Though written by Dudley Nichols, Rawhide is no Stagecoach. Still, the film is interesting despite the fact it never manages to rise above the norm. The setting is a stagecoach relay station in the middle of nowhere. Tyrone Power is Tom Owens, the son of the station’s owner, who has come west to take over the family business with old timer Sam Todd (Edgar Buchanan) teaching him the ropes. When the stage pulls in one day, among the passengers on board are Vinnie Holt (Susan Hayward) and her very young niece. Soon after, a Calvary patrol stops by warning everyone that four men have recently broken out of the state prison and are in the area. Due to the potential danger, and company regulations, the stage driver refuses to take Vinnie and the child any further. They are forced to remain at the relay station which turns out to be more of a danger than had she been allowed to continue on her journey with the stage. Young Tom is a green horn to western ways, still learning the rough life style of the land. He still even shaves and bathes every day! Vinnie is not happy about being left behind and tension mounts between the two. Things escalate to a dangerous level when the four convicts arrive with the intent of holding up at the depot until morning when the next stage will arrive purported to be carrying a gold shipment. Old timer Sam is quickly killed off by one the outlaws. Tom is spared only because they need him for when the stage arrives in the morning. The outlaws, headed up by Zimmerman, Hugh Marlowe showing he has some real acting chops, comes across as a more educated and cultured figure than you would expect an outlaw to be. Also in the gang is the sexually obsessed Tevis, played by Jack Elam, who constantly is looking to take over the gang from Zimmerman. The two lesser members are Gratz (George Tobias) and Yancey (Dean Jagger). While there are adversarial differences between Owens and Vinnie in the beginning, they come to realize in order to survive they are better off working together. They pretend to be married and for much of the film are held hostage and locked in a room. The four convicts at first act like a team but as tensions mount their group begins to disintegrate with in-fighting between Zimmerman and Tevis. This reversal in team play paves the way toward the killers doom as they turn more and more against each other. For Tyrone Power this was one of the few westerns in his career, most famously he made Jesse James (Fritz Lang), and he handles himself well except for the fact that at thirty seven years of age he is too old for the part. His character, Tom Owens, and Susan Hayward’s Vinnie Holt are at first confrontational but they come to respect each other and depend on each other for self preservation. Hayward is always at her best when she is a strong independent woman as she is here. However, at first glance, with her tough demeanor, we are almost forced to believe Vinnie is a woman of questionable virtue, after all, she was a dance hall girl. We soon learn otherwise. Yes, Vinnie is strong willed, she’s independent, very protective of her young niece Callie and a good woman. Hayward’s Vinnie is probably the most three dimensional character in the film. The real acting highlight though belongs to Jack Elam as Tevis whose character is filled with lust for Vinnie and hungry for power. He practically steals the film. Rawhide was directed by Twentieth Century Fox stalwart Henry Hathaway. Hathaway was no nonsense studio director who years later was responsible for blackballing Dennis Hopper in Hollywood. Hathaway was a solid director though he lacked the complexity of the greatest directors. Some of his films had a certain appeal that resulted in a few gems like Kiss of Death, Niagara, Call Northside 777 and The Dark Corner. However, for every one of these good films there were average films like The Sons of Katie Elder or worst works like The Racers, You’re in the Navy Now and From Hell to Texas.
This article is part of the Power-Mad Blogathon, a celebration of Tyrone Power’s 100th birthday. For more contributions check out the POWER MAD icon on the sidebar.