Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Untamed (1955)

For those of you who have the Fox Movie Channel, you have another chance to watch the 1955 movie Untamed tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM.

Tyrone Power plays Paul Van Riebeck, a Boer who is visiting Ireland in the 1840s in order to obtain some horses. The British gained control of the colony in 1815, and increasing numbers of settlers from the UK, combined with new politics, led to tensions between them and the earlier settlers who had come from the Netherlands, to the point that some of the Dutch (or Afrikaaners as they called themselves since they had been in the region for several generations by this point) decided to migrate inland and create what would be a new state, a migration known as the Great Trek and the people known by the Afrikaans term Voortrekker. Paul needs horses for the trek, and he's found a source in Ireland, which is why he's visiting.

Anyhow, while in Ireland, he meets Katie O'Neill (Susan Hayward) after the two have an incident with their horses. It's not quite love at first sight, although Katie seems to develop some sort of attachment to Paul. Paul, for his part, is more concerned with building that new land than he is with Katie or any woman. So even if he feels any attachment to Katie, his duty to his country is going to come first, much to Katie's regret. Paul buys his horses, and heads back to South Africa, presumably never to see Katie again....

What the hell are we talking about? All of the action described above happens in the first 20 minutes or so of the movie. There's absolutely no point in ending it there. This being the 1840s, those who know their history will also recognize that the potato blight is about to hit Ireland, which lead to a famine and a great migration of Irish to other countries all around the world. Many Irish went to the USA, but Katie, who in the meantime has gotten maried to Sean Kildare (John Justin) and had a child, decides to take the family to South Africa. Apprently, she's still got a thing for Paul and thinks she'll meet him in South Africa. Since this is a Hollywood movie, we know that she's quite right in her belief, as much as it might strain credulity. Not only that, but she takes part in the Great Trek.

Along the way, Sean gets killed in an attack by the Zulu, but presses onward, farming in the inland even though she doesn't know how to farm. She's helped out by Kurt Hout (Richard Egan), who had led the group of Voortrekkers of which the Kildares were a part. He's got his eyes on Katie, although she dreams about Paul. Kurt, meanwhile, is also being pursued by Julia (Rita Moreno), whose ethnicity may or may not have been mentioned. In real life, I doubt many Puerto Ricans migrated to South Africa, though. Kurt continues to pursue Katie until an accident taking care of her lands leads him to have his leg amputated. This eventually leads him to become a bandit, which is important since it sets up the conflict that will serve as the climactic finale.

Katie, for her part, doesn't quite wind up in poverty, because one of the native servants finds a diamond on her land! This makes her wealthy for a while, allowing her to live the good life back in Cape Town, and allowing her to meet Paul again when he comes to petition the colonial governor to make the Voortrekker regions into a new state so that they can have some autonomy. Sparks of a sort fly between Katie and Paul again, although Paul still remains married to his political dream instead of pursuing the women. But eventually the money runs out, forcing Katie and her two children back inland, which is where she meets Kurt again. People are fleeing one of the inland settlements due to the bandits having taken over the town, but Katie presses forward. That bandit leader turns out to be Kurt whom she had known years before, and he still wants her. Paul, of course, is going to show up just in time to save the day and have the right people live happily ever after, while the closing music swells up....

This time, it actually is the ending, what with the movie having run a good 110 minutes already. Well, maybe a mediocre 110 minutes is more like it. There's something not quite right with Untamed. I'm not certain whether the problem with Katie is the portrayal by Hayward, or whether it goes deeper, to the way the character is written in the first place. Katie isn't just strong-willed; she's over the top. It's not quite as extreme as some of Bette Davis' or Joan Crawford's characters, but there are times when you want to take Katie and shake some sense into her. Like why the hell is she so attached to that tree? If she was able to leave Ireland, you'd think she wouldn't be so fazed by one little tree. You'd also think that either the diamond wealth would last longer -- they'd keep finding diamonds on her land -- or not long at all if they only found the one. But that's clearly a problem with the script. There's also some problems with foreshadowing. At the start of the trek, Sean is asked a question about his wheelblock, something he doesn't seem to know about, until he realizes that they're just using a different term than he's used to. It's clear the wheelblock is going to show up again in a key sequence later in the trek. In fact, the whole movie feels at times as though it's just a sequence of vignettes that aren't well-enough connected.

On the plus side, there is some really nice location shooting. For the trek sequences, the filmmakers actually went to South Africa and filmed in Natal. This, along with the Zulu attack, lends the movie a modicum of authenticity that's lovely to look at. Some of the supporting acting is also fun. Even if you wonder what Rita Moreno is doing in this movie, she's a hoot as the ignored woman. And Agnes Moorehead shows up to play the nanny to Katie's children, a role she performs effortlessly. Untamed certainly has its flaws, but it's worth a viewing too.

Untamed doesn't seem to be available on DVD. Amazon's search yields a hit, but that's on a completely different movie also called Untamed, a 1929 movie starring Joan Crawford (that's an interesting movie in its own right, but a subject for a different post).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Can you point me to a movie or two that glorifies the killing of cops? I'm a libertarian and I need my fix. Hit & Run just doesn't do it for me any more. Thx.