A tyrannical rancher and his two sons defend their huge ranch spread against encroaching homesteaders.
Pretty good western, with Cotten and Brady fitting easily into their roles. I like the way the movie starts since the characters are too ambiguous to tell how the story will end. Most westerns, on the other hand, are all-too predictable in that respect. However, as the movie progresses battling sides begin to form and the outcome becomes more predictable.
The producers do a good job making the scale of the film-- with its cattle drive and wide open spaces-- appear bigger than it is. I suspect from some locations that the production actually never left the greater LA area. Also, I really like Brady as the headstrong Glenn; he injects real energy into the part. Of course, Shelley Winters is Shelley Winters. She makes a good floozie, but a not so good ranch lady. Still, it's a fine supporting cast, Van Cleef in an early bad guy role, plus Fess Parker doing a walk-on. But check out the luscious Suzan Ball as Lottie. Her brief life was indeed a tragic one.
Universal turned out a number of Technicolor oaters during this period. I imagine the westerns were upgraded to color in order to compete with early TV. They were usually done cheaply but smartly, and this, all in all, is one of the better ones.
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A good director, a flawed screenplay, and lack-lustre stars
"Untamed Frontier" is a very moderate Western that could have been a lot better if the various script writers had understood the basic principles of drama.
The main story line is quite good. A cattle baron and his family are running a herd so large that their own land is not sufficient, and they also use a stretch of open range that the Government has allocated to settlers. The cattle baron (Minor Watson) cannot afford to allow farmers to settle on the free land. At the same time his undisciplined son Glenn (Scott Brady) has tricked Jane (Shelley Winters) into marrying him so that she cannot testify against him at his trial for murder. After the wedding Jane quickly realises that her husband is trash, and she begins to fall for his cousin Kirk (Joseph Cotten).
Although the story moves forward quickly and smoothly, it lacks punch and tension because elementary mistakes have been made by the writers. First, although resentment between Kirk and Glenn has been established quite early and should have led to a final confrontation, Glenn is killed by a treacherous colleague (Lee Van Cleef), not by Kirk, and so his death is neither tragic nor dramatic. It just happens. Second, this mistake is repeated with the death of the cattle baron. He is not brought low by any of his family, which would have been emotionally powerful. He is shot casually by one of the settlers, without any sense of drama or resolution - and that 's that! Third, although the screenplay carefully explains that each head of cattle needs ten acres of land for feeding, at the climax of the film, Kirk reverses his position completely and allows the settlers to move onto the land that his herd desperately needs! This simply does not make sense.
The film is further handicapped by its stars. Although Joseph Cotten and Shelley Winters were capable actors, they were not charismatic and did not have the "star quality" necessary to carry a film with a flawed screenplay. If Robert Mitchum and Maureen O'Hara had been the stars, "Untamed Frontier" would have been transformed! On the other hand, both Suzan Ball and Lee Van Cleef are very good in their secondary roles.
The colour photography is attractive and the sets well designed. The director is Hugo Fregonese who demonstrates, as he did with other movies, that he had a good eye for composition and skill with actors. Fregonese's other movies like "The Raid", "Harry Black" and "Blowing Wild" showed that, when working with a good screenplay, he was capable of bringing out the dramatic potential. It is regrettable that Fregonese did not have a better screenplay on "Untamed Frontier".
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