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This 1956 Western is short and sweet (it's 80 mins). The plot is a
little more complicated than many other minor westerns like this. Geo.
Montgomery is a rancher who wants to cross-breed some cattle to make
them heartier for the frigid Wyoming winters. He goes to Oregon with
his ranch foreman (Peter Graves) to bring back some good breeding
stock. But on the way to Ore. Graves gets shot up pretty bad by some
horse-stealing Indians and is left behind at a lady's residence to
recover (played by Marcia Henderson). What Montgomery doesn't know is
before he left for Oregon good old P.G. had him set up for slaughter on
the way back so he could steal the herd and along with an unscrupulous
businessman and his slimy henchman (Walter Sande and Robert J. Wilke)
set themselves up in the ranching business. But there are yet more
complications to come on the road to ranching happiness . . . but
you'll have to see the movie to find out the rest.
UPDATE: This movie was released on DVD by Warner Home Video on 3/23/09, but I've still got my long out-of-print videocassette of CANYON RIVER on the old Allied Artists Video Corporation label.
George Montgomery is Steve Patrick, a cattle rancher with a plan to
create a new, improved crossbreed that will be hardy enough to
withstand the unforgiving Wyoming winters. But first he must drive his
herd of cattle to his Wyoming ranch. The problem is that no respectable
cattle hand is interested in travelling into the bad weather out of
season, so he's forced to hire a band of ne'er-do-wells. What he
doesn't realise is that his best friend Bob (Peter Graves) is planning
to double-cross him by engineering an ambush at the eponymous Canyon
River with the local bad guy when the drive is nearly over. Added into
the mix is the comely widow (Marcia Henderson) with a young son whom
both Steve and Bob fall for, thus stirring Bob's resentment of his
friend even further.
Canyon River is one of those modest Western programmers that have no pretensions of artistic merit but which simply strive to tell a straightforward story in as efficient and economical a way possible. The story is fairly unusual for this kind of film. There's not that much gunplay, as the plot focuses more on the simmering tensions that exist between Steve, Bob and Janet and the band of rogues led by cuddly Alan Hale Jr. Chances are you've probably never come across such a lacklustre band of outlaws as this bunch; Montgomery's character only has to give Hale a few smacks across the chops to win his undying loyalty, and the rest of the crew only pay attention to the fetching young widow when she's dishing up chow on the trail. It's this lack of any prominent bad guys Bob is essentially a good guy gone temporarily astray that robs what is otherwise a decent little movie of the level of suspense it needs.
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
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The average Allied Artists' widescreen western "Canyon River" beat Andrew V. McLaglen's "The Rare Breed" to the punch with its saga about Herefords being introduced in the old West. George Montgomery plays heroic rancher Steve Patrick who is fed up with low cattle prices and decides to experiment with breeding cattle that can survive brutal winters. Steve believes he can cross-breed longhorns with Herefords. Everybody else believes Steve is not only crazy for proposing such a harebrained scheme, but also for driving cattle out-of-season to Wyoming. Opposing Montgomery in his invigorating enterprise is his treacherous foreman Bob Andrews (Peter Graves of "Stalag 17")who yearns for a ranch of his own over which he can preside. Remember, Graves specialized in villains back in the 1950s before he took over leadership of the Impossible Mission Force. Andrews cuts a dastardly deal with chief villain Maddox. One big difference here is our hero hires a group of notorious gunslingers, led by Lynch (Alan Hale, Jr. of "Gilligan's Island"), to drive his herd. Initially, Lynch refuses to ride with Steve until our protagonist defeats him fair and square in a barroom brawl. The second is just as offbeat. A good-looking but widowed mother, Janet (Marcia Henderson), who only wants the best for her young son Chuck (Richard Eyer), persuades Steve to sign her on as the cook. Initially, Steve is doubtful because he claims there are two things you never bring on a cattle drive: liquor and women. Nevertheless, Janet wins him over. Eventually, despite losing several head of Hereford, Steve refuses to slaughter his own cattle to feed his cowhands. Trouble brews until the resourceful Patrick brings a deer carcass into camp, and everybody cheers up. Naturally, veteran heavy Robert Wilke plays a pugnacious pistolero and paunchy Walter Sande is equally culpable as his boss. Jack Lambert starts out as a good guy riding herd for Steve until his alcoholism gains the upper hand and his own former friends, among them Lynch (Alan Hale, Jr.) and Jenkins (perennial western character actor William Fawcett who co-starred with Graves in "Fury") drive him off. The outdoor scenery is breathtaking, but there are few surprises in this sturdy cattle opera.
Canyon River, a western from Allied Artists and starring George
Montgomery tries to pack a little too much plot in the 80 minute film.
And one performer was completely miscast in the role of villain.
Peter Graves as Montgomery's foreman on his cattle ranch is fixing to betray Montgomery in his scheme to bring furrier Hertford cattle to Wyoming from Oregon. Texas longhorns haven't enough hair to survive Wyoming winters. But Graves who says he wants to be his own boss is planning a double cross with villains Walter Sande and Robert Wilkie.
Try as I might I could not wrap myself around Peter Graves as a rat. When he did play one in Stalag 17 the idea was during over half the film you don't know he's the barracks informer with his all-American demeanor. Here we know right away and I couldn't buy it.
Later on in the film Graves is shot and Montgomery brings him to the tender care of widow Marcia Henderson and her son Richard Eyer. Graves falls for her, but she's got eyes for George. Now that would have been good plot motivation from the beginning.
I also could not buy the fact that Montgomery went to a saloon in Oregon where the town low lifes imbibe, beat Alan Hale in a fight, and then win the whole crew of miscreants over with promise of employment. That was really too much.
Canyon River which boasted some nice scenic western cinematography on the plus side was not one of George Montgomery's better roles.
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