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Western Melodrama Handsomely Produced But Lacking Pep
These Thousand Hills is a melodrama dressed up as an epic Western in the tradition of The Sea Of Grass (see my review). A sprawling, handsome production with an engrossing story line, it incorporates many traditional western elements, including a cattle drive, a horse race, a nice girl-naughty girl rivalry, and a climactic showdown. Well-turned-out sets and authentic costumes compliment the scenic, on-location, wide-screen, color cinematography. These fetching production values are all wrapped around a rags-to-riches story emphasizing drama and character development rather than action. All about a dirt-poor young cowboy (Don Murray) determined "to make something of himself" no matter how much suffering he has to endure himself or how many friends he has to step on to get to the top.
This picture's best asset is the beautiful, vivacious, and talented Lee Remick, as the good-hearted saloon girl who gives Murray his start. Only third billed behind Murray and Richard Egan, she seems to be the real star of the show. It's a shame she couldn't have had a leading man of matching charisma and talent. Don Murray surely runs a good race with Richard Carlson as the blandest leading man of all time. His lack of virility must shoulder much of the blame for why this well-mounted Western ultimately lacks punch, along with the usually exciting Richard Fleischer's flabby direction, and a less than inspired adaptation of A. B. Guthrie's novel by screen writer Alfred Hayes. Fortunately the rest of the cast helps to make up for Murray's inadequacy. Egan, usually wooden in his more frequently seen heroic roles, is quite spicy here as a sneering villain. A fine cast of supporting actors, all familiar faces in the celluloid West, includes Albert Dekker, Harold J. Stone, and Royal Dano. Brawny Stuart Whitman has a major role as Murray's shady but loyal pal. It would have been a much better picture if he had had Murray's role.
As it was These Thousand Hills was not bad. It was fun to watch for the fine production values, the engaging if slow-moving story, and Lee Remick, who both looked good and acted well. Unfortunately it never lived up to the promise of the exciting bronco-busting and horse racing scenes in the opening reels. Solid, if uninspiring entertainment from an era when Holloywood was starting to forget how to make them like they used to anymore.
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