In the years following the Civil War, the town of Abilene, Kansas is poised on the brink of an explosive confrontation. A line has been drawn down the center of the town where the homesteaders and the cattlemen have come to a very uneasy truce. The delicate peace is inadvertantly shattered when a group of new homesteaders lay down their stakes on the cattlemen's side of town, upsetting the delicate balance that had existed thus far and sparking an all-out war between the farmers, who want the land tamed and property lines drawn, and the cowboys, who want the prairies to be open for their cattle to roam. Written by
Jean-Marc Rocher <email@example.com>
Five years after the end of the Civil War, a thousand-mile cattle trail stretched from the plains of Texas to the railroad depots in Kansas. For ninety grueling days, through dust, heat, flies, loneliness, cowboys pushed Texas cattle northward on the Abilene Trail at an average speed of three quarters of a mile an hour toward Abilene, Kansas where raw-bred Southern beef could be turned into hard, Eastern cash. Abilene was the end of the trail, the end of the ...
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There's a good Western buried somewhere in this meandering screenplay. Someone in production apparently decided it was not a movie for the audience to take seriously. Thus, Edgar Buchanan's county sheriff provides more than just comedy relief, coming perilously close to acting the buffoon. Ann Dvorak's dance hall entertainer shows spunk, but the overproduced musical numbers are obviously there to build up her star billing. Between the comedy, the music and the romance, not a lot is left for plot development.
And that's too bad, because the clash between Texas trail herders, and newly arriving homesteaders is nicely set up. Naturally the two sides are in conflict over land use; however, the focus here is on the commercial effect each side has on the town's prosperity. On one hand, the cowboys keep the saloons and bordellos busy (this latter, of course, is just hinted at), but they also shoot up the town and bring little business to the merchants. On the other hand, homesteaders offer the prospect of steady trade with the merchants and are peaceable, but they don't patronize the saloons or carouse in the bordellos. Thus the town's business interests split into two competing factions based on commercial self-interest.
Now, this amounts to an interesting approach to the usual farmer vs. rancher conflict and provides a lot of plot potential. But this potential goes largely unrealized because of digressions with Buchanan, the unnecessary Scott-Fleming romance, and the overlong musical numbers. Note, as an indicator of the poorly disciplined script, its treatment of tallying up the potential profit numbers. Merchants are shown switching sides once the profit margins favoring homesteaders are calculated. But the script can't resist continuing this with a brief comedic follow-up which turns a serious and revealing point into an unnecessary laugh line. In a matinée Western, this might be forgivable, but Abilene Town is not a cheap production-- note all the extras in the crowd scenes.
Anyway, Scott makes a very believable town marshal, ditto Dvorak as a musical performer, but glamorous Fleming looks out of place in the unglamorous role of a merchant's daughter. As a virile homesteader, Lloyd Bridges really shows more energy and ability than the part calls for and is obviously on his way to a bigger career. And when Scott says at the end something like-- This is the way towns change-- after facing down the cowboys, I expect he was uttering a genuine frontier truth. Even then, towns went where the money is. Nonetheless, the movie wastes a lot of that kind of potential, but may still please those who like to mix comedy, music, dance, and romance into their shoot-em-up's.
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