Saddle the Wind (1958)

23 11 2008

There’s two big selling points for western “outsiders” here: one is that the film features one of John Cassavetes’ earliest performances and the other is that Rod Serling, who would go on to create perhaps the single most famous television show, wrote the script. Unfortunately, the film never really transcend the novelty of these selling points. It is extremely exciting and somewhat weird to see Cassavetes act within beautiful technicolor cinemascope landscapes, but everything else is pretty unremarkable. I can’t really say its everything I dislike about “bad” westerns, but instead, it tries way too hard to be deep and complex. In all honesty, it’s extremely predictable.

Essentially, the story is built around the relationship of two brothers: Tony Sinclair and Steve Sinclair. The former, played by Cassavetes, is a young and impulsive man with an inability to relax. The latter, played by Robert Taylor, is the older sibling, the more mature and experienced one. Tony comes back home to the Sinclair valley with his wife to be, Joan Blake. When the man who owns the majority of the valley decides to claim the Sinclair land for himself, Tony is eager to fight back but Steve is willing to accept the decision. Their different outlooks on the situation lead to the decay and eventual death of their relationship.

Maybe it comes from being a big fan of Cassavetes’ work, but I really disliked how his character was written. As soon as he appears on screen it becomes pretty obvious what direction the film is headed in. The condescending tone in which the other characters speak about him is frustrating for some odd reason. It’s not at all like how James Best is spat on relentlessly in Ride Lonesome, I would have preferred that. In this case, he is basically treated like a mentally retarded child incapable of understanding anything about adults, or the “big boys.”

Cassavetes himself is still a joy to watch, even if his character is severly underwritten. The rest of the cast is equally great. Julie London from Anthony Mann’s great Man of the West plays Cassavetes’ love interest. Donald Crisp, another Mann alum, is the superficial “bad guy” i.e the owner of the valley. Oddly enough, I wasn’t really that impressed with Robert Taylor, but he didn’t really do anything wrong, either. I guess this could be called a successful actor-driven western, but that’s just a really nice way to say that it is a enjoyable film with an overwhelmingly unremarkable story.

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