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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Fox's UNTAMED (1955) is a splendid romantic adventure story set in
1850's Africa. Beautifully photographed in Cinemascope and DeLuxe
colour by Leo Tover it was nicely written for the screen by Talbot
Jennings, Frank Fenton and Michael Blankfort and was based on the novel
by Helga Moray. Tyrone Power was the star and once again was directed
by his favourite director and friend Henry King. Co-starring, in the
pivotal female lead, was the lovely Susan Hayward. And rounding out the
fine cast was Richard Egan (never better), Agnes Moorhead, Brad Dexter,
John Justin and Hope Emerson. Although he was the star in two
Cinemascope productions for Columbia Pictures - "The Long Grey Long"
(1955) and "The Eddie Duchin Story" (1956) UNTAMED was just one of only
three Cinemascope pictures Tyrone Power would appear in for 20th
Century Fox, his home studio for more than 15 years. The others being
"King Of The Khyber Rifles" (1953)and "The Sun Also Rises" (1957). The
latter being the only one to be released on DVD. Quite unbelievably
neither "Khyber" nor UNTAMED have ever been issued in any format
Time and place is immediately established by Susan Hayward's voice-over at the opening of UNTAMED as she informs us "This is County Limerick Ireland - the year is 1847". Hayward is Katie O'Neill the spirited daughter of rich land owner and horse breeder Squire O'Neill (Henry O'Neill). A Boer leader Paul Von Riebeck (Power) arrives from South Africa to buy some horses and after Katie causes him to be unseated from his horse during a Fox hunt ("I came to Ireland to buy horses - not to be killed by one") the two fall in love. But love isn't strong enough to hold Von Riebeck in Ireland and as a Dutch Free State commander must return to Africa to build up his country. Heartbroken, Katie later marries neighbour Sean Kildare (John Justin) and the following year when the potato famine ravages and decimates Ireland Katie and her family, along with the thousands of Irish, emigrate to Africa to start a new life. After the movie's excellent set piece of a Zulu attack on their settler's wagon train in which Katie's husband is killed she meets up again with Von Riebeck and after many eventualities, including a well staged Bullwhip fight between Paul and rival Kurt (Richard Egan), Katie and Paul finally come together for a happy ending.
Complimenting the picture throughout is the lavish music score by the great Franz Waxman.There is a rich full orchestral romantic main theme heard first under the titles and given different treatments as the story demands. Also there is a ravishing love theme for the tender scenes with Katie and Paul. Augmented by biting brass figures the Zulu attack on the settler's wagons is scored for an array of African percussion instruments and is rousingly and dramatically rhythmic. Waxman's evocative music perfectly captures the movie's complex moods of adventure, love, pathos, bitterness and jealousy. Alongside "Prince Valiant" (1954) UNTAMED is Waxman's finest adventure score!
UNTAMED is a somewhat forgotten minor epic and is possibly so because of its unavailability on either disc or tape which is something of a shame on the part of Fox Home Entertainment. But for those who are familiar with it it remains a memorable, enjoyable and colourful Cinemascope romance with two great stars in a picture that should be appreciated more and better known than it is.
With the end of the South African apartheid government and the events
leading to that end of the past 50 years or so, Untamed was consigned
to the 20th Century Fox vaults and has rarely been seen for a
generation. Not that it was anything all that great to begin with.
Taken on its own terms and divorced from racial politics, Untamed is a sprawling Edna Ferber like saga of the founding of the Orange Free State and the journey of that group of Dutch settlers called Voortrekkers that made it happen. Tyrone Power is the leader of this group who has dreams of an empire. Dreams so big that Susan Hayward and their romance come in a definite second.
Power meets Hayward in Ireland where he's come to buy horses and the sparks fly at first sight. But he returns to South Africa and Susan marries good old reliable John Justin.
Later after the potato famine hits Ireland, the great Irish diaspora occurs and the Irish scatter throughout the globe. John and Susan go to South Africa and Sue not only meets Power again, but she also comes under the lustful eye of Richard Egan. Justin is killed, Sue wants Ty, Richard wants Sue, but Sue can't see him for beans.
I get the impression that there is a lot more to the original novel than what is shown here, but the story is poorly adapted. Using the comparison to Ferber, Richard Egan plays the Jett Rink part here. It's as though Jett Rink was crushing out on Scarlett O'Hara. Maybe they should have gotten Edna Ferber herself to adapt this work by another author, Helga Moray.
The action sequences are done well however. The Zulu attack on the laager is as well staged as in any John Ford western and the final battle between Power's commandos and Egan's outlaws is also exciting.
By the way the word laager is the South African term they gave for the circle of wagons that the voortrekkers made when camping for the night. We've seen many a western where they circled the wagons, but in South Africa they had a name for it. Voortrekker is the name of the Dutch pioneers who made the journey.
If you are a fan of the two leads as I am, make every effort to catch Untamed in the infrequent times it is shown.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Katie O'Neill (Susan Hayward) first meet Paul Van Riebeck (Tyrone
Power), a leader of the South African Boers, when he comes to Ireland
on a horse-buying trip... The two fall in love, but Paul, intent on
establishing a Dutch Free State back home, has no time to settle down
and refuses to marry her while he has this commitment...
Several years pass and Katie has wed Shawn Kildare (John Justin). When the great potato famine of the 1850s strikes Ireland, Katie, still in love with Paul, persuades Shawn that they should go to South Africa to start a new life...
They sail with their infant son and his nurse, Aggie (Agnes Moorehead), and in Capetown, join a group of homesteaders on a trek to the interior, where en route, Katie catches the eye of handsome Kurt Hout (Richard Egan), leader of a band of outriders...
A surprise Zulu attack on the wagon train is broken up by the timely appearance of Paul Van Riebeck and his men, but during the fighting, Shawn is killed... Paul does what he can to comfort Katie but finds that Kurt Hout, an old friend, already has made clear his interest in the newly widowed homesteader...
When the wagon train finally reaches its destination, Hoffen Valley, Katie convinces Paul to settle down with her, but their happiness is short-lived... Paul leaves to continue his work with the Free State movement, unaware that Katie is carrying his child...
Kurt, very upset for not being desired, becomes a dangerous outlaw, enemy of the authority... Rita Moreno plays his mistress...
Katie is the example of the brave intelligent, ambitious, lucky lady... She proves her courage, persistence and full determination to win as a wife, a mother, and a woman in love...
Filmed in the "grandeur" of CinemaScope, "Untamed" is a romantic action melodrama, short in action and long on romance...
The role of Kurt Hout was originally intended for Victor Mature, but he was replaces by Richard Egan...
Everyone works hard to make this grand-scaled hokum as enjoyable as possible. As a redheaded Irish spitfire, Susan Hayward finally gets her chance to play Scarlett O'Hara, but packs all her chiffons and crinolines [with matching shoes and stockings] in a covered wagon and sets off to cross the veldt with wise Agnes Moorehead and a cast of thousands [well, hundreds]. She's chasing Tyrone Power across South Africa, although he's something of a stiff, but she also loves hearty Richard Egan. The script stuffs in everything from a fancy dress ball to an emergency amputation. Henry King directs it all with some intensity, especially a harrowing and spectacular Zulu attack, and uses the wide screen well to capture the spaciousness of the land. Should be seen on the big screen [or at least in letterbox].
I love "Untamed," but not in the same way as previous commentators. It is arguably the dumb-funniest piece of Hollywood formulaic crap every produced. Basically, Henry King remade "Gone With The Wind," set it in South Africa using standard Western gimmicks. Christ, they must have raided "Gunfight at OK Corral's" wardrobe, and cocked every cowboy hat on one side. But the joke's on them because it is such overwrought camp that I can't stop laughing. It's great! I especially love the way Susan Hayward keeps dumping, picking up, and re-dumping every sap who comes along. Plus, this chick's got to be the luckiest woman on the face of the earth. Nevermind the nasty image of her swindling starving natives by trading her worthless junk for their precious metals. Who else but a "Wild Irish Rose" stumbles upon a diamond the size of a goose-egg? And when the money runs out (no one knows why), she intrepidly sets off with her brood to mine for more gems, murderous claim-jumpers notwithstanding. Tyrone Power used this film as a practice session for "The Sun Also Rises." He's limp throughout. Richard Egan, however, is hilarious as Hayward's ubiquitous dumpee. He defends her against attacking Zulus. She dumps him. He offers to marry her. She dumps him. He plows her fields, plants her crops and builds her house. She not only dumps him again, but amputates his leg! In the end, Egan turns outlaw, still carrying a torch for Hayward. It is here that Rita Morena, the long-suffering half-breed wench, delivers the coup de grace: "...WHAT'S LEFT OF HIM IS MINE!"
I am sure this will shock many readers, especially since she was such a
popular and well-paid actress. However, I truly believe that Susan
Hayward was a horrible actress--or at least she agreed to allow herself
to be typecast as a horrible actress. Having seen most of her films, I
can name example after example of films where she played, or shall I
say over-played characters. Her acting often consisted of over-emoting
and acting petulant. Don't believe me? Try watching "I Want to Live"
(for which she inexplicably received an Oscar--and which was satirized
by John Waters with "Female Trouble"), "David and Bathsheba", "The
Conqueror", "Where Love Has Gone" and "Valley of the Dolls". All of
these films are made almost hilarious due to her acting and the
terrible scripts. Calling them soap opera-like is an understatement and
because of this I would consider her a great 'overactress'. It's a
shame, as she COULD provide a decent performance, as early in her
career she was less bellicose and rather good in films like "They Won't
Believe Me" and "Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman". But by the 1950s, it
was all emotion and fire and not much else.
"Untamed" is yet another example of the usual Hayward formula. The film is in color and is quite glossy, features big-name supporting actors, has Hayward playing every emotion as if it's her last and her character is simply more a caricature than anyone you think could really have existed. To put it bluntly, despite the look and budget, this is a bad film...mostly due to her insane character.
When the film begins, Katie (Hayward) meets Paul (Tyrone Power). Despite them soon separating, you KNOW that they'll eventually have each other. However, very inexplicably, in the interim, she marries another man (who you just KNOW will be soon dead) and is pursued by a crazy guy (Richard Egan). It all goes on and on and on in a nice South African locale, though the film feels more like a western combined with "Peyton Place" instead of a serious film. It's also very episodic, often makes little sense and is a bit silly. The bottom line is that the film is mildly entertaining if you are looking for a laugh. But considering that it's NOT a comedy and you are not supposed to laugh at Hayward when she goes off on her screaming tirades (and it happens a lot!), it's a rather sad film. Pretty but sad.
Farmers throughout Europe, unsuccessful with their returns, journey to South Africa to take advantage of the free and fertile land, but must pass through hostile Zulu territory first. The wagon train sequence will be familiar to any western fan: it's the Settlers versus the Indians all over again, with the Zulu tribe on the attack and out for blood (we don't even know why they are so hungry for war). Susan Hayward plays a farmer's wife from Ireland who ends up widowed and caught between two men who desire her, Tyrone Power's leader of the Boer Fighter Commandos and Richard Egan's hot-blooded homesteader. Four screenwriters adapted Helga Moray's novel, but none were able to lift this one out its vat of musty clichés. The picture does look good in widescreen and vivid color, yet the characters are neither likable, sympathetic, nor interesting. ** from ****
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.
Some rugged pioneer adventurers, headed by TYRONE POWER, SUSAN HAYWARD,
JOHN JUSTIN and RICHARD EGAN, end up in South Africa fighting Zulus
after fleeing Ireland because of the potato famine. This is one of
those big sprawling Technicolor epics designed to lure patrons away
from their TV sets in the mid '50s to watch spectacular action unfold
against handsome landscapes.
Susan Hayward is the feisty Irish heroine who marries John Justin but has her eyes set on following her true love--Tyrone Power--to South Africa. When hubby Justin is killed in a Zulu attack, she sets her mind on winning Tyrone's hand in marriage. She has to cope with Richard Egan, who is also lusting after her. There's a very realistically staged fight with a bull whip between Power and Egan--and you know who wins. But the script has her mistreating both men, enough so to make you wonder what makes her tick. It's an oddly defined role.
The story is a sprawling one and Henry King has directed some of it with his usual skill. The supporting cast includes HOPE EMERSON and AGNES MOOREHEAD, so obviously the studio treated this one as a big epic adventure story that would look handsomely rugged on the big screen.
Hayward faces all her hardships in Scarlett O'Hara manner. "Then we'll plough and seed. And then we'll come back," she says at one point to Agnes Moorehead after the latest catastrophe. Tyrone Power spends much of his time off camera but you know he's going to be the hero who returns to help her begin a new life. She becomes a wealthy woman after bartering with a native for a hefty diamond, and meets Power again years later at the Governor's Ball. But she and Power have another stormy disagreement and the story goes on and on.
It's basically an unrewarding mixture of adventure and romance with poor character motivations and a muddled script that lacks a strong focus. Hayward does some extravagant overacting as the ill-tempered heroine, Egan has the strongest male role and Power is totally wasted.
I have no idea what anyone was thinking when this film was done. I am a
huge fan of Tyrone Power but I can't say he was very good in this. I
honestly don't think it was his fault. The script was rotten.
First of all, the beginning scenes, showing the romance between Katie and Paul, seemed totally like they were from another film and just slapped on at the beginning. Incredibly disjointed. I could never figure Katie out, nor did I want to. People compare the role to Scarlett O'Hara, and I guess there were similarities. I think one of the problems is that we didn't see enough of their characters before they hit South Africa so the love story could really develop for the audience. He kissed her on the staircase. Okay, so what then? "Was I just some girl you kiss and leave?" she asks. Is that all he did? Or did he have sex with her and leave? Hello, it makes a big difference. It seemed to me that all she did was throw herself at him, and I never got the impression that he loved her. Good case in point was the scene where her neck and shoulders were sore and she was stretching, etc. It took him about an hour to take the hint.
Her abuse of the Richard Egan character was ridiculous. One ends up losing respect for both of them.
Henry King usually does a great job, and of course, the action scenes are very stirring, but the characters all seemed remote.
It's possible Fox did this movie to use blocked funds in Africa. I can't think of any other reason. I read on this board that Victor Mature was supposed to play Kurt. Well, Robert Mitchum was supposed to play Paul, but he wisely never showed up and the studio got Power, who was in a hurry to finish up his contract with that place. Filming had already started. Mitchum would have seemed even less interested in Katie, and Victor Mature would have come off as even more of a fool, so it probably worked out for the best. Well, it did for those actors, anyway.
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