in the later “Gunmans Walk”(58) and “Saddle the Wind”(58), but given the short running time and budgetary restraints it certainly passes muster. The vibrant technicolor and sharp picture quality mean the film has a lustrous look to it. 101 Films should be praised for releasing this film on Region 2. Prior to this you could only get expensive foreign copies! I see they also have good westerns like “Ride Clear of Diablo”(54) and “The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid”(72) in the series, so things sound promising. I hope so! Westerns perhaps reached their peak of perfection in the fifties, and this is another strong example. Not a classic, but well above the usual fodder. Well worth adding to the collection!
Some interesting reviews here, well written and worthy of proper consideration. I can't write for toffee, but...To me this is a Universal Programmer, In other words, a thoroughly professional film, made by people who knew and understood film making on a perhaps less than generous budget, but not a classic. Ryan is as always, excellent, and Hudson is well on his way to superstardom, and looks good and does a fair acting job. Support cast (Burr/Weaver/McIntyre/Acosta and others all do just as you expect them to do. . I must just add a couple of personal observations. I found the change in Ryan's character very sudden. Did anyone notice a throwaway line that Hudson is Ryan's Adopted brother?! Acosta comes in, does 10 mins and then is never seen again. I would like to have seen more "character heavies" in Ryan's gang (I missed the Healeys/Bradfords/Greg Bartons etc.). I also feel that the script was not up to scratch and felt there was a bigger/longer story somewhere. Maybe pages had to be thrown out. Boetticher hasn't quite found his Mojo, but does a good workmanlike job. The 101 GREAT WESTERN COLLECTION DVD is excellent quality. Good bright colour, good clear picture and sound. No extras of any kind. 4.3 ratio. Despite my misgivings above, I did enjoy this one and recomend it. Just not quite 5 stars for this horse.
on 15 March 2014
What is initially most striking about this Boetticher western is its consummate economy of style; within its first 10 minutes we are introduced the personal politics of family around which one aspect of the drama issues then in the next 10 minutes we are introduced to the historical economic politics that lies at the heart of this wonderful examination of the American tragedy. ‘Horizons West’ is that exemplar of the early fifties westerns, while the noir was carrying the heavy load of psychological neurosis that the cold war engendered, westerns such as this were grand gestures toward a critique of capitalism. One wonders if the FBI were a little more sophisticated they might have banned this film, luckily Louis Stevens excellent script and Budd Boetticher’s clean, classical directing delivers a sophisticated piece of cinema that, so typical of this age, was simply read as a horse opera, while in fact it penumbrates the so called lofty films of film artists like Kazan. A diamond in the rough that understands the patriarchal culture of the western as a structure of power in the 1860 and the 1950s as well as the contmorary world. Like all great Hollywood 'B' movies this one transcends its time and generic requirements.
on 6 March 2014
I purchased Horizons West dvd in February 2011 in Australia, Issued by Bounty Classics on region4, which plays alright on region2 players, as this is a favourite western of mine. The picture and dialogue track quality is first rate, but the music track sounds distorted. Being an old fusspot I look forward to reviews on this region2 release before buying another copy.The five stars is for the splendid actor Robert Ryan and Julia Adams who was one of my childhood pin up girls. Also the film is no work of art, but very entertaining.