Thursday, December 27, 2012

A horse so cool, he gets the whole movie named after him

I think that the B-movies of the 1930s/40s/50s were often better examples of good storytelling than the A-movies of the same era. The stories were often well-constructed and flowed along logically, while the Studio System meant that there was a troupe of skilled character actors and directors to draw from to give these small films real personality.

Last week, we looked at the 1943 film Passage to Suez. This time, we’ll Go West, Young Man to take a look at the 1953 movie Tumbleweed.

It’s an Audie Murphy movie. It’s always fun to watch one of Murphy’s films—his perpetually baby face initially makes him look like an unlikely hero. But he carries himself with subtle authority. And, of course, his status as a real life war hero probably adds to that authority.

(And BOY was he ever a real-life hero. By the end of World War II, not just the Americans but pretty much every Allied nation was just shipping him truckloads of medals to him—including the Congressional Medal of Honor. When he played himself in a movie chronicling his wartime experience, he actually insisted that the movie tone down his heroics because people might believe he was just making it up.)

Anyway, in Tumbleweed, he’s Jim Harvey—an experienced scout who’s been hired to guide a wagon train across the desert. When the wagon train is trapped and surrounded by Yaqui Indians led by the white-man-hating Aguila, Harvey takes a long chance. He’d once saved the life of Aguila’s son Tigre, so he rides out to parley with Aquila in hopes of playing off his gratitude.

That doesn’t work out well. Harvey is left staked out in the sun and, though he manages to get away, the wagon train is nearly wiped out. The survivors and the citizens of the local town are convinced Harvey betrayed the wagon train to Aguila.

So he has to go on the run—find out who really betrayed the wagon train (and why), all while avoiding getting scalped by the Yaquis. It all comes to a climax with a desperate last stand against the Yaquis in which Harvey must team up with the posse that’s been chasing him.

It’s a fun movie—in fact, I list it as an essential film in my ebook 99 Films and Cartoons your Children Must See Before Growing Up—Or They’ll Turn Out To Be Axe Murderers.

It’s a well-written, well-told story, effectively directed by B-Movie vet Nathan Juran and making excellent use of location photography. It’s also yet another example of how Hollywood made such good use of character actors during this era.

A young Lee Van Cleef is a member of the posse. Russell Johnson is a townsman who is particularly vocal in wanting Harvey lynched—it’s always fun to see a character who is so identified with a particular role (in this case, the Professor from Gilligan’s Island) playing a completely different role. Johnson, in fact, was a skilled actor who effectively assayed many different character roles before he got stranded on that darn island.

Chill Wills is the sheriff—a capable and determined man who honestly thinks Harvey is guilty. Aside from his personable performance, Wills also wears his gun in a shoulder holster rather than gun belt. It’s a small thing, but it’s a touch that helps give the sheriff his own personality.

Then there’s the horse. After escaping from a lynch mob, Harvey ends up with an ugly and apparently useless white horse. But the horse (named Tumbleweed) soon proves to be surprisingly useful—with more speed, endurance and intelligence than the horses being used by the posse. In fact, Tumbleweed might just be a little bit smarter than Harvey—saving the scout’s life on at least two occasions.  Heck, the horse is so cool he gets the movie named after him.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...