One would think that a film starring long time leading man Robert Taylor opposite sultry Ava Gardner would result in one of the years more memorable on screen romances. In reality what Ride Vaquero delivers under the MGM banner is a bromance featuring Taylor and the emerging Anthony Quinn stealing most every scene he’s in. Quinn is actually billed fourth here and below the title. It’s Howard Keel getting third billing though clearly his role is secondary to the proceedings under John Farrow’s capable direction.
The war between the states has come to an end and along the U.S. – Mexico border, Anthony Quinn’s gang of bandolero’s are wreaking havoc amongst the locals and anyone foolish enough to settle the lands. Namely, Howard Keel and his soon to arrive lady love, Miss Gardner. Riding alongside Quinn is the quiet, stoic Taylor as his second in command. He’s the one man in Quinn’s entourage that Tony won’t push around for fear that he may not be as fast on the draw as Taylor who’s dressed as if he’s off to a Tom Mix rodeo show.
“The strong will fight the strong for the possession of the weak.” Quinn growls to Ava when she confronts him about his hunger for power and the misdeeds he is responsible for.
At first she isn’t fond of Taylor either but movies of this vintage are not only made to entertain the action fan but to pair up the world’s most beautiful people in a lustful embrace. When Taylor slips up during a night raid on Keel’s ranch, he’s held at gunpoint before coming to an agreement with Keel over just where his loyalties lay. This puts Taylor in the Keel camp leaving Quinn feeling angry, deserted and betrayed and within range of Gardner’s hungry view.
With Taylor out of the Quinn camp, Tony is like a schoolboy who has lost his first girlfriend and Jack Elam isn’t much of a replacement as his second in command. Without Taylor’s steady guidance, Quinn with his zest for life and danger, has become a loose cannon. Taylor on the other hand has a sense of doom about him throughout the film’s 90 minute running time that will culminate when Ava makes her play for the strong silent anti-hero. The result isn’t what one should expect from this starry affair. Like Quinn, Taylor cuts loose as he struggles with his inner demons and has local Sheriff, Ted de Corsia worried about the trouble that’s headed to town.
This leads to a great exchange between the two as de Corsia asks, “What would you be in town without your gun?” Taylor knowingly responds, “Just another funeral that nobody went to.” The reason for the bromance between Quinn’s mad dog and Taylor’s reluctant hero is that Taylor was raised as an orphan by Quinn’s mother making them as near to brothers as one could be. Somewhere along the line they went bad. No need to tell you where this is all headed I guess.
Not surprisingly, Quinn steals the movie with what is really an extension of his Oscar winning performance the previous year in Viva Zapata! opposite Brando. Having been a supporting player for years, it would take the talented actor another Oscar in ’56 before cementing his reputation as a viable leading man for the next two decades.
On the flip side, Taylor was really nearing the end of his bankable years and with the fall of the studio system approaching, he’d pretty much bow out at the end of the decade though I do believe he backed off partly due to a lack of interest while Miss Ava continued on as a viable bombshell for a steady stream of leading men on camera. Though I really had no idea who Ava was at the time, I do recall seeing Earthquake at the theater as a little tyke so I can at least say I saw one of her latter day releases on the big screen.
Rounding out the cast are Kurt Kaszner’s Minister serving as the conscience for all and that short little fellow with the squeaky voice you’re not likely to forget once you’ve heard it, Percy Helton.
This one’s available as part of the Warner Archive Collection if you are looking to add it to your own shelf.
Love this foreign release.