The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Three Violent People

While the Civil War officially ended when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865, the fighting continued for several months throughout the country as the news spread. Beyond the fighting though, the nation had to deal, and it came in one of U.S. history's nastiest periods, the Reconstruction Era. It's a touchy suspect and not surprisingly hasn't been dealt much via film. Released in 1956, Three Violent People kinda deals with the time period. Kinda.

It's been a few months since the end of the Civil War, and decorated Confederate cavalry officer Capt. Colt Saunders (Charlton Heston) is trying to return home to his cattle ranch in Texas. Making one last stop, he's knocked out in a fight as he tries to rescue a beautiful woman from some drunken carpetbaggers. The woman's name is Lorna (Anne Baxter), and she's a former dance hall girl but doesn't tell Colt that. They marry within hours of meeting and head to the ranch, but problems galore await. The provisional government, including Commissioner Harrison (Bruce Bennett), is scooping up land, cattle and horses with little in return for the owners. Looking to keep his ranch going, Colt has no intention of just handing over everything he owns. As Lorna holds out on her secret, Colt readies for a fight to protect what's his own.

Telling the story of the Reconstruction era via a Texas ranch is a pretty cool idea for director Rudolph Mate's western. The opening scene does a solid job of setting the stage. Carpetbaggers have descended on towns all across the war-torn south, scooping up businesses and failed ranches for rock bottom prices. A Confederate vet and a native Texan, Colt obviously doesn't abide by this new development. It's cool to see a western deal with this subject, especially the corruption that riddled the government. In hopes of rebuilding the country, some rather nasty decisions had to be made.

Unfortunately though, that's probably the best thing going for Mate's film; the story. Basically everything else falls short, starting with the leads. Heston was always at home in historical flicks whether they be westerns, biblical stories, or period pieces. It's odd then saying that he's miscast here as Capt. Colt Saunders a fiery, short-tempered rancher who does what he needs/wants and everything else can be damn. Heston could be all of those things depending on the role, but he looks to be sleepwalking here. It obviously doesn't help then when Heston and Baxter have little to no chemistry together. The whole relationship seems forced and goofy, the duo exchanging lots of passionate embraces and even....GASP!....a few kisses. And fade to black!

The rest of the cast is slightly better if still misused or underused. Gilbert Roland is not surprisingly a scene-stealer as Innocencio, Colt's top hand and longtime worker at the ranch. We've seen the part before as Roland uses a mix of Spanglish and 'Ay Chihuahua!' moments. Still, he's good at it so be it. Even look for some familiar faces among his five sons, the very Mexican-looking Robert Blake and a pre-MASH Jamie Farr. Tom Tryon has a cool character as Cinch, Colt's one-armed younger brother who holds a ton of resentment for his brother, but Tryon's not the most personable actor. Bennett is slimy as Harrison with Forrest Tucker wasted as his main henchman, Cable.

With a slow-moving, sappy story, I really disliked the first hour-plus of this 99-minute flick. The final half hour or so saves it from being a complete waste of time thankfully. All these different characters and rivalries finally step up to the plate and embrace some of their Greek mythology roots. Brother hates brother? Wife with secret hates husband? Betrayals, greed and redemption? Yes, it must be Greek mythology! The ending is a little too tidy, but it is significantly more enjoyable than the first hour. Still not a great movie, but not awful. If that's not a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is.

Three Violent People (1956): **/****

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