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In Wyoming Territory, a range war is brewing between entrenched cattle barons and new settlers. Cattle king Reece Duncan is opposed by ambitious gambler Jim Averell, who imports his old flame, shapely saloon queen Kate Maxwell, and sets her up as an alternative cattle buyer. As matters build toward violence, Kate finds she's being taken advantage of. But her only potential ally in staving off carnage is seemingly mild-mannered sheriff Stan Blaine...who distrusts her. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
I'm just warning you. No animal on my property, branded or not, is a stray. Whatever you pick up on the open range is yours. Anything you take from me has lead coming after it.
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A voice-over opening, with Winston Hoch's outstanding camera-work of calf roping and branding on screen, is a promising beginning and describes the setting for this film in 1870s Wyoming Territory, aboil with open range cattle raising and rustling, stimulated by the Territory's Maverick Law which permitted settlers to brand calves as their own if they were not within the confines of deeded property. When the voice-over ends the scenario begins, and that is a pity as it is woeful, approaching unintentional pastiche of the genre, with a fast-moving series of scenes lacking development, motivation and narrative continuity helpful to a viewer. An obvious vehicle for the beautiful Maureen O'Hara, splendid in Technicolor with her flaming red hair and green eyes, the piece unfortunately places her acting shortcomings to the fore, although she does her own stunt work, as is her wont. Alex Nicol is miscast as a laconic sheriff and Alexander Scourby is a bit too elegant for his role as a principal landowner, but William Bishop makes something interesting of his part as the film's primary villain, although his dialogue is no more penetrating than that of any other cast member. The plot deploys O'Hara as Kate Maxwell, a dance hall diva who is set up as proprietress of a saloon by her former lover, Jim Averill (Bishop) so that he may utilize her place of business as a front for rustling cattle, whereupon Kate is rent by her dual attraction to Averill and to the sheriff, who is taking steps to oppose this criminal enterprise. Director Lee Sholem, a straight ahead sort, is not given to varying of moods within his pictures, and that is the case here, resulting in a cursory and literal reading of the puerile script. Edward Stevenson's costumes for O'Hara are striking and appropriate and master make-up artist Bud Westmore does not have his craftsmanship disturbed by her riding and shooting activity, which is of a piece with the others in the colorfully garbed cast, whose raiment is barely disturbed by violent goings-on; indeed, the players often appear to be about to launch into song and dance, turning this affair into a musical of sorts, which might have been an improvement. The film includes the debut of Jeanne Cooper and an early effort of Dennis Weaver, atypically portraying a hard case, and somehow Robert Strauss is included in this one, completely out of place. Despite crisp editing, REDHEAD seems to take a long while arriving at its predictable ending, and although the cast never seems the worse for wear from its exertions, the viewer certainly will be, during this motivationless attempt to cast light upon a significant segment of Western American history.
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