Robert Taylor if you couldn't tell from the large amount of reviews recently with him starring front and center. I've never been a huge fan of him as an actor, but I'm coming around some. In a long career, he was in a lot of tough guy movies, westerns, war, noir, all types of movies that I seek out whenever I can. Some of those movies TCM aired were his classics, some the in-between average flicks, and others when he was slumming late in his career.
By the early 1960s, Taylor's popularity had begun to wane, and he was forced to do roles that weren't typical of his previous star power. He starred in a detective show on TV, guest starred in other shows, went to Europe for a movie, and God forbid, even made a B-western, 1963's Cattle King. It's not a particulary good western, and Taylor is certainly showing the age and effects of lung cancer. But it does have a couple things worth mentioning in its own unpretentious way.
Running his ranch with partners Johnny Quatro (Robert Loggia) and foreman Ed Winters (Ray Teal), rancher Sam Brassfield (Taylor) finds himself going up against a large opposition as to what should be done with the grazing land. Brassfield only fences land in he owns, but the local cattle association wants all the land to be open to cattle -- anyone's cattle -- and have even gone as far as having legislation passed on the matter. At the head of the association, Clay Matthews (Robert Middleton) takes more extreme matters, hiring a killer from Texas, Vince Bodine (Richard Devon), to help convince the other ranchers. The two sides seem poised for a confrontation, even more so when a rumored visit from President Chester A. Arthurh looms.
That is the B-western's plot at its most basic, range wars, with two sides fighting over grazing land. Really though, that's just the start of it all. Brassfield is engaged to Sharleen Travers (Joan Caulfield), the sister of a land owner (William Windom) who goes along with Matthews, mostly out of fear more than anything else. Oh no, more confrontation! There's also an old angry sheepherder who thinks Brassfield is out to get him when really his neighbor is trying to help him. Then, the President actually does arrive in a weird series of scenes that come out of left field. Lots going on here, and not necessarily for the better.
Certain things are working against the success of this B-western, starting with that script. There's just too many characters, most of them being left by the side of the road. Taylor's background has a ton of potential, but it is dealt with in one quick monologue -- he adopted his dead sister's two children, both now grown up -- but the teenage girl needs to shriek and "cry" early and then disappears to the background, while the teenage boy is more annoying than interesting. Too many elements where humor is attempted fall short, and one death scene is so laughable I had to rewind to make sure I saw it right.
Most of the positives come from the strengths in the cast. Taylor is solid without much to go with as the tough ranch owner trying to protect his land from outsiders. Loggia is a welcome surprise -- if a bit unlikely -- as Quatro, Brassfield's Mexican partner and ranch hand. Middleton isn't in the movie enough, but when he is onscreen is a worthy villain. Teal made a boatload of westerns in his career, and just by being part of a below-average flick like this lends it some credibility. Other than the cast, there's not much to recommend here.
Watching the movie, I kept thinking that it was reminding me of something, and it took until the last scene for it to come to me. The end has four main characters riding away from the camera off to work the ranch again after everything has been righted. So basically, the beginning of Bonanza, but in the opposite direction. That's what Cattle King is closest to, an extended, not so good episode of Bonanza. Recommended only for diehard western fans.
Cattle King (1963): **/****