CATTLE TOWN (1952), so CATTLE KING seemed the logical choice to watch tonight in honor of the centennial of star Robert Taylor's birth.
CATTLE KING is a standard issue Western; like CATTLE TOWN, it's about a range war, in this case in Wyoming. Taylor plays Sam Brassfield, the owner of Teton Ranch. He's raising his niece and nephew (Maggie Pierce and Bob Ivers) with the help of his loyal foreman (Ray Teal), housekeeper (Virginia Christine), and top hand (Robert Loggia). Sam also has a beautiful fiancee, Sharleen (Joan Caulfield), who lives on a neighboring ranch. Sam even hosts a visit from President Chester Arthur (Larry Gates), who visits Wyoming to see Yellowstone. All in all, life is pretty good for Sam, except for the part about the violent men who intend to push him off his ranch and destroy everything he's built.
Clay Matthews (Robert Middleton), the proponent of a "national cattle trail," doesn't like Sam's fences. Matthews' henchmen kill one of Sam's hands (Richard Tretter) and cut his fences, and then Matthews brings in hired killer Vince Bodine (Richard Devon) to put an end to the battle once and for all.
One of the comments to my post on CATTLE TOWN described it as "movie comfort food," and the same description applies to CATTLE KING. It's nothing special, yet I liked the film quite well, other than an unfortunate plot twist near the end which somewhat marred my pleasure. I always enjoy Robert Taylor, and he was perfectly cast as a responsible ranch owner; his looks had aged somewhat prematurely -- he was about 51 when this was filmed, but looks a bit older -- but he has a commanding, authoritative presence as well as a nice light touch when it's needed. Some of the interplay with his occasionally wild ranch hand (Loggia) is quite amusing.
Visually at times the film looks rather like a '60s TV Western, especially with BONANZA'S Sheriff Coffee and Mrs. Olson of Folger's Coffee as part of the cast. The Wyoming ranch setting with the teenagers being raised by a relative reminded me more than a little of THE VIRGINIAN, specifically the Charles Bickford era. It's thus perhaps not a surprise that screenwriter Thomas Thompson, who coproduced, wrote for many well-known Westerns of the '50s and '60s, including, at one point, THE VIRGINIAN.
All that said, the film is quite lovely, with lots of outdoor shooting in Kernville, California, standing in for Wyoming, and the congenial cast provides 90 minutes' worth of good company.
The cast also includes William Windom as Caulfield's tiresome alcoholic brother. Woodrow Parfrey, Malcolm Atterbury, and John Mitchum are also in the film.
A trivial side note is that, if IMDb is to be believed, Maggie Pierce, who plays Taylor's niece -- referred to by him as a "kid" -- was actually in her early 30s when this was filmed!
The movie was directed by Tay Garnett, who had directed Taylor in BATAAN (1943) two decades previously. The Metrocolor cinematography was by William E. Snyder.
This movie is not available on DVD or VHS. I recorded the film last year when it was shown on Turner Classic Movies when Taylor was Star of the Month. It's also shown from time to time on Encore Westerns, and as a matter of fact it's scheduled to be shown again on Sunday evening, August 7th.
Update: CATTLE KING is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive.