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Thursday, October 13, 2011

RAWHIDE (1951)

This chamber-sized Western doesn’t strain for big effects, it's content to be solid & well-crafted, with a vet cast & crew all working near the top of their form. It’s your basic hostage drama: a lonely outpost; four escaped convicts; a stagecoach due to arrive with a load of gold; and a couple of strangers (plus a toddler) trying to survive the ordeal. Tyrone Power & Susan Hayward get roles that are just the right size for them, they make a very sympathetic duo. And the bad guys are unusually intriguing: soft-spoken Hugh Marlowe, kindly Dean Jagger, George Tobias (as a Ukrainian) & the young, wild-eyed Jack Elam as the psychopath. Helmer Henry Hathaway is just nuts about Elam’s OTT features and gives him the sort of showcase treatment he gave Richard Widmark on KISS OF DEATH/’47. Milt Krasner’s lensing & Robert Simpson’s editing are exceptionally sharp, they help Hathaway turn clean logistics into crackling suspense. (A scene where the toddler wanders off into scrub land earns a D. W. Griffith Seal-of-Approval.) Scripter Dudley Nichols tended to wear his intellectualism on his sleeve (note the dramatic unities of time, place & action), but this time his allegiance to classical form loosens everyone up. Only a perfectly dreadful background score (lots of ‘Oh, Susannah’) lets down the team.

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