Western stalwart Henry Hathaway directed this claustrophobic tale in the spirit of The Petrified Forest featuring a first rate cast of actors against the backdrop of Lonesome Pine, California.
Rawhide is the story of a secluded stagecoach station run by crusty Edgar Buchanan and star player Tyrone Power. Arriving soon after the credits is a coach containing a couple passengers of no importance and leading lady Susan Hayward with a small child in tow. As we can expect, Hayward is playing it tough and doesn’t suffer fools gladly referring to Ty as a “mule boy.” After a rest period the coach is set to move on when Kenneth Tobey and a troop of Union soldiers arrive to warn of a prison break out and the escape of four dangerous killers. They are to ride with the coach through dangerous territory but force Hayward and the child to wait a day at the station for the next coach. She isn’t impressed and immediately begins fencing with Ty.
“Are you afraid of coyotes? Ty asks. Susan’s answer is a classic, “Yeah. The kind with boots on.”
Riding into the station is Hugh Marlowe who quickly pulls a gun on our station workers unaware that Susan is at a water hole nearby. Arriving behind Marlowe are the other escapees. How about George Tobias, Dean Jagger and a leering Jack Elam. All the more so when Elam finds out there’s an attractive woman at the station assumed to be the wife of Ty.
“I ain’t been cured of women yet.” says Jack with thoughts swirling about that are clearly communicated to the audiences sitting in theaters of 1951.
Hathaway’s direction of violence comes swift and brutally when Marlowe beats answers out of Buchanan and Edgar’s resulting death by bullets in the back as smiling Jack has his fun. Upon Edgar’s death, we’ll see that Marlowe is a stern task master and is at odds with the hot headed and scene stealing Elam. Elam continually challenges Marlowe for control of the foursome. Meanwhile the other two are more laid back outlaws. Tobias does as he’s told while recent Oscar winner of 1949 Jagger is a simpleton and seems as if he is a rather harmless escapee. We’ll also see the likes of Jeff Corey and James Millican turning up briefly.
The core of the film will be the build up to the inevitable shootout that takes some turns one might not expect towards the fade out. Susan plays it hard while Tyrone has a meaty role of a man who just wants to stay alive but is caught between doing just that and the conscience of playing the part that he has been thrust into. That of a father and husband to Hayward, a woman he initially dislikes.
This turned out to be a very physical film despite its one setting throughout. Hayward has to be commended for her willingness to play hard with the boys getting dirty as she digs her way out of an adobe brick wall as well as the frequent manhandling she receives from the vicious Jack. It is of course Susan who will get the last statement in their contentious relationship.
Ty may look like the classic movie star should but, he’s not enacting a powder puff romantic role this time out. He gets to stretch his acting chops here as the work hand who isn’t scared to admit he’s worried that when the gang moves on in the morning he’ll be taken behind a rock and silenced for good. He brings a realism to his nervous, frightened for his life character that proved very effective. His final scene opposite Elam is a thriller as he walks towards impending death.
Like any movie featuring villains, the better the baddies the better the movie. Hugh Marlowe is rock solid here as the head man and is equaled by Elam, Jagger and Tobias in support.
Hathaway was of course a top flight action director and had worked with Ty numerous times on films including Johnny Apollo, The Black Rose and eventually Diplomatic Courier. He’d also re-team with Hayward on Garden of Evil and White Witch Doctor.
I believe this western to be a gem that doesn’t get to much applause when people begin recounting their favorite cowboy flicks. Seek it out and give it a go for more then just the two leading players. It’s a great ensemble piece and not surprisingly appears to have been an influence on the recent Hateful Eight.