Composer Johnny Green, who wrote a magnificent score for Edward Dmytryk’s previous Civil War pic (the doomed RAINTREE COUNTY/’58), all but cold-cocks this one right from the start with a numbingly awful theme song. And that’s a shame because this admittedly workaday production improves as it goes along, helped by the casual approach of its ultra-professional cast & crew. Nobody’s trying to oversell this fact-suggested whopper. William Holden is very effective as an apolitical cattleman who’s just delivered 25,000 head to the Union Army. But these are the desperate final days of the war and he’s kidnapped by a Confederate Colonel (Richard Widmark in an unusually overwrought perf) who’s got a far-fetched idea about rustling up them-there cows, and not a notion on how to do it. The logistics involved making this happen turn out to be a lot more involving than the standard-issue personality clashes the script comes up with, especially when Dmytryk (and his second unit) pull off a stampeding climax that’s sort of a Charge of Heavy Bovine Brigade. It helps make up for the earlier dead spots and those God-Awful overlit interiors that were standard shooting practice back in ‘60s Hollywood. So darn ugly.
READ ALL ABOUT IT: When his career started to wind down in the '70s, Dmytryk started to teach and to write. His auto-bio has an off--putting title (IT'S A HELL OF A LIFE BUT NOT A BAD LIVING), but it's one of the better efforts in this small category. Worth a look, especially for his early days as a film editor in Golden Age Hollywood, his work as a speedy Grade B director @ RKO and his first hand account of the bad old BlackList days.