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Mary Stuart Masterson
A Wyoming rancher and his foreman journey to Oregon to get breeding steers in order to raise cattle that can withstand the harsh Wyoming winters. What the rancher doesn't know is that he is the target of a plot to murder him and steal his cattle. Written by
There are two things that just aren't allowed on cattle drives: women and whiskey.
Canyon River (AKA: Cattle King) is directed by Harmon Jones and written by Daniel B. Ullman. It stars George Montgomery, Marcia Henderson, Peter Graves, Richard Eyer, Walter Sande, Robert J. Wilke and Alan Hale Jr. A CinemaScope/De Luxe Color production, music is by Marlin Skiles and cinematography by Ellsworth Fredricks.
Montgomery plays rancher Steve Patrick, who along with his mischievous foreman Bob Andrews (Graves), embarks on a lucrative cattle drive from East to West along the Oregon Trail. What Steve doesn't know is that there are plans afoot to relieve him of everything.
Standard Oater this one but never boring and as a production it looks very nice indeed. The problem mainly is that it gets caught between two aims, it clearly wants to portray the harshness of a cattle drive and build suspense by way of back stabbing ideals and group dynamic pressures, but it never utilises the plot possibilities.
The set-up is fine, Steve Patrick is a top man, a guy you want on your side, but the only cattle hands he can raise for the job are outlaws and ruffians. Led by George Lynch (Hale Jr.) they are one of the most nonthreatening bunch of crims to grace a 50s Western! There's some expected problems on the trail, but when the biggest gripe from the tough guys is that they have no meat to eat, you know that peril is in short supply.
With Janet Hale (Henderson) and her young son Chuck (Eyer) joining the trail as cook and aspiring cowboy respectively, there's the inevitable romantic strand slotted into proceedings, complete with absent father yearnings. Again this is pretty much wasted as a chance to put some bite into the tale, this in spite of the rumbling love triangle arc. Action is in short supply, with a little gun play, a fist-fight and some stampede control briefly raising the pulse, while the villains are only peripheral characters (a shame to see Wilke underused).
Yet for all its missed opportunities, the story is a good one. The basis of driving cattle the wrong way as opposed to the norm, and in Winter time as well, is interesting. As is the fact that Steve is cross- breeding the cattle to withstand the Winter months, with the commodity of beef being crucial to the cowboy's livelihood. There's clearly some thought gone into the screenplay, even if the makers forgot to add suspense to the tantalising threads that they dangle throughout. 6/10
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