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I wasn't going to bother with this minor western but for the fact that
it was being shown on a wet afternoon. In the event I'm glad that I did
watch it as it was quite good. The caves provided a realistic and novel
setting for many scenes, and the colour generally throughout the film
was good. And when people got wounded they bled, unlike in many
westerns of this period when a man is shot in the chest but continues
to wear a spotless shirt! The spanking scene that has been mentioned in
the trivia section was omitted from the version I saw, perhaps because
what audiences in the 1950s thought was harmless fun has more in the
way of sexual implications sixty years later.
Macdonald Carey (a cut-price Gregory Peck, with a slight facial resemblance to the more famous star) was just about adequate, and Edgar Buchanan wasn't as gruff as usual.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film opens with an ambush on a train in Arizona in 1880; the
bandits force the train to stop, blow open the mail car and make off
with bags containing gold that belongs to Wells Fargo. They are chased
by the sheriff and his posse and attempt to hide in a huge cave. The
sheriff's men enter the cave and, after a brief shootout, only one of
the gang is left alive; a teenaged boy, Pete Carver, who claims to have
no idea where the stolen gold is. Fifteen years later the Carver is
released from prison and heads straight back to the area of the crime.
There is now a town nearby and all the locals seem happy to let him buy
what he wants on credit as they believe he knows exactly where the gold
is... and he is happy for them to believe that he does. Among the
locals who come to him with business propositions is Elizabeth Trent,
whose husband disappeared while looking for the gold. He agrees to help
her restart the town newspaper using his credit. It isn't long before
troubles start; a couple of thugs attempt to rob him more than once,
the wealthy owner of the local copper mine sees him as a rival for
Elizabeth's attentions and a man from Wells Fargo is intent on
recovering the gold. Before the film is out there will be a duel,
accusations of murder and finally a confrontation in the caves.
I hadn't heard of this western when I saw it advertised in the TV guide but thought I'd give it a go; it opened well with an explosive train robbery and a brief shootout in the cave before slowing down as we are introduced to the older Carver. This was a good move as his introduction kept the character ambiguous; he was clearly taking advantage of the people's willingness to offer him credit but it was some time before we discovered whether or not he knew exactly where the gold was. It wasn't a total surprise when we learn the truth as it is rare for the protagonist of such films to be the villain! Macdonald Carey might not have the screen presence of many western heroes but he did a decent job as Carver; his understated performance giving greater tension to the action scenes as Carver didn't look like a man who could beat any opponent. Likewise Victor Jory made a good villain; he isn't a crazed psychopath desperate to get his hands on the gold but he is believable dangerous... he even challenges Carver to a duel; not the usual shootout but a traditional pistols at twenty paces duel overseen by a 'referee'! All B westerns need some love interest and here it is provided by Alexis Smith, her character is fairly standard for such films but she does a good enough job.
The locations are used well; many viewers will recognise Vasquez Rocks, famously used many times in 'Star Trek' as well as in many other films and television shows. The cave scenes, filmed in Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, looked great even though there was no explanation as to why it was beautifully lit rather than pitch black inside!
Overall this isn't a must see western but it has a decent enough story and an interesting setting that makes it worth watching if it is on television.
Cave of Outlaws is directed by William Castle and written by Elizabeth
Wilson. It stars MacDonald Carey, Alexis Smith, Edgar Buchanan, Victor
Jory, Hugh O'Brian and Houseley Stevenson. A Technicolor production out
of Universal International Pictures, with music scored by Joseph
Gershenson and cinematography by Irving Glassberg.
1895 and Pete Carver (Carey) is released from Kansas State Prison, he is the only survivor of a gold robbery 15 years earlier that saw his father killed in caves near Cooper Bend, Arizona. The gold was never recovered, and now Carver is back in Copper Bend, and this place, its inhabitants, are about to be privy to greed, treachery and murderous secrets of the past.
William Castle was 7 years away from making his lasting mark on cinema, where his scare tactic gimmicks used to accompany his horror movies ensured him a lasting reputation as a showman producer with tactical nous. Prior to this he was a jobbing director, churning out a number of low rank and file pictures that are rarely mentioned and mostly forgotten about. The odd one, mind, is worthy of spending time with on a Sunday afternoon. One such film is Cave of Outlaws, a Western that certainly doesn't shake the earth or raise the pulse considerably, but has enough interesting locales and quality of story to render it as watchable fodder for the B Western fan.
Standard formula applies here, man has mission to accomplish, gold is the route of all evil, pretty girl offers hope of romantic redemption, but villains and the law are spoiling the broth. There's no great stand out action sequences, but they are well handled by the director and stunt men, with a couple of good old fist fights to brighten the day. The Technicolor print is nice and with Glassberg and Castle making great use of the eerie Carlsbad Caverns and the lovely exteriors at Vasquez Rocks, picture is always pleasing on the eye. Cast are modest, but nothing to annoy or hinder, though it's unusual to see Buchanan turn in an average portrayal. 6/10
Cave of Outlaws (1951)
** (out of 4)
Technicolor Western set in 1880 finds a gang of outlaws robbing a train full of gold and hiding it in a cave. Before they can leave the cave all are killed with the exception of teenager Pete Carver. After fifteen years in prison, Pete (MacDonald Carey) is released and heads back to the territory where the cave is located only to learn that it's now a booming town due to copper being found in the mines. The good news is that the money was never discovered but now Pete must try and outsmart a few other bad guys who have their own plans for the money. It's amazing that someone like William Castle can remain so popular yet very few of his films are actually viewed by people. It seems most either never knew he had a career before his Horror pictures or perhaps they just don't care. As I slowly go through his Westerns it's clear that he was certainly a director-for-hire as his quick shooting and under budget reputation certainly got him hired to do this film. There's nothing overly horrible about this film but at the same time there's nothing good either. I think a lot of the problem is the screenplay, which gives us a fairly interesting idea but very little is ever done with it. Once Pete arrives back to town we get the typical bad guys following him and the typical women wanting him. There' some mild comic stuff dealing with every store owner giving him an unlimited line of credit because they think he knows where the money is but not enough is done with this. Castle handles the opening robbery pretty well but the rest of the film is rather lifeless. There's not too much energy in any of the scenes and the ending seems more fashioned for a comic book than an actual film. Carey isn't the most entertaining leading men and Alexis Smith doesn't get too much to do either. Edgar Buchanan, Hugh O'Brian and Hugh Sanders aren't too bad in their supporting roles but the screenplay does them no favors. There's some decent cinematography and fans of Universal's horror films will notice that a lot of the stock music is carried over here. If you close you eyes throughout the film you'll think you're watching ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN considering the scores. In the end, it's pretty hard to recommend this movie to anyone outside of someone like me who just wants to go through the director's entire career.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have been twice to the Carlsbad Caverns, in the fifties and early sixties. It is something magnificent and I was afraid this film would not do justice to it. But that's not the case because the beauty of "Cave of Outlaws" is how it combines the impressive scenery with a well written plot of mystery, love, and even an unusual (in westerns) duel. The story starts when young Pete Carver (Russ Tamblyn) is found inside the cavern after a train robbery. They can't find the money, he stays fifteen years in jail, and comes out played by Macdonald Carey. By now he is famous, the whole town (near the cavern) offers him credit, and he decides to help Elizabeth Trent (Alexis Smith) build a newspaper. Alexis Smith is beautiful and classy, she enhances every film she is in. This film deserves a high definition version to fully appreciate the cavern. When they say at a certain moment, after many people get killed at the cavern, that they want to get out of the place, they remember they must come back to contemplate the incredible beauty. And every one that will visit the Carlsbad Caverns will never forget it!
Universal had the good sense to boost this otherwise routine oater with
Technicolor filming at Carlsbad Caverns. This results in some
impressively eerie shots unusual for a Western. The screenplay has some
promising ideas, but these tend to get muddled amid an overly complex
narrative. Pete (Carey) returns to town after serving a jail term for
robbing Wells Fargo and hiding the loot in a cave. Now townspeople
cater to him, including owner of newspaper (Smith) and local kingpin
(Jory), even as Wells Fargo agent (Buchanan) trails him. So when will
Pete go for the loot.
It's hard to get at people's true motives because of the hidden gold. Then too where is Smith's missing husbandwas he in on the robbery and now hovering out of sight. It seems no one can be trusted, including Buchanan. With better story development, a more interesting leading man, along with the spooky caverns, this could have been several cuts above the usual Western. I guess my biggest disappointment, however, is with the movie covering up the statuesque and shapely Alexis Smith in yards and yards of period clothing. Too bad since she was reputed to have the best legs in Hollywood. Hormones aside, those soaring rock columns and hanging stone icicles still remain the main reason to tune in.
Like others, I was ready to bypass this small timer. Cigar chomping
Director of cheap horror films, William Castle must have been in a
lower gear when he worked on this, but it actually helped. After a
standard opening with a train robbery and lots of horse riding (just to
give the look of an action flick) this show actually settles into
slightly above average story telling. While a tad silly along the way,
it does manage to achieve a mild level of character development.
Interesting was the melancholy piano playing by the lead character in the first bar he walks into --- after 15years in prison from the age of around 14 --- Makes you want to know a bit more about him. Underrated performer Macdonald Carey plays this role very convincingly and his horse riding skills are shown to good advantage. He gets good support from a well above average cast. Alexis Smith is certainly above par for this material, she looks beautiful and is convincing as the owner off the town's newspaper. Victor Jory was always reliable and the scene where he rides his superb white horse onto the front walkway of the newspaper office to rope-whip Carey is very well done. The film has several surprisingly brutal scenes considering its year and type - one of these involved a very young Russ Tamblyn (uncredited: playing the lead character as a boy) being beaten off camera by the local Marshal. Even TV man Hugh O'Brian impresses in his few scenes. Edgar Buchanan is, well... Edgar Buchanan.
The on-location filming in the Carlsbad Caves New Mexico adds handsomely to the atmosphere. Elizabeth Wilson does well with her story despite some lapses in the screenplay. Universal International must have had their own Technicolor Lab, as they were very often willing to make small scale westerns in the glory of true I.B. Technicolor. The DVD transfer for this little film is very good indeed. Looks like U.I. must have had the wisdom to keep their original negatives.
Between films about talking mules and an assortment of cowboys, Director of Photography Irving Glassberg did not get many chances to showcase his talents but does have a few specials to his name: "The Web" interesting Noir from'47 ~ "The Strange Door" '51 ~ "Tarnished Angels" '57 ~ "The Lawless Breed" '53
Expect little and it could entertain on a slow day.
Fifteen years ago, a gang of bandits hid a stash of stolen gold in a
cave. Now Pete Carver (Macdonald Carey) has returned, after serving a long
prison sentence, to collect the loot. The trouble is, everybody in town
wants a piece of his action. He helps the pretty widow Liz Trent (Alexis
Smith) to re-launch her newspaper, The Clarion - but what is Ben Cross's
interest in her?
Apart from a big, elaborate cave set with realistic stalactites and stalagmites, this listless western doesn't have much to offer. Ever-present western character actor Edgar Buchanan is good as Dobbs the Wells Fargo investigator, and the two leads are adequate, but that's it.
Some of the ludicrous touches include the cave interior being brighter than day, and Carver's ability to overcome two armed heavies, even though he has recently been shot and beaten up. The denouement is preposterously neat.
Verdict - slack, run of the mill horse opera.
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