If I’m honest I wasn’t going to write about Rawhide (1951) I was only watching it as it sounded good from the description so there I went and recorded it on a whim almost. It doesn’t even conform to the themes I’m exploring in my work at present, or the exploration of that film I’ve mentioned far too often recently. It also bares no relation to the later long Western TV series (1959-65) which introduced us to Clint Eastwood the rest they say is history in regards that show. The film of the same name is much more forgotten today, with two actors that I have to admit aren’t my favourite either, Tyrone Power and Susan Hayward are two that have never really excited me. It seems the more I explore I find myself going in directions I never imagined. Part of that’s down to the film’s director Henry Hathaway who never failed to deliver a decent film which this is.
It’s a Western in the classical form which is something I’ve not been watching a lot of recently, wanting or finding more in the films I’ve been choosing. It’s a good old-fashioned good versus bad which is the foundation of the film, the setting of a stagecoach station is more familiar after both Comanche Station (1960) ans more recently The Hateful Eight (2015) which itself has stronger connections with the spaghetti Western The Great Silence (1968) which are more obvious and far stronger, I can’t say too much as I have yet to see the film, for now I’ll let this video do the explaining.
I can instead draw on the slightly weaker connections to Rawhide, so there will be a few spoilers here. Again most of the action takes place in a stagecoach station, yet we start at very different points. There’s a mythical introduction of the Overland Express, a stagecoach that ran from California to St Louis and back again, taking only 25 days. For the time revolutionary, today it’s incredibly slow, the nearest we’d get today is a bullet train, how times have changed. That establishes the world are going to spend the film in before moving into the characters that are treated more unconventionally. Unlike Quentin Tarantino‘s film that merely uses the stagecoach as a form of transport to bring half the characters to Minnie’s where they’re snowed in for the rest of the film. We don’t have that claustrophobia or collection of colourful characters in the earlier film which allows the characters to move more freely.
Where it really begins to show comparisons is in the big reveal in Eight when we have the long flashback and the previous parts are revealed. When the work that the four we meet at the making preparations to the guests who are yet to arrive. Of course its more overt in the later film, with the older its only a small portion of the film as Rafe Zimmerman (Hugh Marlowe) and his gang of fellow in-mates who have just escaped are preparing for the evening stage to come in. The act of fooling the passengers whilst Tom Owens (Power) and Vinnie Holt (Hayward) who are held prisoner have to fight for freedom, hopefully getting word to the morning stage which is carrying the gold that Zimmerman is waiting for.
Moving away from that connection I have to look at how the characters are dealt with, the order which they’re killed off, which is rather out of traditional sequence. We begin with Stage boss Sam Todd (Edgar Buchanan) who is usually the drunk comic relief, I’d have hoped he would have had more screen time looking at his billing in the film, compared to others. Shot down in the first 10 minutes which is quite brave for a popular supporting actor. Then at the end of the film (yes more spoilers) Zimmerman’s shot by one of his own men Tevis (Jack Elam) who is woman hungry and uncontrollable, leaving the last gunfight to take place between Tevis and Owens. Traditionally this should have been between Owens and Zimmerman, however a risks taken here, its more realistic to see infighting of a gang that crumbles at the end when it becomes all too much.
There is no real clear hero, at least a male hero as we find when the final shots come from the only woman (Hayward) in the film, much the same as Marshal Will Kane’s Quaker wife Amy Fowler Kane (Grace Kelly) who saves her husband. These two women break the mold of gunfighter’s, picking up a gun and saving the day. Owens is too much f a coward, dropping his gun at the sight of a child being shot at, instead of preventing that atrocious act being seen through. What this shows it a few things, that not all men are built to carry a gun and fight with it. Women are more than able to defend themselves. Children were also involved in these dangerous gunfight’s, something we also see in The Deadly Companions (1961) where a child’s death is at the centre of the film. The child in the earlier plays a much smaller part, which is built up for tension at the end, dangers being directed at the little girl whose in the care of her Aunt who was only trying to bring her to her paternal grandparents. This is years before we have women and children thrown into the action of The Wild Bunch (1969). Tame for sure but you have to start somewhere.
Looking quickly at the Susan Hayward who as beautiful her screen presence is she’s easily suits the West, adding both beauty whilst not being afraid to muck in as we see her digging a hole. Most women of the West are either farmers wives or dancers, she is clearly neither of those types. A single woman who takes a big risk to travel across the country with a young child in tow. I might be looking out for more of her work in future. The rests of the cast are all well-defined, I see similarities in Gratz (George Tobias) and O.B. (James Parks) yet the latter is more educated than the Mexican who simply follows orders and can’t see what is really going on around him.
Made at the beginning of the 1950’s we have a decade of more emotion and psychology entering the genre. Its a small injection of something different to the genre that is about to be shaken from its classic form to reveal more exciting imagery and ideas.