Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Warner Archive Grab Bag: Two with Rod Cameron(STAMPEDE and SHORT GRASS) ""

Monday, June 3, 2013

Warner Archive Grab Bag: Two with Rod Cameron(STAMPEDE and SHORT GRASS)

I can't say I was too familiar with Rod Cameron before seeing these two films. His face is familiar so I'm sure I've come across him in my travels, but he wasn't immediately recognizable to me. Also, the way he enters STAMPEDE is interesting in that he comes off as a huge son-of-a-bitch right out of the gate here and I guess I had expected more of a jovial cowboy. It's a complicated character though, he plays Mike McCall, an Arizona cattleman whose none too keen on sharing his water with a new group of settlers who've purchased the neighboring land. Mike also has to contend with a group of ruthless land developers who'll stop at pretty much nothing to see that their bigger plans for the territory are carried out. Unfortunately for a film with this title, the stampede doesn't come until the last 10 mins or so which was a bit disappointing. I guess I was hoping for some kind of Irwin Allen-esque stampede movie too which this sure ain't. The cast is mostly folks I've not seen before, minus Gale Storm(IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE) and a few others. Genre favorite Johnny Mack Brown stars as the local lawman and friend to McCall. 
Rod Cameron strikes me as a very "man's man" kind of cowboy actor, but he's lacking much of the vulnerability and depth that a John Wayne Wayne or even a Johnny Mack Brown has. He just comes off as gruff here and not particularly likeably so.
Interesting note: this film was co-scripted by a young Blake Edwards.

SHORT GRASS is certainly the better of these two films. Rod Cameron is much better suited to play the drifter character he takes on here. His drifter, Steve Llewellyn, called it quits with the irons after an incident where he killed another man in self-defense. Cameron's aloofness suits Llewellyn well as a man who really just wants to be left alone and keep a low profile.  Much to his chagrin though, Steve's low profile is thrown for a loop when he get's unintentionally entangled in a safe robbery. The lovely Cathy Downs(MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, THE SUNDOWNERS) takes Llewellyn in after a shootout and helps nurse him back to health with the help of her father Pete. Steve stakes Pete some dough to buy grassland and he ends up stirring up quite a bit of trouble with some other local cattlemen. One thing I certainly take away from both these films is cattlemen are some violent folks. Always pushing each other around and killin' each other. It's like cowboy gang-wars. All sides always scrappin' for pieces of turf.
I dig the dialogue here. Lots of nice little bits of tough guy exchanges that help make it a bit more memorable. The writer is Tom W. Blackburn, who also scripted several Randolph Scott westerns and the cult favorite DAVY CROCKETT: KING OF THE WILD FRONTIER. Rod Cameron really makes the writing work too. His no-nonsense delivery makes him feel much more able an actor(or at least suited to this material, as I said) than I first gathered. If he only did movies like this, I could totally see the appeal. And Cathy Downs is a striking beauty. Somewhere between a young Liz Taylor and Karen Allen. Easy on the eyes for sure. Oh and I almost forgot: more Johnny Mack Brown. He's back as another local sheriff here and does his usual bang-up job. Another familiar face is the Alan Hale Jr. in a small role. Always throws me to see the Skipper as not-the-Skipper, but I do love to see him in older films. 
Notable: this movie features one of very few occurrences I can think of where a gun is used as a thrown weapon instead of for a duel in a western. Also has a badass little close-quarters shootout in a saloon. Haven't seen too many such scenes where somebody starts just lighting folks up out of nowhere like that.

Both films(and a few other Rod Camerons) are available as MOD DVD via Warner Archive: HERE

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