Monday, June 18, 2012


The film roundtable that I take part in spent most of 2011 examining the "Film Noir".  This year we are taking on "The Western".  I was hesitant at first as Westerns have never been my favorite genre.  Of course there are some that I do enjoy.  The westerns of Anthony Mann and some of the Ford classics.  However, the more I watch the more I like.  One obscure little gem that I stumbled upon on Turner Classic Movies was  CATTLE DRIVE (1951).  This charming movie made me feel like a kid again, on the floor in front of the tv on a Saturday afternoon. It's so rare to see a really great coming of age movie that genuinely tugs on the heartstrings without being cheesy but Cattle Drive definitely delivers the goods in that respect. I think what makes this such a wonderful film is that it transplants the Captains Courageous story from the sea to a cattle drive in the old west. Dean Stockwell is the spoiled hell raising son of an absentee father and railroad magnate (Leon Ames). Traveling east by rail, the train pulls over at a water stop in the middle of the desolate southwest. Stockwell gets out to explore and is left behind. He is found by cattleman Joel McCrea who takes him under his wing. Stockwell is rebellious at first but he's an intelligent and fearless boy.

Stockwell starts out helping cook Chill Wills but before long he's helping to drive the herd. Of course he learns a few life lessons along the way. He fixes a race between McCrea and the camp troublemaker and learns a valuable lesson in honor. And he's almost killed in a stampede when he tries to catch a wild stallion for McCrea. Stockwell (who some will remember as the holographic side kick from the 80s time travelling TV show "Quantum Leap") is great in this. It's rare to see a child actor who can be subtle without looking wooden, animated without looking overdramatic (Freddy Bartholomew anyone?). 

The friendship that develops between Stockwell and McCrea is just wonderfully charming. McCrea is the father that every young boy dreams of. I felt like I was on this adventure with them. It was also fun to see Stockwell win over the rest of the cowboys. I loved how the film was able to make me see the adventure of the west as new through the eyes of spoiled easterner Stockwell and his friendship with McCrea. It was also a beautifully shot film in vivid Technicolor with nary a projected backdrop in site. This is a terrific family film and definitely one to watch with Dad. 

No comments:

Post a Comment