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When the great potato famine hits Ireland, the diaspora begins as thousands emigrate. Among those leaving the Emerald Isle is Katie O'Neill and her husband, who decide that the promised land is South Africa and make their way there. Once there, they discover the hardships that are the reality of the homesteader experience. To complicate matters, Katie meets up with the love of her life, Paul van Riebeck. Will there be betrayal on the veldt? Written by
Another of 20th Century Fox's big location pictures designed to show off their new CinemaScope process, Untamed has great raw material to work with the Great Trek and the building of the Dutch Free State in 19th century South Africa but wastes it as a largely offscreen background to a soapy saga of Susan Hayward's wilful Irish girl pursuing Tyrone Power's Afrikaner commando. A sort of Gone with the Veldt crossed with a South African Cimarron, Power is hardly in the film, a supporting player despite his star billing (he was a late replacement for Robert Mitchum and took the job to get his contract with Fox over with), dropping briefly into the film from time to time like Yancey Cravat before long stretches away with his commandoes, which leaves Hayward to carry the movie. Unfortunately she's often quite terrible, but a bigger problem than her performance is the role she's saddled with. Leading on the men around her to get what she wants and not even waiting for her husband's corpse to get cold before making doe eyes at Power, you keep on hoping for her to get her comeuppance only for her to bounce back like the proverbial bad penny. This wouldn't be a problem if she was meant to be scheming, manipulative and unlikeable, but despite nods to Scarlett O'Hara she's clearly meant to be someone we root for and whose determination we admire. Instead you can't help feeling sorry for Richard Egan's trekker gone wrong, who goes from dreaming of waking up with something besides his gun to becoming a bad 'un and (as Peter Cook would say) deficient in the leg department to the tune of one because of the minx repeatedly using him and dumping him (and still he never learns!). Egan may end up wearing the black hat, but Hayward comes across as the real villain of the piece, and you end up hoping that he and Power will ride off into the sunset together leaving the selfish bitch to the mercy of the elements.
Unfortunately, despite the money and talent there's not enough going on elsewhere to compensate. Henry King's direction is efficient but not up to his usual standard, the big battle with the Zulus is spectacular but rather average, though the final shootout fares a bit better even if the film has simply turned into a conventional Western by that point. Still, Rita Moreno does get one great line as Egan's gal when Hayward turns up again - "What's left of heem eez mynn!" Easily the best thing about the picture is Franz Waxman's superb score, which captures all the sweeping excitement and romance the film never quite manages and you can get that on CD without having to see the film, allowing you to imagine it belongs to a much better film. Untamed isn't terrible, but it isn't terribly good either.
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