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CATTLE EMPIRE(director: Charles Marquis Warren; screenwriters: Endre Bohem/Eric Norden/from a story by Dan Ullman; cinematographer: Brydon Baker; editor: Leslie Vidor; cast: Joel McCrea (John Cord), Don Haggerty (Ralph Hamilton), Bing Russell (Douglas Hamilton), Gloria Talbott (Sandy), Phyllis Coates (Janice Hamilton), Paul Brinegar (Tom Jefferson Jeffrey), Hal K. Dawson (George Washington Jeffrey), Richard Shannon (Garth), Duane Grey (Juan Aruzza); Runtime: 83; 20th Century-Fox; 1958)
“A routine western from the 1950s…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Warning: spoilers throughout.

A routine western from the 1950s that is distinguished by the presence of Joel McCrea as John Cord, a trail boss who seeks revenge for falsely being imprisoned. In real life McCrea was a wealthy cowboy who owned a thousand acre working ranch in Southern California, which he helped run. He was one of the most natural riding cowboys to hit the silver screen, reminding many of the old legends Tom Mix and William S. Hart. The other distinguished party in this revenge oater is Daniel B. Ullman, a noted “B” western script specialist, whose unique stories were used in a multitude of Westerns.

The film opens with John Cord just released from prison after serving 5-years and being dragged by rope across town. He is nearly dead when rescued by the blind Ralph Hamilton (Haggerty). In Ralph’s buckboard are his pretty blonde wife Janice (Coates) and Ralph’s younger brother, Douglas (Bing). The townsmen want to drag Cord to his death, saying he should have never shown his face in town again after what he did. The locals blamed him for turning his drunken cowhands loose on the town after a cattle drive and many of them losing their lives or suffering injuries including Ralph, who was blinded by Cord in a fight. But Ralph insists that Cord served his time and that the men should let him go, besides it was he who called for Cord to come to town.

Cord is asked to drive Ralph’s herd of over 4,000 cattle over difficult territory and get it to Fort Clemson where the army will buy it at a good price. Ralph needs Cord because he is the only one who could do it and get there before Garth (Shannon) does. Garth is Ralph’s former partner who robbed the wealthy man the town is named after and is in position if he gets his herd there first, to supplant Ralph as the wealthiest rancher in town. Ralph says Douglas is still too green to do it himself. Ralph says, “For Cord, trail driving is like breathing.”

It is also learned that Ralph’s wife married him after Cord was imprisoned, but before that she was Cord’s girlfriend.

Cord has revenge on his mind. He tells Ralph he will lead the herd if he can get the men in town who dragged him by rope to be part of the cattle drive. Cord also goes to see Garth and tells him he will work for him on the sly and will give him a three day start and then he will lead his cattle across to the Dismal River, which is as dry as a bone.

The only loyal friends Cord has on the drive are Tom Jefferson Jeffrey (Paul Brinegar) and George Washington Jeffrey (Hal K. Dawson), two ornery old-time cowhands who trust him implicitly. They also bring along on the drive their attractive cousin Sandy (Talbott), who has a schoolgirl’s crush on the older man ever since she was a youngster.

When push comes to shove, Cord can’t kill off the cattle because he instinctively wants to do a good job– which is what Ralph was banking on. When Cord tells Garth of his change of mind and that he will now take the cattle to where there is water at Horse Thief Creek, Garth doesn’t believe him and decides to take his cattle to Dismal River.

On this arduous drive Ralph confesses how he and Garth set Cord up: that it was his men who ravaged the town not Cord’s. Ralph said that he let Cord go to jail because he was feeling bitter about going blind after the fight he had with him.

There is a classical western shoot-out with Garth’s men. There is also some tame romantic business to take care of, as Cord has both Janice and Sandy wanting to run off with him. Ralph offers him a full partnership, no matter what he does. But in the tradition of the lone cowboy, too pure for this impure world, Cord rides off alone into the sunset having made his peace with everyone. If you want to see a western, an old-fashioned one like they don’t make anymore, this is as good a representative as any.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”