Raoul Walsh’s The Tall Men feels like three Westerns crammed into one. First, there is the tense psychological snowbound conflict between three men, more akin to the work of Anthony Mann of Delmer Daves. Second, there is a relationship comedy/drama between Clark Gable and Jane Russell with touches of Howard Hawks. Finally, there is an epic cattle drive Western, which is more Andrew McLaglen than John Ford.
To say the least, The Tall Men is a confused movie. My personal taste prefers the first third and its suspenseful scenarios between Gable and Robert Ryan. The romance that follows has some good moments but is undermined by its comedic elements. And though the expansive second half is certainly pretty to look at, it chooses landscape over character. Focused on scale, Walsh puts the people aside and their emotional journey never reaches its proper conclusion. The final decisions for the Jane Russell character are especially unfounded. The director had a great set-up and just didn’t carry it carefully to the end.
Even the second half is not without some fine moments, specifically a great standoff with some Jayhawkers, but spectacle doesn’t do anything for me unless the characters and story are front and center.
Watched on Criterion Channel