Two brothers, Ben and Clint, join a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. While heading for Texas they save Nella from the Indians, and she decides to ride with them. Ben and Nella start to get romantic, but Ben isn't ambitious enough for her, and she soon meets up with the boss of the cattle drive. Will she make the right choice, and, more importantly, will the cattle make it to Montana !Written by
Colin Tinto <email@example.com>
When Nella (Jane Russell) tries on the corset, she is already wearing one underneath and has been all along. See more »
[pointing to a lynched man dangling from a tree limb]
Colonel Ben Allison:
Looks like we're close to civilization.
See more »
Opening credits prologue: MONTANA TERRITORY 1866
They came from the South, headed for the goldfields...Ben and Clint Allison, lonely, desperate men. Riding away from a heartbreak memory of Gettysburg. Looking for a new life. A story of tall men - and long shadows. See more »
One thing the auteur theorists seemed to overlook when analysing the classic and archetypal Westerns, is the fact that all those post-war greats directed by John Ford, from Fort Apache (1948) to Two Rode Together (1961), were written by the same person – Frank Nugent. However with The Tall Men, we have a Frank Nugent Western directed by Raoul Walsh, and lo and behold it features many of those themes often mistakenly described as Fordian, such as respect accorded to an aging gunfighter, and a hostile yet dignified portrayal of Indians. Still, not everyone directs alike, so this doesn't mean it will turn out exactly like one of the Ford horse operas.
Of all Hollywood directors, probably no-one had quite the same affection for the West as Walsh did. Walsh always emphasised the openness and freedom of the plains in his achingly beautiful landscape shots. He contrasts these with a very confined and stripped-down look for his indoor or town-based scenes. He even creates a kind of artificial indoors, for example when Clark Gable and co. settle down after the first day of the cattle drive, with elements as simple as a sloping bank, a tree and a wagon, so as to give all that more impact when we return to the trail. Appropriately for the title of this one, he has his heroes stand tall against the landscape. Although Ford does many similar things (such as contrasting wide-open outdoors with cramped interiors) Ford's landscape scenes often have a slightly desperate, dangerous look to them, with the characters small and vulnerable against the vastness of the scenery, while his homesteads have a safe cosy feel. Walsh on the other hand makes the outdoors look inviting despite its dangers, whereas civilization is dull and restrictive. It's differences like this that bring the diverging characters to the two men's work.
But why, you might ask, if Walsh is so good and he's got a Nugent script, is The Tall Man not a timeless classic like so many of the Ford post-war Westerns were? Well you have to remember Ford was a respected, award-winning director, whereas Walsh was these days a potboiler-man. Ford had access to better casts, better crews, bigger budgets, more flexible shooting-schedules, not to mention being more likely to get Nugent's finer scripts, and to be honest the Tall Men is far from Nugent's best. There's also the fact that Walsh is not on top form because he was not well-suited to the Cinemascope aspect ratio (something Ford managed to avoid for all his late Westerns). Walsh liked to compose in depth – landscape shots that emphasise distance, action moving towards the camera, dollying in for emphasis – and the extra width is fairly useless to him. He tends to frame the action towards the middle of the screen as if still using academy ratio, and as such his actors look a little overwhelmed, detracting from the impact they have on screen and sapping the romantic scenes of any intensity.
Still, there is much to like about The Tall Men. Clark Gable may have been getting on a bit in years, but he has lost none of his rugged screen presence. Jane Russell is no great actress but she's a tough girl who looks like she belongs out on the trail by Gable's side. Walsh's depiction of the cattle drive sweeping across the plains is among the most breathtaking ever committed to celluloid, and the Victor Young score underpins the imagery with an appropriately sentimental theme. There are some superbly rousing actions scenes too, with a real emphasis on making the audience feel in the thick of it. And despite its not being the most thought-provoking thing Frank Nugent ever wrote, like all his Westerns it paints a convincing picture of larger-than-life heroes, and is imbued with all the roughness and nostalgia that has come to define the genre.
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