BR: Tall Men, The (1955)

November 25, 2019 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  September 17, 2019

Genre:  Western

Synopsis: An already uneasy alliance between an investor and two scheming cattle rustlers is taxed by love for a sultry, long-booted temptress.

Special Features: Isolated Stereo Music Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Mike Finnegan / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and




Director Raoul Walsh may have been attracted to The Tall Men by the oddness of the story, in which former Confederate Col. Ben Allison (Clark Gable) rescues young lass Nella Turner (Jane Russell) from an Indian massacre, falls for her one night, and through a clash of dreams, the couple break up the morning after and attempt to go their separate ways, only to end up in the same town.

The second storyline involves gambler Nathan Stark (Robert Ryan), who’s initially robbed and kidnapped by Ben and younger brother Clint (Cameron Mitchell) at the film’s beginning, but the three come to a strange agreement to drive 5,000 cattle to Montana for a 50/50 split. It’s a preposterous partnership – money for freedom – and the trio’s uneasy alliance is unsurprisingly threatened when Stark woos Nella, and takes her to Montana – a move that drives Ben crazy, and more than suggests Stark may still have a beef with his former captor.

Ben’s a reliable and pragmatic ex-soldier; brother Clint is an alcoholic who leers, brawls, and endangers lives when he’s on the sauce; and leggy Nella is, well, just there to tease and maintain extra friction between gambler and a former colonel from a defeated army.

Whether Nella had a bigger role in the original novel by Clay Fisher (aka Heck Allen) is unknown, but ace screenwriters Sydney Boehm (Union Station, The Big Heat) and Frank Nugent (The Quiet Man, The Last Hurrah) didn’t have an easy job in giving purpose to the character in an otherwise all-male drama. After the success of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), studio Fox wanted to exploit the simmering sexuality of their hot brunette, and Tall Men does feature plenty of PG-rated tease. Russell’s legs are as close to nudity that’s allowed, and there’s an ongoing motif of Nella removing boots and stockings because of sore feet, and taking deep-tub baths in hotels and in arid locations.

For most of the film Nella is more of a trophy which Stark parades to piss off everyone within the huge team of cattle drivers. She also breaks up the film’s seriousness with middle-brow humour, and sustains the faux mystery as to which stud (aka ‘tall man’) she’ll choose at the end of the picture.

The finale is perfunctory – all really does end well for everyone – but within this 121 min. drama are some of the most exquisite outdoor widescreen cinematography committed to film. Leo Tover was a master in colour (The Revolt of Mamie Stover, Journey to the Center of the Earth) and B&W (The Heiress, The Day the Earth Stood Still), but his exceptionally composed framing of vistas and mass-movements of cattle across varied terrain are jaw-dropping in this gorgeous HD transfer.

The cattle wrangling and migration make up a hefty chunk of the film, yet they never feel rushed nor function as padding; Louis Loeffler’s editing is measured and maximizes the beauty of each shot, and Walsh keeps the plot, drama, and action moving with the same elegance and eye for detail as in his epic early widescreen western The Big Trail (1930). Mike Finnegan’s excellent booklet notes pay homage to Walsh’s career, and offer a few production notes on what some critics regard as one of Gable’s best and most natural performances.

If the comedic moments feel forced, they’re at least well-acted by the attractive cast, and as minor as Nella may seem to the men’s main goal – reach Montana, make money – she does lighten the tension. Gable was adept in any role, and he handles the comedy with a wry grin, and the jealousy with a calm smirk before returning to quandary of driving a huge herd through dangerous territories and rough terrain.

The villains are (unsurprisingly) thieving jayhawkers and Sioux Indians; the former are ruthlessly slaughtered by Ben and his team, whereas the Sioux mess up their canyon raid with juvenile overzealousness; both scenes offer classic gunfire action to break up the more staid drama and pastoral cattle scenes, but the real stars are neither actors nor action, but the rocky locations and perfectly chosen vantages where Tover’s camera covers snaking waves of men and beasts. (This is a film that really needs to be seen on a big screen for maximum impact.)

Composer Victor Young does repeat his cattle drive theme way too many times, but the quiet scenes offer some really intriguing variations and colorations, especially the undercurrent of physical danger and sexual tension. The disc features robust 2.0, 4.0, and 5.1 mixes, and Young’s orchestral score sounds like it was recorded yesterday – a tribute to the composer, the superb orchestrations, and the gifted Fox studio musicians. Russell’s repeated vocal renditions of the main theme may have been designed to sell a hit single, but the placements range from impromptu to ridiculous, including one in Stark’s parked wagon with orchestral backing.

Perhaps because of the boost in detail on Blu-ray, there’s also a uniquely matted shot during the final shootout that features a marriage of background canyon, side canyon, and front battle elements; the seams aren’t perfect, but it’s a daring and well-organized composite because it features moving cattle and fighters.

This 1955 production shows Russell in her peak film years at the studio, and Ryan enjoying a co-leading man role with Gable; the male pair have great screen chemistry, and Ryan manages to give some of Stark’s nuttier metaphors gravitas that’s otherwise absent.

Like Russell, Mitchell was a Fox contract star, and he holds his own beside Ryan, with whom he’d share some choice screen exchanges in Fuller’s nutty ugly American noir House of Bamboo (1955). Also strong among supporting players is Juan Garcia as Lius, Ben’s loyal second mate. His character transcends the usual Mexican stereotype, as later scenes show him to be an adept manager, motivator, and the group’s spiritual leader, giving grace to a tragic (and kind of dumb) death in a burial scene. Garcia’s best scene is a quiet, tender moment in which Luis explains to Nella his unwavering devotion to Ben.

Gable aged significantly in his later postwar years, but he retained a special majesty which enabled him to play flawed and conflicted characters, and still be a romantic lead when the studio kept pairing him with their latest stars. He made a slew of films during the 1950s, working steadily up to his passing in 1960, and re-teamed with director Walsh for The King and Four Queens (1956) and Band of Angels (1957).

The Tall Men was originally available as a single DVD and in a Clark Gable set from Fox that included Soldier of Fortune (1955) and Call of the Wild (1935).



© 2019 Mark R. Hasan





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