The Outriders (1950), Saddle Tramp (1950)

THE OUTRIDERS, Joel McCrea, Arlene Dahl, 1950
THE OUTRIDERS, Joel McCrea, Arlene Dahl, 1950

More Joel McCrea out West in two very enjoyable stories:

The Outriders (1950) has a setup similar to the recently watched Five Guns West (1955), a hijack-the-gold-shipment mission for a group of Confederates fresh out of prison. In this case, it’s McCrea, Barry Sullivan and James Whitmore playing escapees sent by ruthless, unstable leader Jeff Corey to escort a valuable wagon train right into a Rebel ambush. McCrea cools on the plan as he grows attached to the travelers, which include trusting aristocrat Ramon Novarro and widow Arlene Dahl, who’s taking her young brother-in-law (Claude Jarman Jr.) back up North. Predatory Sullivan becomes McCrea’s rival for Dahl’s attention, and Dahl signals her interest with a special campfire dance reserved for McCrea, in the pretty mini-movie “The Green Shoes.” Beautifully shot with great final shootout and a thrilling river-crossing set piece, where the group pushes their luck with ropes and rafts and lose the chuck wagon and the teen to the rapids. The boy’s admiration and imitation of McCrea’s bravery feeds his growing guilt and misgivings, and relief comes once word arrives that the war is over and the gold no longer needed for the cause. Except that it was meant for Corey and gang’s personal use all along, which separates the plunderers from the hero who abandons his defeated side for love and the protection of innocent civilians. Nice work by Whitmore who had to play older and more grizzled than he was, but he made a wise, measured ally.

saddle

Saddle Tramp (1950), directed by Hugo Fregonese, is a total delight, an emotional, heartwarming, hilarious and folksy tale that manages to balance: four boys orphaned by tragedy, a range war and cattle raids, a bitter old coot (John McIntire), a mature young woman (Wanda Hendrix) trying to escape her abuser, and leprechauns. McCrea is perfect as the good-natured drifter, allergic to commitment and responsibility, who gets more of it than he ever thought existed. He complains and hesitates, but refuses to walk away from what fate has dealt him, and naturally comes to love and accept his large “instant” family through the trials of keeping them fed, alive and hidden while he figures out what treachery is afoot at the ranch where he works. The protection and raising of a family are depicted as difficult and heroic, more rewarding than being free as a bird, and women (Hendrix with steely Jeannette Nolan) take up the reins to lead the charge that sorts out all the problems and unites the good men. Plus it’s beyond satisfying to see entitled creep (Ed Begley) get conked on the head before he can snatch his niece back from this healthy, if highly unconventional, new family she’s found. I could have heard “creepin’ creepers” fewer times but that’s a tiny quibble in a movie I had so much fun watching.

Previously: Frenchie, Cattle Drive, The Lone Hand, Stranger on Horseback, The Tall Stranger, Cattle Empire.

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13 thoughts on “The Outriders (1950), Saddle Tramp (1950)”

  1. Two of my favourite McCreas here. So pleased you love ’em as much as I do, Kristina!

    “THE OUTRIDERS” is perhaps a more conventional western of the two but I loved it from the first time I saw it decades ago. “SADDLE TRAMP” is unusual, amusing and just draws you in to its basic warmth. No actor could have fitted this role better than our Joel.

    Another film made around the same time that I also love is “SOUTH OF SAINT LOUIS”. Maybe that will be in your next ‘tranche’!?

    1. Yes this was a great pair, lots of fun and action, not a dull moment, great roles. Just pulled St.Louis out, thanks, that and Stars in my Crown are on deck. Fun coincidence, I just saw Alexis Smith in Little Girl who lives Down the Lane and Whiplash.

  2. Playing catch up again here, Kristina. Two exceptionally fine films highlighted that really work to McCrea’s strengths. The Outriders is easily Roy Rowland’s best work, although he has a number of interesting pictures to his credit. The river crossing set piece is very well done and I have to say Claude Jarman Jr is very affecting and effective as the green young man. Sullivan, equally good as a hero or villain, is smooth and slippery, and McCrea is fine, altering his position as the story, and the journey it describes, progresses.
    That campfire dance with Dahl and McCrea is a beautiful bit of filmmaking, sensitive and heartfelt, not a million miles away from those “grace notes” John Ford was fond of.

    Saddle Tramp is of course much more whimsical but it’s wonderfully done by Fregonese, a director I like more and more all the time – I think I recommended Harry Black and the Tiger at some point in the past and if you haven’t seen that yet, then it’s something to get to work on.

    1. I do have Harry Black marked since your last tip, I found it on YT and really should take a look before it vanishes. Liked both of these a lot. Re Outriders, I saw some reviews say that Sullivan wasn’t good, which I don’t get at all, I thought he did a fine job, like you said. I thought Jeff Corey was great too.

      1. Yes, Corey is good too, very disturbed and disturbing.
        The opinions of others? We all differ and respond to performers in our own way, but i think Sullivan was more than watchable in anything I’ve seen him in.

        1. Yes I’m sure a Sullivan fan. Pleasure seeing him and Stephen McNally in the last few movies, and I like them for similar reasons, good sharp-edged, complex villains or good guys.

  3. I don’t ever remember a bad performance from Sullivan. Very good at both unsympathetic and good – similar in that way to Robert Ryan, I always think.

    1. Yeah, that’s a good way to put it, Jerry. I’d have to say Ryan was was a step up again, the man had great depth. But in terms of versatility and the generally solid nature of his body of work, the comparison’s not at all a bad one.

  4. Oh, I agree, Colin, that Ryan was a step up. The man didn’t have a boring performance in him.

    A ‘Robert Ryan binge’, Kristina, maybe?? Terrific in a number of westerns (‘Day Of The Outlaw’, ‘The Proud Ones’ for a start) but for me he was perhaps THE leading actor in Film Noir. I haven’t watched ‘The Set-Up’ in a long while and it’s probably well overdue. Powerful film.

    1. Believe me, I’m all for all the movie binging I can fit into my day 🙂 I thought my problem was blogging about them all, but I’m finding this is a fun way to do it, with these multi-movie posts and just a few impressions instead of full reviews. I haven’t seen that many Ryan westerns, sure is a good suggestion!

  5. I’m enjoying reading these appreciations of Joel McCrea, for me one of the four greatest male leads in Westerns, along with John Wayne, James Stewart and Randolph Scott. Of course, like others who were great, they were especially great in these postwar years. I’ve see all McCrea from 1946 on–we could call this his mature phase–and glad you’re trying to do it

    In the earlier groups, I most like The Lone Hand in the first group and Stranger on Horseback in the second but the two here have a special place for me in his work. Saddle Tramp, despite seeming so easygoing, modest and charming is a key Western in the timeless wandering/settling theme, subtle but piercing in that last scene with the birds flying overhead (those who have seen in it know this moment). I’ve seen it a number of times now and this feeling has only deepened. It’s really a deceptive film, and Hugo Fregonese, as so often a wonderful director.

    I can only share with others my own feelings about the river crossing and that magical “campfire dance”–one of the most gracefully romantic moments in all “Westerns–in The Outriders. I’m keen to get back to this one soon.

    My favorite McCrea is Colorado Territory, so I’ll be looking for your response to that one. It’s closely followed by Ride the High Country, co-starred with Scott, and these are both top tier among all Westerns. But I also deeply love Stars in My Crown, Saddle Tramp, Ramrod and Wichita among McCrea films (I know you wrote on the last of these and looked it up to read). After that it’s more variable but lots to like in many of the others–in addition to ones I mentioned earlier, South of St. Louis is a standout–and also, as has been mentioned, Fort Massacre, easily the best of his movies between Wichita and Ride the High Country and you will be startled by his role in that one as it’s not what one expects with him, though as usual he’s great.

    Just a natural actor, especially for this genre–moreover, he has appeal and presence as well as believability. Since he makes it all seem real and you don’t see the acting, of course he was long underrated. But not how, hopefully.

    1. I did see Ride the High Country a long time ago, another I should revisit. The campfire dance was very nice, I really enjoyed that kind of moment in a tense story. Wichita was one of my favourite “discoveries” of last year. I agree, with everything I’ve seen so far, he’s so natural and interesting and still a little different in every role. Look forward to getting into the rest of the titles you mention here, thanks so much!

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