Saddle the Wind (1958)

Saddle the Wind (1958), directed by Robert Parrish.

Robert Taylor (a tough guy with pretty eyes, now aged to sadness) is an ex-gunman turned rancher. His hot-blooded kid brother has brought home a saloon singer as a fiancee. She's not what the others wanted, but that gate swings both ways. She discovers that her boyfriend has always been considered loco, he's gun crazy and everyone knows he's going to kill someone someday. That day has arrived.

It's a tough, modestly-scaled western made during a transitional period. The exteriors are realistic and the death scenes painful and protracted, as when Royal Dano crawls in a muddy street. On the other hand the ranch interiors look like well-appointed western lodges, the men wear those little leather vests from the costume warehouse, everyone is clean-scrubbed and Julie London is made-up. She sings a ballad to John Cassavetes before he tries to maul her and she has to slug him.

Western plots are usually about the wilderness becoming domestic. The problem here is that none of the main characters are suited to the task. We're uncertain and disoriented until close to the end, when by strenuous effort the hard undomesticated men are killed or pushed out and some justice is delivered to the unwelcome settlers who want to put up their barbed wire.

This is also a case similar to The Misfits (1961), where old-school vs new-method acting styles accentuate a generational conflict in the story. In 1950s movies you get the divide from both sides: kids trying to break out of repressive conformity and social hypocrisy, vs the fear adults have of the amoral rising generation, as in juvenile delinquent films. This western is more like the latter.

An aside:

I've often wondered if the youth culture that started in the 1950s (and continues to this day) wasn't sparked by the difference in life experiences between the generations then:

Dad: "You kids have it easy. You didn't have to work during the Depression. I fought World War 2!"

Son: "That's right, Dad. The Depression is over and the nazis are beaten. I can't do it again".

The kids can never earn the respect of their elders so they create their own unrooted, despairing society. Then it was still counter-culture: the biker gang never takes over the town for long, the beatniks don't run businesses. The alternative culture would displace the mainstream later.

Notes:

http://watershade.net/public/saddle-the-wind.jpg