The Sons of Katie Elder

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

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Rare Breed

A few months back I reviewed a western from director Burt Kennedy named 'Young Billy Young' starring Robert Mitchum. Kennedy made a career of straight-laced, been there and done that movies that still managed to be entertaining. Another director from the 1960s, Andrew V. McLaglen, could have been separated at birth from Kennedy.

Comparing the two directors' filmographies, McLaglen comes out on top with a deeper selection of worthwhile movies. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean he was a great director. More and more, I think his success in directing was a result of a nice trio to have when making a movie. One, great casting, two, lots of action, and three, a well-written script (with some obviously better than others). But looking through McLaglen's movies, they can't all be winners, like 1966's The Rare Breed.

A long-time television director who directed almost 200 combined episodes of Gunsmoke and Have Gun Will Travel, McLaglen had finally hit the jackpot on the big screen with McClintock and Shenandoah. Both stories had their similarities, tough, family men trying to live their lives amidst a strong conflict. Most of McLaglen's movies followed a tried and true formula and were the better for it. But with his next movie, The Rare Breed, he is undone by an awful script that is about as unbalanced as they come that results in an incredibly dull finished product.

After traveling from England to the U.S. with a prize hereford bull, Martha Price (Maureen O'Hara) hopes to crossbreed her Hereford bull with the famous longhorns that roam across Texas and the west. With her daughter Hilary (Juliet Mills) along, Martha finds a buyer who pays handsomely for the animal, and then a cowboy, 'Bulldog' Sam Burnett (James Stewart) to help get the Hereford where it needs to be. Seeing a chance for some quick, easy cash, Burnett makes a deal with another rancher to "lose" the animal en route. There's another cowboy on their trail, a gun-wielding psycho, Simons (Jack Elam), who has plans of his own for the bull and the money.

Netflix only slightly recommended this late 60s western, but with the talent involved I thought it was a safe bet that I'd enjoy it. I wasn't looking for an instant classic, just a good movie. The story and the characters though are so uneven and all over the place that 'Rare Breed' never gets into any rhythm. Even at just 97 minutes, it felt incredibly long, and I found myself fast-forwarding for most of the last hour. If a movie doesn't grab you early, it probably won't later on either.

The idea of the Hereford cow moving into the west is nothing new but still presents a unique setting. The cattle drive was an integral part of the west in the 1800s and has been used many times before, handled best in Lonesome Dove and in a similar way in James Michener's Centennial. All three, including 'Rare Breed,' deal with the changing times as technology and innovations in all fields push the wild west into the history books. But this McLaglen entry never takes a stand and says anything, if anything help push the good old days out the door.

A bright spot in this dud is James Stewart who brings his character to life where it just as easily could have been a cardboard cutout of a character. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast isn't so good, and it's not necessarily their fault. O'Hara was an ideal woman to ride along with the fellas in the action/adventure genre; she was tough but endearing, hardhewn but likable, and her looks never hurt. But her Martha is dead on arrival here and not a good role at all. In the weird casting department, Brian Keith plays Bowen, a mad Scotsman living on his forted-up ranch in Texas. Typically I like Keith, especially as a character actor, but here he is every stereotype imaginable of a Scottish man. Other cast members include Ben Johnson as a crippled cowboy who is gone by the 15-minute mark, Harry Carey Jr as Elam's partner (gone by the 45 minute mark), and Perry Lopez, who you'd better look fast for in the background.

If you're going to assemble a pretty solid cast like this, give them something to do at least. Elam's villain is dispatched about 45 minutes in, and with him goes any conflict or sense of danger the story had. The second Keith's son is introduced is also the exact second you can predict the ending to the movie. It's not that this is a bad movie, it just has a lazy feel to it. The music is generic, the script plodding, and some truly awful looking greenscreen effects. Some California locations look nice, but when the filming location is the best thing about the movie you know you're in trouble.

The Rare Breed <---trailer (1966): * 1/2 /****

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