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Rawhide (Blu-ray Review)

22 Aug, 2016 By: Mike Clark

Kino Lorber
$29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated
Stars Tyrone Power, Susan Hayward, Hugh Marlowe, Jack Elam.

Unlike some of his old-school Hollywood peers, Henry Hathaway routinely got to go out on location a lot over his 42-year directorial career — and according to his son, really liked doing so. Though a sizable chunk of Rawhide (including several of its best scenes) takes place indoors in a kind of Hateful Eight-type stagecoach way station, the picture does convey the impression that its relatively small cast is trapped and imperiled in the middle of nowhere — with its “good guys” (who include a woman and a girl toddler) receiving minimal help beyond their own desperate efforts to combat a four-man band of prison escapees.

Hathaway probably belongs on the higher side of any list devoted to mid-level, non-auteur studio filmmakers, and a very long tenure (atop a heavy work schedule in many of those years) allowed for some standout achievements to line up alongside the director’s no small number of reasonably tolerable clunkers. With Rawhide taking its place among the former, one would have to say that he never had a year better than 1951, which also saw The Desert Fox and Fourteen Hours (it a movie I don’t think Hathaway ever surpassed).

Looking a tad ripe for his role when he was just seven years from a premature fatal coronary in real life, here’s Tyrone Power as a green employment rookie who’s counting the days until he can return home to the East after apprenticing at a stage-stop gig, which has come courtesy of his influential father. On the most recent stage and rudely left at the station is a tough cookie with attitude (Susan Hayward), accompanied by a tot we later learn is her niece. With only Power’s boss and obligatory geezer (Edgar Buchanan) to round out the stop-off’s short list of decent inhabitants, boredom is relieved in less than ideal ways when an escaped prisoner initially disguised as a lawman (Hugh Marlowe) shows up with three colleagues whose combined IQs might approach that of, say, evolution’s missing link. Though not as sympathetic as the emeritus conscience Robert Ryan plays in The Wild Bunch, Marlowe’s character shares some similarities: He’s a man of relative wisdom and even polish who’s saddled with the morons he’s been forced to bring along or the ride.

One of the last is played by Jack Elam, in what had to have been a significant career break. According to one of this Blu-ray’s interview supplements carried over from the standard DVD, Everett Sloane started out in what became Elam’s role — until he tackled hot-tempered Hayward a little too hard in a scene that came early (both in terms of the story and shooting schedule). In a just universe, Sloane might have turned to her and said, “I played Mr. Bernstein in Citizen Kane, and you didn’t” — but Hayward wasn’t far away from her third Oscar nomination and also got along with Hathaway (they made three more pictures together). Meanwhile, Power had taken a liking to Elam, so that was probably that — a chain of events, ignoring the Sloane issue, worked out well. That’s because this turned out to be one of the great Elam turns in a long career playing heavies, and it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that he gave the little girl nightmares.

Though nothing that happens here departs too markedly from what we’ve seen in other hostage Westerns, this is still a stagecoach movie written by the guy who wrote the screenplay for Stagecoach (Dudley Nichols). What’s more, Hathaway is good at milking suspense — especially in scenes involving a kitchen knife that’s falling apart and looks as if it’s half-a-step away from severely slicing up the wrong person. Power and Hayward provide the expected star power, but I also like Marlowe — an actor who became an affectionate camp figure of my youth thanks to all those Earth vs. the Flying Saucers/World Without End cheese slices — yet one who also has to be given some due for brilliantly having been on the slacker’s end of the greatest chew-out in screen history when Gregory Peck sheds of him of skin in Twelve O’Clock High.

Cosmetically, I’ve always had a real affection for Fox’s postwar black-and-white Westerns ever since a friend of mine saw a Library of Congress print of My Darling Clementine and began marveling (in ways that made me think) at what he called “50 shades of b-&-w gradations” that weren’t uncommon from Darryl Zanuck’s magnificently run studio until late ’53 and the incoming Cinemascope era. Rawhide’s Milton Krasner later became the first cinematographer to win a widescreen Oscar for Blu-ray MIA Three Coins in the Fountain — which, of course, was also in color. But he worked his way up in the old standard ratio at Fox and competing studios: A Double Life, The Set-up, the ’50 No Way Out, All About Eve and the ’52 Monkey Business (which I believe must be the only screwball comedy in which Hugh Marlowe gets scalped).

Extras here include a before-and-after primer on Rawhide’s 2007 restoration; a Hayward featurette; and a look at Lone Pine, Calif., whose geographical location and mountain/desert locales made it ideal for the may Westerns that were shot there. (The website for the townie museum devoted to these includes a George Montgomery exhibit, which sounds like a display to which you might want to take a girl friend if you’re trying to establish if she’s really the right one). As with Yellow Sky and probably others I’ve forgotten, Rawhide recycles Alfred Newman’s familiar theme for 1940’s Brigham Young (later Brigham Young — Frontiersman), which must have been a stopgap whenever Newman wanted to take a vacation. For the record, Rawhide has nothing to do with the later and popular Eric Fleming-Clint Eastwood TV series — or, for that matter, the same-name gonzo 1938 Western that starred Lou Gehrig sans pinstripes shortly before he first showed signs of ALS.

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