I'm continuing to work my way through George Montgomery's Westerns of the 1950s, and the latest entry seen was CANYON RIVER (1956), which I found especially enjoyable. In fact, I think it was my favorite Montgomery Western seen to date.
Steve Patrick (Montgomery), a Wyoming rancher, travels to Oregon with his foreman Bob (Peter Graves) to buy cattle. In an unusual twist, Steve plans to drive the cattle east on the Oregon trail to Wyoming, where he plans to cross-breed the cattle and come up with a new strain well suited to Wyoming winters.
Bob, unfortunately, is feeling greedy and makes plans with a couple of no-good types (Walter Sande and perennial Westerns villain Robert J. Wilke) to stampede and steal the cattle when they return to Wyoming. Bob is also feeling the green-eyed monster because he loves a beautiful widow, Janet (Marcia Henderson), who only has eyes for Steve.
ALL I DESIRE) is also very good as the spirited widow who makes up her mind Steve's for her and then finds a way to make it happen.
There's an interesting theme running through the film, in that while Steve's friend Bob was ostensibly once a good man who has secretly gone bad, the trail hands on Steve's crew are the opposite of Bob, a bunch of bad men gone good. George (Alan Hale Jr.) and his men, one-time gunslingers and outlaws, are so shocked and grateful when Steve offers them a real job and a home that they jump at the opportunity to work hard, eat well, and sleep peacefully at night.
As I watched Steve and George become friends after brawling in a saloon, I couldn't help thinking of Hale's father similarly battling and becoming friends with Errol Flynn in THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938). I liked that thread of film history wandering into the movie for a brief moment. It's interesting how viewing a scene like that with a wider context in mind deepens the richness and texture of a film.
I also thought the film did a good job conveying the irony that if Bob had just continued along "doing the right thing," he would have had everything he'd wanted, at least in terms of ranching. "Crime doesn't pay" may be a cliche, but it's also the truth, illustrated here in an interesting way.
The movie looks beautiful, easily the most attractive visually of the Montgomery films seen to date. It was shot in CinemaScope by Ellsworth Fredricks, and the widescreen Warner Archive DVD shows off the vistas to great effect. The majority of the movie was filmed on location; IMDb only lists the Monogram Ranch, but I think the movie must have been shot in additional locations. This is a very nice-looking film with good production values, which keeps soundstage exteriors to the absolute minimum.
CANYON RIVER is a 79-minute Allied Artists film which was directed by Harmon Jones (PRINCESS OF THE NILE). The script was by Daniel Ullman, remaking another film he wrote, THE LONG HORN (1951), which starred Wild Bill Elliott. The supporting cast of CANYON RIVER includes Ray Teal, John Harmon, Jack Lambert, William Fawcett, and Lane Chandler.
As a side note, I've about given up on consulting Leonard Maltin's reference guide for accurate, knowledgeable opinions when it comes to most Westerns. I always make up my own mind about films, of course, but having read Maltin's guide since I was a kid in the '70s, I'm always interested to see what the guide has to say. Despite my great admiration for Mr. Maltin, I'm simply amazed at what he and his staff consider a 1-1/2 star Western. There's a disappointing lack of appreciation for the mid-range Westerns which may not have the artistry of a Ford, Hawks, or Wellman but are nonetheless solid, well-crafted entertainment. CANYON RIVER is such a film, and I'd hate to think Western fans might miss out on this one if they put any credence in Maltin's ratings.
I rented CANYON RIVER from ClassicFlix, but as it turned out, I liked it so much I put it on a list of Warner Archive DVDs I hope to purchase in the future.
Previous reviews of George Montgomery Westerns: CRIPPLE CREEK (1952), GUN BELT (1953), THE LONE GUN (1954), MASTERSON OF KANSAS (1954), BATTLE OF ROGUE RIVER (1954), ROBBERS' ROOST (1955), and GUN DUEL IN DURANGO (1957).