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Esqueda, an outlaw, attempts to force settlers King and Cordelia Cameron out of his territory. Esqueda's mother raised Rio as her own. Rio has loyalty to Esqueda but also feels the settlers should be able to stay. A showdown between the two raised as brothers is unavoidable. Written by
Ride, Vaquero! is directed by John Farrow and written by Frank Fenton. It stars Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, Howard Keel, Anthony Quinn, Kurt Kasznar and Ted de Corsa. Music is by Bronislau Kaper and cinematography by Robert Surtees.
Out of MGM and filmed in Ansco Color at Kanab in Utah (though story is set in Texas), Ride, Vaquero! is collectively unusual, bold and frustrating. Plot revolves around outlaws lead by bandido Esqueda (Quinn) refusing to let settlers and civilisation come to the Brownsville territory. So far so formulaic, then, but Esqueda's right hand man is Rio (Taylor), who was raised by Esqueda's mother and therefore they be adopted brothers. When King Cameron (Keel) and his wife Cordelia (Gardner) refuse to be shunted out of Brownsville, with King trying to rally the townsfolk against Esqueda, Rio starts to feel sympathy for the Cameron's.
What unfolds is a sort of Freudian Greek Tragedy, a love quadrilateral as Esqueda and Rio love each other in that manly brotherly way, Cordelia begins to love Rio, love which he is keen to reciprocate, while King will always love Cordelia no mater what. Action is competently put together by Farrow as it all builds to a big finale, which doesn't disappoint on narrative terms, and the airy location photography (this is one of the better Ansco Color productions I have seen) is delightful. While naturally there will be sacrifices and psychologically tinged twists along the way to keep the faithful interested.
Quinn is wonderfully ebullient, enjoying himself with a licence to chow down on the script with relish. Taylor is subdued, sleep walking through the film under direction to be a man of quiet menace and emotional confliction. Keel looks like he is desperate to sing a song, or just be some place else, while Gardner is required to just look pretty and pretty wistful from time to time. Kasznar as Father Antonio comes out in credit, but when the screenplay has him refusing stolen money to help the church - only to then have him 15 minutes later shooting away with rifle to kill his fellow man - the inconsistency in the production is further compounded.
Keel hated the boredom of the shoot, stuck out in the wilderness with nothing to do for months he said, and Gardner hated Farrow, citing him as a sleazy bully to women and horses! These complaints do show, the film feels like it's treading water, where if you take out Quinn you are left with what comes across as a bunch of actors working for food. Characterisations are not well drawn enough to make the promise of the mind matters work, and supporting players like Jack Elam wander in and out of the picture without due care and attention.
There's good intentions in the screenplay, where for 1953 this could have been ahead of its time and setting the bar for Freudian flavoured Westerns. While it's on it engages for sure, but once finished there's the distinct feeling that it was never all that it could have been. A shame really. 6/10
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