Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Cattle Town (1952)

CATTLE TOWN is an amiable Western which will be particularly enjoyed by fans of Dennis Morgan's tenor singing voice.

Morgan plays Mike McGann, a representative of the governor of Texas who is charged with preventing a range war between land owner Judd Hastings (Ray Teal) and a group of cattle owners headed by Ben Curran (Philip Carey).

When confronted with danger, McGann and his partner, Shiloh (George O'Hanlon), are as likely to resort to music as guns, which gives this Western a unique spin. McGann's good with a gun when he needs to be, but he's also cagey and clever. A couple of his techniques, when he out-maneuvers the bad guys, made me think of James Garner's MAVERICK or Garner's later title character in SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969).

It's a fast-paced little movie, clocking at 71 minutes, and it's got a nice cast. Unfortunately the conventions of the era meant that Morgan rides off into the sunset with pallid Amanda Blake, who plays the land owner's daughter, rather than the much more interesting, fiery Queli (Rita Moreno), with whom he develops a strong relationship.

Other faces in the cast are Paul Picerni, Jay Novello, and Robert J. Wilke, with a young Merv Griffin making a brief apperance as the governor's aide.

The film didn't seem to have much of a budget, but the action scenes smoothly mix location filming, stock footage, and back projections. The black and white cinematography was by Ted McCord.

This is one of those movies which illustrates the importance of judging a film for oneself. I'd read a couple of two-star reviews, including a rather harsh assessment in Leonard Maltin's CLASSIC MOVIE GUIDE, so I was pleasantly surprised to find the film quite agreeable, and as a fan of Dennis Morgan, I was glad I'd given it a try.

CATTLE TOWN marked the end of Morgan's long, successful career at Warner Bros. Morgan's credits during his time at the studio included fun early entries such as THREE CHEERS FOR THE IRISH (1940), a favorite in which he plays a Scots policeman opposite Priscilla Lane, as well as "B" films like TEAR GAS SQUAD (1940) -- he's a singing policeman in that one -- and WINGS FOR THE EAGLE (1942), one of numerous films teaming Morgan with Jack Carson.

Over the years Morgan appeared in many good films and some genuine classics, including KITTY FOYLE (1940), AFFECTIONATELY YOURS (1941), CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS (1942), IN THIS OUR LIFE (1942), THE HARD WAY (1943), THE DESERT SONG (1943), GOD IS MY CO-PILOT (1945), CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945), TWO GUYS FROM MILWAUKEE (1946), CHEYENNE (1947), MY WILD IRISH ROSE (1947), and PERFECT STRANGERS (1950). My favorite from among Morgan's very solid filmography is the charming WWII romance THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU (1944), costarring Eleanor Parker. It's a relatively little-known film which deserves discovery by new audiences.

After CATTLE TOWN Morgan appeared in a handful of other films and TV shows, and by the late '50s he was mostly retired. He passed on in 1994, just a couple of days after his 61st wedding anniversary. It's rather nice to know that an actor one admires was a solid family man off the screen.

The movie was directed by Noel Smith. Smith had a long career but had not directed a film for a decade, and this was his last movie. He passed on in 1955.

CATTLE TOWN can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. It is also available on DVD-R from the Warner Archive.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I find Morgan very appealing. "Cattle Town" sounds right up my alley - a comfort movie. I love a western, and I particularly like those movies where you know everyone in the cast.

8:55 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's exactly what it is -- a genial comfort movie with a familiar cast. If you like Morgan, you should enjoy this one. Hope you get to check it out!

Best wishes,

9:13 AM  

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