In 1803 France, Napoleon Bonaparte (Robert Cornthwaite) orders the capture of notorious highwayman "Purple Mask" (Tony Curtis), who routinely rescues imprisoned nobles and harasses the Revolutionary officials.
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Ben Matthews gives up the flashy life of a riverboat gambler, hoping to settle down in Galena with his girlfriend, luscious entertainer Zoe. But Galena's leading citizen is murdered on the boat; Ben, on arrival, finds a lynch mob after his neck, and flees. Three years of wandering later, Zoe's letters stop coming and Ben returns to find her and attempt the hopeless task of clearing himself.Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Far-fetched but highly entertaining Tony Curtis vehicle
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.
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