Tuesday, October 29, 2013

These Thousand Hills

Another of the movies that's been showing up regularly on what's left of the Fox Movie Channel, and which you might not have too many more chances to see, is These Thousand Hills. It's getting another airing, tomorrow morning at 11:00 AM.

Don Murray stars as the pretentiously named Albert Gallatin Evans, who thankfully uses the nickname "Lat" throughout the movie. At the beginning, he's a cowboy doing the cattle drive scene, together with friend Tom (Stuart Whitman) and a bunch of other workers. Lat, however, dreams of having his own ranch. The only thing is, he needs a good deal of money to get the land and capital stock, something that's not particularly easy to do as a cowpoke. But, he's heard there are ways of getting money, and the one get-rich-quick scheme he's willing to try is hunting for wolf pelts. Well, it's not really hunting because it involves lacing buffalo carcasses with strychnine and letting the wolves eat the carrion and die. Lovely, but thankfully at the time the movie was made there was nowhere near the animal-rights activism there is today. Not that any animals are harmed, but I'm sure the thought of hunting for wolves this way would really creep the animal-rights groups out, if I find it kind of creepy. Anyhow, after they get to the end of the cattle drive at a town somewhere in the northern plains, Lat convinces Tom to get a cabin in the middle of nowhere, where the two will spend the winter earning easy money bagging those wolf pelts.

The only problem is, the hunting doesn't go as well as planned. Tom grows sick of it and leaves, at which poitn Lat gets ambushed by Indians and shot. Tom takes Lat back to town, where he gets nursed back to health. That nursing is done by Callie (Lee Remick), whom Lat had met when he was going through town after the cattle drive and before going off to bag those wolves, which were lost in the ambush. Callie is a sort of good-time girl, who works at the local house of ill repute, wearing colorful dresses and definitely not being the right part of society, even though she'd like to improve her station in life. She's closer to the prostitute with a heart of gold than anything else, and lends Lat the money for the down payment on the property he has in mind for a ranch, which he swears he'll pay back.

Lat is a hard worker, and sure enough he makes a success out of the ranch, and becomes one of the area's prominent citizens, to the point that the prominent folk in town would like him to run for political office. Ah, but Lat still has his past. Lat has married into polite society, in the form of Joyce (Patricia Owens), which complicates whatever relationship he might have had with Callie. That's a relationship that could screw up his political career, as well as his personal life, since Joyce doesn't know at first that Lat got the down payment for the ranch from Callie. There's also Lat's long-term foe Jehu (Richard Egan). We saw him at when Lat first showed up in town bilking people in the poker game; he shows up again to lead a lynching of Tom despite guaranteeing Lat that the posse to round up the bad guys was only going to bring them back to the town to face justice. When Jehu goes after Callie, it's a step too far for Lat, who has to put his political career on the line....

These Thousand Hills has some interesting themes, but they're not fully explored. The story line in which Lat goes first with Callie and then steps "up" with another woman for his place in "polite" society is something we've seen quite a bit, as in A Place in the Sun or Room at the Top, albeit without any illicit pregnancies hanging over the protagonist. Having to face one's past? Sure, we see that all the time too. These Thousand Hills has a climax between Lat and Jehu, but the threads are in general left hanging in a way that the ending isn't quite satisfying. There are some continuity holes as to where and when the story takes place: some reviewers say Oregon, others say Montana. The use of buffalo would make Montana more plausible. I missed hearing what state, if any, was mentioned when Lat and Tom first get to town, and tried to date the movie based on how many stars are on any flags that show up, one of those geeky things I do along the lines of figuring out whether the movie makers have the day of the week correct for any given date. What flags there are don't show up long enough to count the stars, though.

Everybody does a more or less professional job in These Thousand Hills, but at the end of the movie I'd felt not only as though the threads hadn't been tied up, but as though I'd been watching just another movie. It's not bad by any means, but it's not a particularly memorable entry in the western genre either. One other thing worth mentioning is that the print FMC is showing has been panned-and-scanned -- but from the Cinemascope ratio down to 16:9, not 4:3. The opening and closing titles were in Cinemascope, with lesser letterboxing in the SD feed. IMDb claims you can get a copy at Amazon, but it seems to be another of those out-of-print titles, since you can't get it from the TCM Shop.

No comments: