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July 29, 2016

Rawhide

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Henry Hathaway - 1951
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

Darryl Zanuck must have loved Alfred Newman's rousing theme music for the film, Brigham Young. Not only was it used to open and close Yellow Sky, but was used once more, a few years later, for this film. On the plus side, the new blu-ray ports over the extras from the Fox DVD issued about nine years ago, supplements centered on Susan Hayward and location filming in Lone Pine, California.

A quartet of outlaws descends on a stagecoach station in Arizona, holding the two men who run the station, a female passenger and her infant girl, as prisoners, while waiting for a stagecoach with a gold shipment to come through. Any resemblance to the set-up of The Hateful Eight is overstated, although there are a couple of bits that Quentin Tarantino may have gleaned. Tyrone Power plays the apprentice to Edgar Buchanan's station master. Susan Hayward is the passenger with the little girl. The outlaw gang includes Hugh Marlowe, Jack Elam, Dean Jagger and George Tobias. Part of the plot is propelled by false assumptions. Hayward is first thought to be a single, unmarried mother. Marlowe introduces himself to Power as a deputy. Marlowe assumes that Hayward is married to Power. It also turns out that the four outlaws are not a gang, but three convicts who took advantage of being at the right place at the right time when Marlowe escaped prison, with tensions between the four men.

Dudley Nichols' scripts usually have some bit of subversiveness going on. The screenplay was reportedly rewritten at Darryl Zanuck's request to be tailored to Susan Hayward's screen persona as the feisty redhead. The most interesting character, though, is Jack Elam's increasingly psychopathic outlaw. One of his earliest credited roles, Elam here is lean, mean, with his goggly-eyed stare and snaggletooth grin. Elam came in when shooting began, replacing Everett Sloane due to Sloane's roughness when tackling Hayward in one scene. It's hard to imaging what Sloane might have done with that role, but Elam's projection of menace, coupled with his obvious glee being as bad as he wants to be, keeps the film from being routine. It might also be less than coincidental that a few years earlier, Hathaway shocked audiences with Richard Widmark's cackling villain in Kiss of Death.

What also struck me is that while Henry Hathaway is not discussed as a visual stylist, so many of the shots involve depth of field. We're not talking Citizen Kane here, but frequently the shots are composed to emphasize the space between people, whether within the main room of the stagecoach station, or inside Power's bedroom. The few exteriors stress the remote location of the station, suggesting infinite space beyond the surrounding desert and mountains. One striking shot is of Marlowe sitting in the main room's dining table, looking up at a mirror that is reflecting Elam standing in the station entrance.

The supplements are primarily centered on the making of Rawhide, reviewing how the film was instrumental in making Susan Hayward a major star in the Fifties, as well as providing information on what went on during the production of the film while on location.

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Posted by peter at July 29, 2016 01:04 PM