30 October 2010 | wes-connors
Tab Hunter Gets in the Saddle
Soon after his brother has been shot to death, handsome Tab Hunter (as Trace Jordan) arrives in the western town of "Esperanza". Along with Mr. Hunter, we quickly learn the man responsible for murdering brother is young cigar-stomping Skip Homeier (as Jack Sutton). As it turns out, Mr. Homeier and his gang have run the sheriff out of town; they also shoot anyone who tries to stake a claim in the area. Hunter is advised to leave town immediately, but refuses. With his muscular frame and quick draw, Hunter easily infiltrates the Sutton ranch, to demand justice.
Wounded in a shoot-out, Hunter barely escapes from the ranch. He collapses near the home of sexy sheepherder Natalie Wood (as Maria Colton). Taunted by the "Sutton Gang" due to her mixed heritage (English father, Mexican mother) and preference for dresses that accentuate her beautifully-shaped breasts, Ms. Wood hides Hunter from Homeier, and nurses him back to health. Hunter and Wood are mutually attracted to each other. Hunter hopes to report Homeier and his gang to the United States Cavalry at nearby Fort Stockwell. Will he get there?
Warner Bros. must have known putting popular but unproven Hunter in this high-budgeted CinemaScope western would be a gamble - but, it pays off. He always fit the genre like a glove, and it's too bad a long string of Hunter westerns wasn't forthcoming. Hunter's greatest asset, herein, isn't really his handsomeness; rather, it's that he adds a muscular athleticism to the usual western antics. As you'll plainly see, there was no need to fear Hunter would snap a girdle, or slip a toupee. Trying on a Spanish accent, Wood is tightly outfitted, and highly arousing.
Homeier turns in a wonderfully nasty supporting performance. Mixed-raced "Indian" tracker Eduard Franz (as Jacob Lantz), limping liquor-soaked Earl Holliman (as Mort Bayliss), and foreman Claude Akins (as Ben Hindeman) lead a strong supporting cast. With sexless romance and Spanish stereotypes, writer Louis L'Amour (book) and Irving Wallace (script) break no new ground, but you know how these western stories go. Director Stuart Heisler corrals the young stars well; he left feature films for dependable work on episodic western television.
******** The Burning Hills (8/23/56) Stuart Heisler ~ Tab Hunter, Natalie Wood, Skip Homeier, Earl Holliman