Thursday, May 20, 2021

Cattle King

Robert Taylor made any number of competent, if not particularly memorable, movies in the latter part of his career. Hollywood made a bunch of competent, if unmemorable, westerns in teh 1950s and 60s. The two come together in the film Cattle King.

The movie helpfully tells us at the start that it's the Wyoming Territory, 1883. Sam Brassfield (Robert Taylor) owns the Teton Ranch, and one of his ranch hands Hobie is riding with Sam's adult niece June Carter. A bunch of folks who want an open range for cattle to graze show up with the intention of cutting Sam's barbed wire, and when Hobie tries to stop it, they shoot him dead!

So already we know that we've got a range war movie on our hands, a sub-genre within the western that's been done to death. There's basically one twist here, which is that Sam decides to go down to Cheyenne, because none other than President Chester Alan Arthur (Larry Gates) is supposed to stop there on his way to Yellowstone National Park (which had been established in 1872 if, like me, you were wondering whether there was an anachronism here; also, Chester Arthur really did go to Wyoming during his presidency, something not common in those days).

In Cheyenne, Sam and Johnny Quatro (Robert Loggia), one of his ranch hands who has a taste for women and violence, find President Arthur, who is being buttonholed by Clay Mathews (Robert Middleton), who runs the association of Texas Cattlemen. They want a corridor to run from Texas to Canada through which they can run their cattle. Sam opposes this because he thinks it's going to lead to an overpopulation of cattle and weaken the breeding stock. By closing off the range and selective breeding, they can come up with better cattle.

You can probably guess that Clay is going to stop at nothing to get his way, including violence. Living next door (or the next ranch over) to Sam is Harry Travers (William Windom) and his sister Sharleen (Joan Caulfield). Sam, never having married before, has finally decided to ask for Sharleen's hand in marriage, and she accepts. But then Clay's men show up, shooting Harry and wounding him, and shooting Sharleen dead. Also along the way, they laid west to another rancher's spread, Abe Clevenger (Malcolm Atterbury). Abe accuses Sam of this, and in the ensuing gunfight, Sam wounds Abe. Fortunately, Abe is able to learn the truth in time.

All of this leads to the inevitable climactic gunfight and the good guys winning, even if not everybody is able to live happily ever after considering that love interests have been shot dead.

As I said at the beginning, Cattle King is one of those competent movies that you could easily sit down and watch on any rainy day that TCM shows it, but it's nothing special. Taylor does OK, as do all the other main players. It's interesting to see Loggia at the beginning of his career, and the presence of Chester Arthur as a character. There's also some nice location cinematography of Wyoming.

It's too bad there aren't any more TCM-themed box sets being produced, as a movie like Cattle King would be perfect for a box set. Instead, I think it's only gotten the Warner Archive treatment.

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