2 November 2006 | aimless-46
A Blend of John Ford and Disney-with a Great Performance by Juliet Mills
Director Andrew V. McLaglen's "The Rare Breed" (1966) has a surprising amount of historical interest, both to students of the old west and to western genre film buffs. It is actually a fairly accurate (if fictionalized) account of the displacement of Longhorn cattle on the Texas range by intentional interbreeding with more conventional bulls (in this case a Hereford named Vindicator).
Just as interesting is the film's position as one of the early intentional parodies of the western genre. While less obvious than in "Cat Ballou" (1965), the self-reflexive elements and parody are there if you look close. The most obvious are Brian Keith's overplayed (almost expressionistic) Scotsman and McLaglen's juxtaposition of classic John Ford outdoor scenery with obvious sound stage shots-including matte paintings by Albert Whitlock. And McLaglen rounds out his cast with genre favorites Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., and Jack Elam.
But "The Rare Breed's" real claim to fame is as the first "chick flick" western. It is likely to appeal more to women than men viewers as the story is told from the point of view of its heroine Hilary Price (Juliet Mills), who sets out with her parents to bring a small herd of cattle from Hertfordshire (England) to the American west. Unfortunately her father dies on the ocean voyage so Hilary and her mother Martha (Maureen O'Hara) are faced with the daunting task of completing what had been her father's dream.
Mills is wonderful in this role and it really suits her. She is a placid observer of the strange land in which she finds herself while her mother is almost savagely reactive. Yet Mills gets all the really good lines as Hilary injects a lot of wit and wry humor into the story. McLaglen gives real dimension to only two of the characters, Hilary and "Bulldog" Sam Burnett (Jimmy Stewart). Burnett is a cowhand who starts out to swindle the two women but ends up being completed by them; eventually becoming a father/husband replacement to Hilary and Martha respectively, as well as a complete believer in their mission to change the nature of the American cattle industry.
But Burnett has to come a long way to make this transition as he begins by calling the symbolically named Vindicator a muley bull (because it has no horns). His reaction does not get him off to a good start with the protective Hilary, who has raised Vindicator from a calf. The bull follows her around like a dog and is easily quieted with a verse from "God Save the Queen".
Entertaining but not riveting, this unique example of the genre is a nice change of pace. Unfortunately the scenes between Keith and O'Hara will make you think more of Disney's original "The Parent Trap" than the film you thought you were watching.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.