Sunday, March 30, 2014

Where are the Ewings?

When somebody mentions Dallas, at least in conjunction with entertainment, the first thought is probably the long-running prime-time soap opera starring Larry Hagman as JR Ewing. In fact, there was an earlier, completely unrelated movie with the same title made in 1950. That movie shows up on the TCM schedule tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM.

Leif Erickson plays Martin Weatherby, a US Marshal from Boston on his way to 1870s Texas, via Missouri. In Missouri, he sees something that you'd think is rather shocking. Wild Bill Hickoc (Reed Hadley in a bit part) gets in a gunfight with former Confederate officer Blayde Hollister, shooting Hollister dead, and sending Hollister out of town slumped over his horse. That's not the shocking part; what is shocking is that Hollister is in fact alive. Not only that, he's supposed to be alive, as this was all part of a plan. Weatherby is going to Dallas to deal with a bunch of catle thieves, while Hollister (played by Gary Cooper) has personal matters to attend to: some other southern outlaws burned Hollister's house during the Civil War, and Hollister is looking to bring them to some sort of justice. Weatherby, it turns out, also has personal business in Dallas, in the form of a fiancée named Tonia Robles (Ruth Roman). Her father owns a ranch, and his are among the cattle being stolen.

On the way to Dallas, Hollister concludes -- quite rightly -- that Weatherby is not suited to work in this part of the country, and that trying to be a US Marshal in the Southwest is going to bet Weatherby killed. So Hollister comes up with a plan, that he and Weatherby are going to switch identities. This will give Hollister a freer hand to do hist investigation, while it should also keep Weatherby alive. Of course, there's a little issue with Tonia waiting for her fiancé, whom she's seen, although the rest of the family hasn't. So she has to pretend this complete stranger is her future hasband, something she's obviously not pleased with at first.

I say at first because you know that with Cooper and Roman getting top billing, they're eventually going to fall in love with each other, which is going to cause more problems. That's not the only complication; there's also those cattle thieves and the people Hollister is looking for. Thankfully, those turn out to be the same set of people, the Marlow brothers. In another bit of following the Hollywood plot formula, there's both a cold-blooded, calculating brother, Will Marlow (Raymond Massey), who runs a company that buys and sells land as a front. He's got a pair of hot-blooded brothers. Cullen gets killed early on, so it's up to the other one, Bryant (Steve Cochran) to be the trigger-happy brother who wants revenge now, if not sooner.

There's a lot going on in Dallas. Even though there are some of the stock elements, the plot is at times a bit complicated, what with all of the dual identities. That complexity sometimes acts to the film's detriment, I think, as there's just too much going on. Gary Cooper is good, but he always seems well-suited to the western genre. Leif Erickson is more of a cipher, to the point that one almost doesn't care about the character. Eventually you realize that the only way he's going to get the girl is if Cooper gets killed off. Raymond Massey does OK, although he's miscast; Steve Cochran, on the other hand, doesn't disappoint here although he has the more showy role of the two villians. All in all, Dallas is another of those competent films that isn't quite great, although for the most part it successfully entertains, helped out enormously by the Technicolor photography.

Dallas did get a DVD release at some point, although I don't know if it's still in print. And if you're using other search sites, you'll have to be careful what with all the other movies and TV shows that have "Dallas" in the title.

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