Saturday, November 9, 2013

Desperate Siege

TCM had a premiere (for TCM) of the movie Rawhide last month. It's on again late this afternoon at 4:15 PM, and is available on DVD, so now would be a good time to do a full-length post on it.

Tyrone Power plays Tom Owens, whom we see in the opening scenes of the movie using precious water to shave himself in a building somewhere in one of the desolate parts of the Arizona territory. It's a clear foreshadowing sign that he's not quite a westerner, and that it's something that's eventually going to be a problem. Tom, in fact, is the son of the owner of a stagecoach line, and this is one of the stations along the line. Dad has sent him out west to gain some practical experience in running the family business, so he's working under station manager Sam Todd (Edgar Buchanan). A stage stops by, and in the chit chat between the drivers and Sam and Tom, it's mentioned that a gang of criminals has busted out of prison, and that the cavalry is looking for them. This is Foreshadowing Sign #2 that Something Really Bad is going to be happening in the movie.

One of the passengers on the coach is Vinnie (Susan Hayward), a woman who had followed her sister out west and tried to make it as a hostess in one of those establishments that served the men who had migrated west to try to make their fortunes. Unfortunately, the sister had a child, and the sister and her husband are now both dead, leaving unmarried and unaccompanied Vinnie to take care of a toddler daughter back east. The driver of the coach, knowing about the criminals on the loose, says that he can't be responsible for unaccompanied lady passengers if there's a stagecoach robbery, so she's going to have to stay behind at the station until the next coach east comes in 24 hours' time. She, unsurprisingly, is none too happy about it. Not that Tom is happy about it either.

Some of what happens next should be easy to predict: namely, that the fleeing convicts show up at the station. They, led by Rafe (Hugh Marlowe), know that that a gold shipment should be coming through on one of the stages, and that's what they're really after. Except, of course, that things don't quite work out according to their plans. When Sam is trying to fetch one of the guns from the stable, he gets shot and killed by a gang member. Why didn't Tom use his gun? Well, he lent it to Vinnie, who was out back at the water hole taking a bath when the criminals first show up, so she walks into a situation not having any idea what's happened. Worse, she dropped the gun accidentally somewhere along the way, so now the two of them are more or less alone, against four hardened criminals, and at each other throats since Tom didn't want a woman stuck at the station waiting for the next coach and it wasn't her choice to be there! The criminals, however, make the natural assumptino that Tom and Vinnie are husband and wife. This makes things even more complicated for the two of them. It's better just to play along than to rile up those criminals.

But what's a guy like Tom to do? He has to try something, but the situation is such that it feels like nothing is under Tom's control. A coach going west comes through, and Tom tries to get a message to them; that doesn't work although the way it doesn't work seems a bit contrived. Then he steals a knife from the kitchen and tries to tunnel his way out! Yeah right, as if that's going to work.

The second section of Rawhide is a bit problematic since it doesn't seem particularly grounded in reality, with the shootout at the end being particularly full of coincidences. But the character study of Tom and Vinnie's characters is pretty good, as both do a nice job with their characters. As for the criminals, Marlowe is good as the intelligent, calculating evil. But even better is Jack Elam, playing a man who's been in prison long enough that he wants feminine contact, and with Vinnie around, he's insistent that he's not to be denied, regardless of what she thinks or whatever problems this poses for Rafe. The divisions between the various prisoners is one of those old plot staples that show up again and again in movies like this (Hello, Yellow Sky!) and for which you just have to go with the flow. Rawhide has some formulaic parts to it, and will remind you of other movies at times (although it was made several years before The Tall T), but in the end it's a pretty entertaining ride.

Rawhide the movie has nothing to do with the later TV show of the same name; when the TV show came along prints of the movie for TV late shows were given the title Desperate Siege. But for me a bigger thing is what a movie like Rawhide says about the Fox Movie Channel. I don't think I recall it ever showing up there, at least not since I started blogging. Now, I've stated before that westerns haven't always been my favorite genre by a long shot, but over the years I've been finding myself more and more willing to give post-Stagecoach westerns, at least the ones that weren't obviously conceived as B movies, a chance. Even though I wouldn't consider myself knoledgebale about westerns compared to many other bloggers, the fact that somebody like me wouldn't know much about a mobie like Rawhide until it showed up on TCM says something.

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