I was intrigued by several aspects of “the talent” involved in “Saddle the Wind” the 1958 western directed by Robert Parrish (Purple Plain):
*A western written by Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone)
*A movie with both actor-director John Cassavetes (star of Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Dirty Dozen”, director of “A Woman Under the Influence” and “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie”) and actor-director Donald Crisp (who directed 72 silent movies, played Lillian Gish’s ogrish father in D. W. Griffiths’s “Broken Blossoms” in 1919, and won an Oscar as the patriarch of the Welsh mining family in “How Green Was My Valley” in 1941)
*A movie with very New York actor John Cassavetes (b. 1929) playing the brother of Robert Taylor (b. 1911 in Nebraska; former ingénu (Camille) Taylor made multiple westerns and had just completed “The Law and Jake Wade” playing against the showier Richard Widmark).
*A movie with singer/actress Julie London (b. 1926; I don’t remember “The Great Man” in which she costarred with and was directed by José Ferrer, nor do I remember her in Anthony Mann’s great “Man of the West: also released in 1958 in which Gary Cooper plays against Lee J. Cobb)
Despite all these surprising aspects, the movie was quite standard issue western involving conflict between farmers planning to fence the open range, conflict between veterans of the Union and the Confederate armies from the US Civil War, a hot-tempered young men rebelling against an older one trying to keep him alive (and who raised him), and Donald Crisp as a sonorous-sounding, unyielding patriarch.
The main surprise for me was that Robert Taylor, whom I don’t consider much of an actor (and whom Luise Rainer considered the epitome of Hollywood star shallowness) was good as the mature gunman turned rancher. (Or maybe his calm and maturity were just a relief from Cassavetes’s histrionics…) Julie London was OK in the part of a saloon singer with the prosaic name of Joan Blake whom hot-tempered younger brother Tony Sinclair (Cassavetes) brings home to the ranch, to a cold welcome by Steve (Taylor).
Anyone who has seen many Hollywood movies knows from the frosty fist meeting and from the billing order that the female lead (London) will end up with the male lead (Taylor). The main suspense is who will shoot Tony.
Among the ways in which Tony annoys Steve is overpracticing gun-drawing. Even more than bringing a saloon singer home to wed (I guess he feels the need of Steve’s approval and this is the reason he does not come back already married), Steve is annoyed that Tony shoots a gunslinger Larry Venables (Charles McGraw) who was gunning for Steve (who had killed the man’s brother). The kill goes to Tony’s head, while infuriating Deneen (Crisp) who owns two-thirds of the valley and the saloon in which the shootout occurs.
A gaunt, haunted former captain, Clay Ellison, who had been a captain in a Pennsylvania unit in the US Army, played by Royal Dano, leads the bedraggled would-be farmers. Steve feels sorry for them, the drunken killer Tony goes into full swagger. I guess Ellison is the catalyst for the inevitable. Or is Joan? London seems to have been on autopilot, though not called on to do much other than to look disappointed and containing her irritations.
Anyway, she sings the title song at Tony’s request. Considering how light-complected she is, I was astounded she did not have a bonnet or hat out riding… The Rocky Mountain filming location was Rosita, Colorado, though mostly in back projections on Hollywood soundstages.
Elmer Bernstein (To Kill a Mockingbird, Far from Heaven) supplied the obtrusive soundtrack music (but not the title song).
The movie is part of a Warner Home Video Western Classics Collection with the more interesting “Escape from Fort Bravo,” “The Stalking Moon,” and “The Law and Jake Wade,” the long, mostly dull 1960 remake of “Cimarron,” and the atrocious comedy (also starring Taylor), “Many Rivers to Cross.”
The transfer and/or the print from which the DVD was transferred were not good, and there are no bonus features other than a trailer for what is a pretty standard for the 1950s western (for psychological conflict westerns, I’d recommend the take on “Othello” jealousies of “Jubal,” for sibling rivalry “The Big Country” and “Duel in the Sun,” for a weary gunfighter who can’t retire, Gregory Peck’s in “The Gunfighter” or the 1968 William Holden et al. in “The Wild Bunch“, the canonical end of the wild west triumph of women movies are George Stevens’s “Shane” and Sergio Leone’s (1968) “Once Upon a Time in the West”).