|Index||5 reviews in total|
The Rawhide Years is directed by Rudolph Maté and adapted from the
Norman A. Fox novel by Earl Felton, Robert Presnell Jr. & D.D.
Beauchamp. It stars Tony Curtis, Colleen Miller, William Demarest,
Arthur Kennedy, William Gargan & Peter Van Eyck. It's a Technicolor
production with photography by Irving Glassberg and the music is scored
by Frank Skinner & Hans J. Salter.
Plot finds Curtis as Ben Matthews, a riverboat card player who along with his elder partner, Carrico (Donald Randolph), cheat unsuspecting players. But during one particular sting on The Montana Queen, Ben is found out by an observer, Minor Watson (Matt Comfort), who quietly pulls Ben aside to let him know he has been rumbled and that he has destroyed the life of one of the older players. This gives Ben an attack of consciousness who fixes the next game so that Matt can win enough money to pay the old fella back. After breaking the partnership with Carrico, Ben has a meeting with Matt who offers him a job back on his ranch in Galena. It's food for thought but later that night Matt is murdered and Ben and Carrico are chief suspects. Forced to go on the run as Ben Martin, he finds work but eventually feels he can't sit still in one place and he hooks up with shifty guide Rick Harper (Kennedy), for he knows at some point he must get back to Galena to solve the murder, clear his name and win back his true love, Zoe Fontaine (Miller).
Little known, probably forgotten and rarely seen, is this fun, entertaining but formulaic Western in the cannon of Tony Curtis. Running at just under an hour and half, Maté (D.O.A.) and his team make sure they fill out the picture with as many Western movie staples as they can. Only thing missing here is Indians, tho we do get a cigar store wooden Indian that's the Macguffin of the piece. The story is a safe one to execute, with its murder mystery core, romantic strands and shifty villains waiting to be knocked down a peg or two, it is never less than interesting. It also looks very nice in Technicolor, especially when the film goes off stage and out into Lone Pine, California, where Glassberg (Backlash) uses the backdrop to great effect. There's also a trio of pleasing songs to enjoy, "The Gypsy With Fire In His Shoes", "Happy Go Lucky" and "Give Me Your Love".
The cast, perhaps unsurprisingly for a B Western, is a very mixed bag. Curtis is very unconvincing as a cowboy type, but he's very handsome here and his character is one that's easy to get on side with as he seeks to achieve his goals. Curtis is aided by Kennedy (Where the River Bends), who is playing the material the way it should be played (with tongue in cheek and glint in the eye), they form a nice double act and Kennedy shines as the lovable rogue type. Miller sadly is very poor and her scenes with Curtis lack spark or conviction, while Van Eyck is just wooden as the chief villain. Demarest (The Jolson Story) is his usual reliable and stoic self, while the bonus turn comes from William Gargan (They Knew What They Wanted) who does a nice line in officialdom as Marshal Sommers. All told it's a more than adequate time filler for fans of Curtis and light entertainment Westerns. From gunfights to fisticuffs, to horseback pursuits, there's enough here to offset some of the ham and cheese formula that comes with such a production. 6.5/10
I watched THE RAWHIDE YEARS (1956) on the Encore Western-HD channel,
mainly to revel in the beautiful Technicolor photography and
picturesque settings ranging from western locations in Lone Pine,
California to well-appointed Universal Studio sets and backlots. I'm
assuming that the riverboat used in several scenes is the one left over
from earlier Universal westerns with a riverboat setting, namely BEND
OF THE RIVER (1952), THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER (1953), and THE FAR
COUNTRY (1954). The director, Rudolph Maté, was a former
cinematographer who also directed THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER and knew how
to make the most of the studio's ample resources to craft good-looking
films no matter how ludicrous the story might get. In this case, I'm
guessing the studio's directive was to create a Tony Curtis vehicle
that made use of the standing riverboat and waterfront sets. The plot
is wildly unpredictable and full of twists and turns that come at the
viewer pretty fast, although the absurdities begin to pile up as well
and the final set of plot twists, while thoroughly unexpected, are just
too implausible to allow us to take this very seriously. There's a
reason why we see these films on Encore's Western channel and not in
Tony Curtis western box sets.
Curtis plays a gambler's shill who, on the run from a murder accusation, goes out west to become a cowboy and make enough money to come back to Galena, the river town where the trouble started, to try to clear his name. Along the way he picks up a fast-talking hustler played by Arthur Kennedy who makes no bones about trying to separate Curtis from his money belt. As they share adventures, they develop a symbiotic relationship and wind up getting each other out of jams from one incident to the next. Kennedy's character may be seen as a softened version of the good-bad guy he played in BEND OF THE RIVER who initially sides with James Stewart but eventually turns against him. Curtis is handsome, charming, and athletic (although doubled in the more strenuous fights and stunts), but he looks like a carefully groomed movie star in every shot and not a western hero, although his legions of fangirls in 1956 would not have complained.
The real surprise for me in this movie came from seeing German actor Peter van Eyck in the role of Boucher, the oily Frenchman who runs the saloon and gambling hall in Galena. I'm familiar with him from several of his German films (Fritz Lang's THE THOUSAND EYES OF DR. MABUSE) and the international productions he appeared in during the 1960s (THE LONGEST DAY, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, SHALAKO, etc.), but I'd forgotten about his Hollywood period in the mid-1950s. I found the sight of him alongside such stalwart Hollywood veterans as William Demarest and William Gargan an amusing bit of culture contrast, a bridge between two distinct eras of film history.
Colleen Miller plays the pretty showgirl from whom Curtis is separated for three long years. During that time she takes up with Boucher, which creates problems when Curtis finally comes back to town. She sings three songs in the saloon and one of them was written by Peggy Lee and Laurindo Almeida and even includes a Spanish dancer as backup. Whoever dubbed Ms. Miller's vocals has a great voice and I'd sure like to know who she was, but IMDb doesn't identify her.
The title, THE RAWHIDE YEARS, would seem to refer to that period in the film when Curtis' character has fled west to work as a cowboy for three years, a montage segment that lasts for maybe two or three minutes of the film's 85-minute running time before he starts his trek back east, with Kennedy tagging along. Perhaps that section was longer in the novel on which this film is based, in which case the title might have made sense. It doesn't here.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
To call this a "B Western" is to do it an injustice. B Westerns were
long on action, shooting, horse chases and short on acting, and, most
of all, character development. And they were intended as second billing
to an A feature.
Rawhide Years has solid acting all around, and some truly enjoyable singing (and fine acting) from Colleen Miller. Tony Curtis delivers a relaxed, low-keyed performance in the manner of Hitchcock's dictum: Don't act! The result is some remarkably good acting for the Fifties.
The movie is similarly low-keyed, and delivers a pleasant, interesting tale. There is a bit of a who-dunit in the river pirates that puts some meat on the plot, and there is character development to the Curtis role that shows a con man with a conscience who becomes a cowpoke and, ultimately, a man.
The Arthur Kennedy character has an even stronger element of character development, and the twists add greatly to the story's interest. Kennedy's is, indeed, the most interesting acting.
And then there is Peter van Eyck, the bad guy almost to the point of caricature -- Boo! Hiss! -- at least by the end of the movie. He all but ties Zoe to the railroad tracks. I kept having to double check that I wasn't seeing Harvey Korman in Blazing Saddles. I suspect Korman was parodying van Eyck -- and there is some resemblance.
There is no strong moralizing here, just an entertaining story. If there is any lesson, it is that appearances can be deceiving, and it can be hard to know who your friends are. The opening, where the crew of the riverboat mistakes some logs for pirates hints at this, as does the Kennedy character.
Rawhide Years has a good storyline that keeps moving and keeps your attention. In the end, the story ties the threads together nicely. It is not a great movie, just a good, solid, entertaining one, and that's all it sets out to be.
The only western that Tony Curtis was to star in his long career was
The Rawhide Years. In the tradition of B westerns I'm not sure what
Rawhide had to do with the story.
Despite that, it's a decent enough western which starts out on a riverboat where Curtis is the protégé/come-on shill of gambler Donald Randolph. After feeling sorry for a sucker they trimmed one night, Curtis allows a friend of the sucker played by Minor Watson to win the money back. Later on during a pirate raid on the riverboat Watson is killed, Curtis thrown overboard and later suspected of Watson's death.
His fugitive status also puts his marriage plans on hold with Colleen Miller. Curtis comes back after three years and finds she's married to saloon owner Peter Van Eyck. But it all gets straightened out in the end.
Arthur Kennedy is also in The Rawhide Years, a rather rouguish trail companion that Curtis picks up along the way back to Miller. You're never quite sure whether he'll be friend of foe in the end. He gets the acting honors in The Rawhide Years.
In his memoirs Curtis liked doing the film as a change of pace from what Universal usually cast him in. And he liked hanging around with stuntmen who gave him some good tips about behavior in front of the camera. Something they have to know as well as the players they are doubling for.
The Rawhide Years is solid western entertainment a good credit in the Tony Curtis filmography.
Riverboat gambler Ben has to flee town and his girl after he's
suspected of killing a leading citizen. Now he's got to clear himself
with shaky help from horse thief, Rick Harper.
Going in, I figured the movie would amount to a vehicle for one of Universal's new, young stars, Tony Curtis. Well, the first 20-minutes had me figuring otherwise. First, Curtis's Ben gets caught cheating at cards, then he gets spurned by his girlfriend, and finally does something totally unWesternloses a fist-fight to a bad guy and ends up tossed unceremoniously into the river. By this point, I wondered whether someone in Hollywood had mixed up the reels.
But no, after this unexpected opening the film settles into the more familiar western heroics, with Ben getting his share, plus the girl. However, there are several more offbeat touches in the works, including a lynching where Ben refrains from intervening after calculating the odds. No heroics here. Then too, there's the great actor Arthur Kennedy as Ben's sometimes buddy and full-time horse thief, Harper. Now Kennedy's usual style is to low-key his parts, which he does effectively, e.g. The Man From Laramie (1955). Here, however, he pulls out all the stops with an over-the-top performance that steals many a scene from the more subdued Curtis. I'm surprised the studio didn't intervene, since its Curtis's career that's presumably being advanced.
Anyhow, it's a kind of offbeat western and not just a showcase for pretty boy Curtis. Nothing special, but still more unpredictable than most oaters.
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