“More settlers are moving into the valley. Get rid of them!”
With the growth of television in the 1950s, one victim was the B series western that had been a staple of the screen since the silent era. The western genre itself, however, was not a victim, but became if anything more popular than ever as every Hollywood star whether major or minor, male or female, seemed to get into the saddle at least once. There were, of course, a number of major westerns made, many with a psychological theme and/or a heightened level of violence, but the lesser western staple was now what might be referred to as a minor-A production. It usually featured one or on occasion two stars of the era, was often filmed in colour, lasted between an hour-and-a-quarter and an hour-and-a-half, and featured a traditional plot sometimes tricked out with some exotic western location work such as one of the National Parks. The 1954 film, Cattle Queen of Montana, is a typical example and one that is available on DVD from VCI.
The film was one of a series of mid-1950s RKO releases, mostly westerns, that resulted from the teaming of producer Benedict Bogeaus and veteran director Allan Dwan. Some of the other titles are: Silver Lode, Escape to Burma, and Tennessee’s Partner. Cattle Queen of Montana is a serviceable enough bit of western entertainment, but there’s nothing particularly memorable about it in terms of plot, action, or acting. The story is the familiar ground of cattle being rustled, a land claim being jumped, the valley’s biggest landowner being in cahoots with the Indians, and an undercover government agent. Ronald Reagan is adequate as the latter (apparently he was a replacement for Robert Mitchum who turned the part down), but more interesting is the energetic performance of Barbara Stanwyck as the woman whose cattle and land claim are in jeopardy.
Stanwyck was one actress who always looked at home in a western and usually eschewed the traditional schoolmarm or saloon singer/bargirl roles. Even in the 1930s, she played strong females roles in the likes of Annie Oakley and Union Pacific, and with Cattle Queen of Montana (her 71st film overall), she began a period of frequent western appearances culminating in her starring matriarch role in The Big Valley television series of the late 1960s.
Aside from Stanwyck, the film’s other asset was its location work in Montana’s Glacier National Park. Director Dwan and cinematographer John Alton, shooting in Technicolor, capture the region’s natural beauty very well.
These assets, however, can’t hide the rather uninspiring action sequences and the lack of a really effective heavy as the chief villain. That role is handled here by Gene Evans, who was a familiar western supporting player, but never considered as a major heavy. The cast is rounded out by many faces well-known to western aficionados: Jack Elam, Morris Ankrum, Myron Healey, and Chubby Johnson.
VCI’s full frame (in accord with the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio) DVD transfer is passable. The source material betrays the fact that the original Technicolor has lost its luster to some extent. Colours are rather subdued most of the time, although usually they do look natural enough. Speckles and scratches are common though not really intrusive. There is occasional evidence of edge effects. The mono sound is adequate; there is some evidence of hiss with moderate amplification, but it’s not really distracting. VCI has included the film’s original theatrical trailer plus trailers for three other VCI DVDs: Tennessee’s Partner, The Lone Ranger, and The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold.
Overall, the disc offers enough entertainment value if you’re in the mood for a simple western time-passer, but there’s no repeat value. A rental for western fans only.