Sunday, October 20, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Mustang Country (1976) at the Lone Pine Film Festival

I'm not reviewing the titles seen at this year's 30th Lone Pine Film Festival in any particular order, so next I think I'll dive into the very last film we saw at the festival, MUSTANG COUNTRY (1976).

Joel McCrea came out of retirement to star in this film, which is set in the 1920s. There are only three other actors in the movie, two of them very small parts, so McCrea carries the film on his capable shoulders. He plays Dan, a retired rodeo rider who now lives in a cabin on a farm owned by his daughter and son-in-law.

Accompanied by his dog Luke, Dan is tracking a wild stallion he calls Shoshone. He has no luck capturing the magnificent horse, nor do his friends Griff (Robert Fuller) and Dan (Patrick Wayne).

Dan is injured while trying to capture the horse on his own and is aided by Nika (Nika Mina), a young Indian boy who has run away from school. Dan and Nika decide to work together for a week to try to capture the horse, and if successful they'll split the proceeds.

Dan and Nika's quest is a struggle, but perhaps in the end it's more about helping one another and what is learned along the way...and ironically, the need for some help is what leads them closer to Shoshone.

I'm generally not big on "nature" type films and I was pleased that I liked this movie more than I expected, especially given its middling reputation. It's about on a par with a '70s Disney film in terms of being a bit sentimental, with nice production values and attractive Technicolor photography. It's no classic, but it's well done for a film of its type, and spending 79 minutes with the relaxed yet always compelling Joel McCrea in the beautiful great outdoors is more than enough reason to watch.

I did have one problem with the story which I won't disclose in the interest of being spoiler free, but the film violates what I consider a cardinal rule for acceptable animal films. Other than that, I liked the movie.

I was rather surprised when the film ended and I realized that Fuller and Wayne had essentially only made cameo appearances in the film. I kept expecting the movie to circle back to their characters at some point, but it never did.

Director John C. Champion had produced TV's LARAMIE (1959-63) starring Fuller, which is what led Fuller to agree to take his brief role. Fuller and Wayne add some nice energy to the film and feel authentic as cowboys, though I think I'd enjoy them more on a second viewing, having a better concept of their characters and knowing their appearances would be limited.

Champion, incidentally, also wrote and produced MUSTANG COUNTRY.

In his introduction at the festival Wyatt McCrea, seen here, recounted that he was on the set of MUSTANG COUNTRY as a teenager, and it was there that he first truly realized the depth and significance of his grandfather's career as he listened to conversations on the set.

Joel McCrea had come out of retirement to make the film, which Wyatt remembers as a special family time. After that Joel was determined to stay retired and told anyone who offered a script not to send it to him, "because I might like it!"

MUSTANG COUNTRY was photographed by J. Barry Herron in Alberta, Canada.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated G. It is mostly fine for the whole family, but fair warning that there are a couple scenes which tug at the heartstrings and could be upsetting to young children.

MUSTANG COUNTRY is available on DVD in the four-film TCM Vault Joel McCrea Westerns Collection or as a single-title DVD.


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