saddle the wind (1958)

The 1950s was the decade of the hoodlum.  Movies like The Wild One (1953), starring an iconic Marlon Brando, and Rebel Without a Cause (1955), with an equally iconic James Dean, were doing cinematically what Elvis Presley was doing with rock ‘n’ roll: making alienation sexy.  Teenage angst sold big and the Western was not immune to the trend.  Over the course of the decade, the genre changed considerably, and many films showed that they could incorporate broader thematic concerns into their narratives other than a traditional good guy versus bad guy dynamic.  Pictures like Broken Arrow (1950) were trying to significantly change the way Native Americans were represented on screen, showing them as something more than just agents of terror, and High Noon introduced a strong element of social commentary into the genre, influencing a number of other movies in the process.  The plight of angry, anti-social, mumbling American young men would trickle down onto the open range as well.  Juvenile delinquency and amoral violence would not be relegated to just the urban wastelands.  Characters wracked with existential uneasiness were nothing new for the Western, but the recent fashion of teenage rebellion was unique.  Probably the most memorable of this new breed was Arthur Penn’s feature film directorial debut, The Left Handed Gun (1958), starring Paul Newman as the ultimate maladjusted rebel, Billy the Kid.  That same year, John Cassavetes–who like Newman was also a Method-trained actor–played the gun-crazy younger brother of rancher Robert Taylor in Saddle the Wind (1958).  Scripted by Rod Serling, the film is a standard though gripping psychological Western, the type of entertaining oater that could regularly be seen during that decade.  It’s nowhere near as great as the work of Anthony Mann or Budd Boetticher during that same period, but it’s good stuff nonetheless and far better than its critical reputation would have you believe.  It’s the type of solid, well-crafted, non-epic Western I wish was still being made today.

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