It’s a western tale of three Roberts in this Tay Garnett directed programmer under the MGM banner. First up is one of the studio’s greatest stars from the 30’s thru to the 50’s, Robert Taylor. Second is a man who would find his most popular roles still to come in the 1980’s, Robert Loggia. The third Robert is Mr. Middleton. A well known character player who never met a villainous role he wouldn’t accept. So it’s Taylor – Loggia – Middleton representing the three Roberts.
It’s Wyoming of 1883 that sees Taylor as a land baron raising cattle. Loggia is his loyal right hand man. Also taking up stakes at the ranch is Ray Teal and his wife Virginia Christine who run the day to day operations around the ranch house. Young Robert Ivers represents the fourth member of a tight knit unit dead set against Middleton’s moving cattle thru their range. Middleton has a gun hand working for him who makes a habit of killing Taylor’s ranch hands and cutting down his fences.
Brining in a leading lady for Taylor to romance befitting a star of his stature, Joan Caufield is cast as the sister of William Windom who owns and operates the smaller ranch next to Taylors. While Joan is in love with the actor known to have the perfect face, her brother is at odds with Taylor and wants to sell out to Middleton. Windom is weak minded and easy prey to Middleton’s threats and imposing figure.
Taylor will verbally spar with Middleton and the plot will even bring the President of The United States, Chester A. Arthur, into the story line as enacted by Larry Gates. Each man will argue his case in front of the country’s leader. Taylor is seeking a peaceful solution to the land issues at stake but won’t back down should a fight be the only alternative. Loggia is only too ready to take on Middleton and his chief goon, Richard Devon.
While there is one surprising scene in this film I had not expected which I won’t divulge, this could almost have been rewritten as a Bonanza episode and I’ll wager that if we went over that series’ plots we’d find something very similar. Hell, it might even have Middleton in it and you can bet Ray Teal was in there as Sheriff Roy Coffee. One time box-office king Taylor was by this time no longer the heart throb he once was but he’s as stoic and commanding as ever here and I often wonder why he was never cast opposite the likes of Duke, Mitchum, Douglas and the rest of the leading men who made plenty of westerns throughout the balance of the decade for directors Burt Kennedy and Andrew V. McLaglen. He seemed to me to be a good fit and as a fan I’m sorry that never took place.
The western was about to change with Leone’s film one year away and westerns scripts like Cattle King would be designated fodder for A.C. Lyles and fading stars like Dana Andrews and Rory Calhoun. Taylor thankfully didn’t go that route and more or less backed off before passing away far to early at only 57 years of age in 1969. And don’t kid yourself, Taylor might have been past his prime but I’m here to testify, he’s still lightning fast on the draw! Director Garnett was also a long way from his prime years and his Noir classic, The Postman Always Rings Twice. He had previously worked with Taylor on the WW2 big screen call to arms, Bataan in 1943.
Cattle King makes for a diverting 88 minutes and is available through the Warner Archive line of DVD’s should you be a western or Robert Taylor fan. Yup, I’m guilty on both counts.