Top positive review
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on 13 April 2012
King Vidor didn't make too many westerns, which makes this one something of a rarity. His last outing in the genre prior to this one was the unforgettable epic "Duel in the Sun", more affectionately remembered as "Lust in the Dust", an extravagant hymn to sexual excess and melodrama that caused moral outrage on it's release in 1946. Vidor indulges himself again in this one, which is also full of sexual tension between drifter Kirk Douglas and his beautiful but manipulative ranch boss played by Jeanne Crain. It has to be said that the sexual excesses are somewhat more restrained in this film.
In the film Douglas is hired by Crain, and the two enjoy a torrid affair of convienience. Crain decides to expand her herd, and in time honoured tradition the local ranchers put up barbed wire fences to protect their grazing land, which leads to the inevitable confrontation. Which side will Douglas choose to fight for, given that he has his own good reasons to hate the wire? Or will he just drift on to Canada, where there is no wire? The centre of the film is the feisty relationship between Douglas and Crain, although not quite in the same feisty league as that between Peck and Jones in Duel. In a subsidiary relationship Douglas befriends a young cowboy whom he takes under his wing to educate in the ways of the west, a theme that harkens back to Vidor's earlier film "The Champ" starring the great Wallace Beery. Vidor, in a nice touch, even finds time to poke fun at Cecil B De Mille's much remembered signature prudish 'bathtub' scenes.
The film has a strong cast which also has the fading Clair Trevor as a dance-hall hostess. Trevor had come down a long way since her lead role in the seminal "Stagecoach" in 1939 but still gives it her all. Reliable stalwart Jay C Flippen plays a ranch foreman and the brilliant craggy featured Richard Boone plays the bad guy yet again. Jeanne Crain lacks the simmering sexuality to be a scheming temptress and William Campbell is lightweight as the young cowboy. Character actor Jack Elam makes yet another all too brief appearance as a knife murderer, not even getting a mention on the credits. Douglas gets the opportunity to display some physical prowess and some nifty gun twirling. Douglas was always watchable, and the feisty broody role suited his acting style. Borden Chase whose crowning achievement was his screenplay for "Red River" co-wrote this one. The film is certainly formulaic, but sometimes I actually find that quite reassuring. I found it an entertaining and enjoyable watch. Far from a classic but enlivened by Douglas's energetic efforts and a strong support cast. This is a good bare bones Pegasus release, and has no picture quality issues which this company has been guilty of in the past. Well worth buying for the western fan. A generous four stars.