Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews. I have now launched a podcast about the making of Westerns and the overall filmmaking process. Click here to listen.


Week 179: Cattle Empire (1958)


What stands out most about Charles Marquis Warren’s second Western with Joel McCrea is how he uses the movie star in an unconventional way.

Especially in the first half, Warren plays with villainous qualities in his protagonist, creating quite the anti-hero. The film opens strikingly with an attempted lynching and some great stunt work. It moves into an exploration of McCrea’s trail boss whose motivations don’t become clear till halfway through the picture. I loved how the film played with his persona, having no qualms about using two opposing cattle ranches to his favor and playing with the affections of a married woman. It’s an unusual amoral McCrea we’re presented with. There was even a moment where I thought he might be setting up a certain blind character to be mercilessly assassinated by giving him his coat…

“It might be in him to destroy us, but not the cattle,” that same disabled character says about McCrea and then his intentions are revealed and the movie moves in a less unpredictable direction. It’s still a fine Western but the second half is not as thrilling as the first, playing by the numbers of the cattle drive subgenre. It’s not till the ending that Warren once again defies expectations and makes a couple choices I didn’t see coming.

Overall, this is a solid Western and one with a few memorable moments from its director that make it worth further consideration.

Watched on YouTube