Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Tom Owens (Tyrone Power) is learning the stagecoach business on the San Francisco to St Louis run. He doesn’t like the stagecoach business but his father is the superintendent of the western operations of the company so Tom is learning the business whether he likes it or not.
There is bad news at Rawhide Station, a remote way station. Four desperate criminals, led by convicted killer Rafe Zimmerman (Hugh Marlowe), have broken out of prison. They’ve already robbed one stage, killing the driver, and it’s assumed they will strike again. The news arrives just after the eastbound stage arrives. Among the passengers is a Miss Vinnie Holt (Susan Hayward) with a baby. Company rules don’t allow children to travel when there’s additional danger such as that posed by the escaped desperadoes. So instead of travelling on the stagecoach crewed by two armed men and with a military escort she has to spend the night at Rawhide Station where there are only two men to protect her.
Tom Owens and Vinnie Holt pretty much take an instant dislike to each other. In fact they clash so badly that we naturally assume they will end up falling in love (I’m not going to tell you if that actually happens or not). Vinnie is the kind of gal you might reasonably describe as fiery. She’s already in a bad mood and that mood gets steadily worse although eventually she is forced to accept that like it or not she’s going to have to rely on Tom Owens and she’d better get used to it.
Vinnie and Tom have also come to the inescapable conclusion that Zimmerman is not going to be able to let them go after robbing the stagecoach. They’ve become witnesses to murder and he’ll have to kill them. So they’re going to have to come up with a plan for survival.
Susan Hayward as a spitfire is the kind of casting that just can’t fail. She was a showy actress who tended to overact (and do so very well) and she makes an interesting contrast to the much more low-key Power. While there’s the usual Hayward feistiness here her performance is actually a lot more nuanced than usual.
These three key characters are all equally interesting and all have quite a bit of depth. All are, in their own ways, trapped by fate (we find that this applies to Vinnie as well once we find out how she managed to get saddled with that baby). So again there’s that hint of film noir - these are people who have become the playthings of fate.
There’s not a lot of action in Rawhide. It’s not that type of movie. It’s a suspense movie and Henry Hathaway keeps the tension at the highest possible level throughout. The plot is on the surface a standard western plot but screenwriter Dudley Nichols does clever and interesting thing with a straightforward story framework. Most of all the film gives us characters interesting enough that we develop an emotional investment in their fates.
The Region 4 DVD from Bounty is barebones but the transfer is quite good.
Rawhide is a great western and a great suspense movie with intriguing film noirish elements. Very highly recommended.