Using Cinemascope beautifully and with a quartet of fine star performances, Raoul Walsh’s The Tall Men breaks no new ground in the western genre but remains a high quality, well-rounded entertainment.
The Production: 3.5/5
A western epic filled with traditional, predictable elements, Raoul Walsh’s The Tall Men is nevertheless very entertaining. Using Cinemascope beautifully and with a quartet of fine star performances, The Tall Men breaks no new ground in the western genre but remains a high quality, well-rounded entertainment.
Thinking better of robbing the wealthy rancher Nathan Stark (Robert Ryan), Ben (Clark Gable) and Clint (Cameron Mitchell) Allison instead are hired by their former almost-victim to lead a huge herd of cattle and horses from Texas to Montana. Earlier, they had seen a tribe of Sioux raiding a small pioneer village. The brothers save the spirited Nella Turner (Jane Russell) and romantic sparks immediately fly between Nella and Ben. However, Nella’s desire for wealth puts a damper on their burgeoning relationship as Ben’s aspirations go no farther than a small, comfortable Texas ranch. With the wealthy Stark dangling a luxurious life owning half of Montana, Nella switches her allegiance to him. Meanwhile, the cattle drivers must make one last trip through unwelcoming territories alive with bandits and hostile Indians.
Adapted from the novel by Clay Fisher, the Sydney Boehm-Frank Nugent screenplay trots out all of the traditional elements found in a cattle drive western: bandits in hiding demanding ransom to gain access to another territory, inclement weather, river and mountain crossings at their deadliest, and, naturally, for the finale, a showdown with bloodthirsty Indians (who pass up all opportunities to attack out in the open so they can box up their prey on all sides in a canyon; the resolution of this seemingly impossible situation is one of the few real surprises in an otherwise very predictable scenario). Even with all the clichés, director Raoul Walsh takes every opportunity to put his wide, wide Cinemascope frame to good use: wagon trains were the perfect visual for the wide, narrow format (whether crossing the plains, a river, or a mountain pass, the shape is ideal for it), and in the scene when Ben and Nella come to loggerheads on their differing ambitions for their futures, he moves them literally and symbolically to opposite sides of the frame. The action throughout is well staged, too: the two Indian attacks are not drawn out to exhaustion, a cattle stampede is among the best ever filmed, and a climactic showdown between protagonist and antagonist features very clever staging and shooting as well.
Clark Gable is perfect casting as the rough and tumble Ben Allison: tough but with a clear and calculating head on his shoulders. As his hot-headed, sometimes drunken younger brother Clint, Cameron Mitchell is well cast, too, getting into scrapes that his brother must maneuver him through. Robert Ryan as the more refined, wealthy Nathan Stark does very well by not making Stark a black-hearted character but merely a different side of the coin for the ambitious Nella of Jane Russell to choose between. Apart from multiple choruses of “Tall Men” crooned in her inviting style, Jane Russell doesn’t have much to do in the film apart from getting into and out of various gowns and revealing underwear. It’s simply ludicrous that she would have accompanied the men on this excruciatingly long and dangerous cattle drive with nothing to bring to the table but a shapely figure, but as the second-billed star of the movie, there was no way she would have been left behind in Texas for the last hour of the movie. Juan Garcia makes a very positive impression as the close amigo of Ben Allison whose allegiance is important during several tense moments of the movie.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s original Cinemascope aspect ratio of 2.55:1 is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Those who have occasionally been unsatisfied with the color timing on Fox’s 1950s Cinemascope transfers will have no problems with the transfer here. It’s pristine with excellent DeLuxe color (the men’s skin tones look very properly weathered) and very fine sharpness. Contrast has been dialed in beautifully. There are no issues with scratches, spotting, or reel change markers. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.
The disc obligingly offers three sound designs: 2.0 stereo, 4.0, or 5.1 configurations all in DTS-HD Master Audio. The default 5.1 for me was the least of the three encodes, a little underpowered and underwhelming. I spent most of the disc enjoying the 4.0 sound mix with its directional dialogue and nice spread of music and sound effects across the fronts and into the surround channels. Others may prefer one of the other choices. No matter which one you pick, you won’t be burdened with age-related hiss, pops, crackle, or flutter.
Special Features: 2.5/5
Isolated Score Track: presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0
Theatrical Trailer (2:26, SD)
Six-Page Booklet: contains some black and white and color stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Mike Finnegan’s astute essay on the movie.
Raoul Walsh’s The Tall Men is a worthy western now coming to Blu-ray from Twilight Time. Even if it doesn’t offer many surprises, it’s a sprawling epic smoothly directed and with some appealing star performances and outstanding cinematography. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.