Warner Bros. // 1949 // 77 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // July 27th, 2013
Together they defied 5,000 years of tradition!
Stampede deals with Mike McCall (Rod Cameron, River Lady) and his brother Tim (Don Castle, TV's Lassie), cowpokes who own a giant ranch in the dry badlands of Arizona. The brothers sell off some of their extra land to settlers, who are none-too-happy about the fact that the brothers have damned off the local river and now are in charge of all the water. One of the settlers and his beautiful daughter, Connie (Gale Storm, Uncle Joe), discuss their issues with the local sheriff (Johnny Mack Brown, Deep in the Heart of Texas), but he's helpless to do anything. At the same time corrupt land developers are after the McCalls, and don't help matters by trying to cause a stampede over a tall cliff with the McCall's cattle. Will good prevail over evil? Or will everyone get caught in a terrible (wait for it, waaaaait for it) Stampede?
I'm going to come clean and admit that I've never been much of a western movie fan. Impossible, you say? Let's put it this way: my favorite western is the universally reviled Will Smith dud Wild Wild West. That should tell you everything you need to know about how in tune I am with western pictures. So it comes as no surprise that I felt 1949's Stampede was shooting nothing but blanks. It's an enormously disposable western that's only claim to fame is that it was co-written and co-produced by acclaimed comedic director Blake Edwards (The Pink Panther). Otherwise, Stampede is nothing but D.O.A.
Stampede is a film that has been justifiably forgotten (at least to most movie-goers). All of the requisite old west clichés are on display: cowpokes, ten gallon hats, cattle stampedes (hence the title), villainous rascals, a comedic town drunk, half chewed cigars, baths in copper tubs, and a sheriff with a shiny gold badge. The production features gunfights and bank robberies, fist fights and whiskey served in a saloon. I kept expecting Clint Eastwood or John Wayne to show up and ride off into the sunset to complete the cliché. Everything you need for a western is here, only none of it is remotely interesting.
Rod Cameron is stalwart Mike McCall, who speaks in a direct, monosyllabic way to let you know he's straight as an arrow and tough as nails. His character has all the charisma of white bread. Attractive Gale Storm is Miss Dawson, who spends the bulk of the film complaining about a land dispute, slapping Cameron, and falling in love with Mike's brother, Tim. The aforementioned is played by Don Castle who looks way too fresh faced to be a cowhand. None of these actors are able to interject the proceedings with much flair. Almost every male character felt interchangeable; it was sometimes hard to remember who was who because they all dress and act the same.
The screenplay by John C. Champion (Zero Hour!) and Blake Edwards is filled with riveting dialogue like, "Do as you please. I reckon you will anyhow." If that doesn't seem very exciting, then you've got a good idea of how Stampede turns out. Had Stampede featured witty banter or thought provoking dialogue, maybe it could have risen above 'average'. The production design is passable -- the interior sets and dusty town looks sufficiently "old timey" -- but there's just nothing here that's worth remembering. Director Lesley Selander (Tomahawk Trail) frames the film flatly without any originality or panache; each scene just sort of lumbers on the screen, then it moves out of the way for the next one to plop down. Ironic, since lumbering away from my TV was what I did after the end credit started to roll.
Stampede is presented in a very iffy 1.33:1 full frame transfer in black and white. It should come as no surprise that, since Warner is releasing this film in the Warner Archive Collection, not much care has been given to this transfer. There are many instances of dirt, grain, and imperfections in this print. Anyone who is a fan will most certainly be let down at how sub par Stampede looks. The film's audio mix is presented in Dolby 1.0 Mono in English. Much like the video presentation, this audio track is not great. The dialogue, music and effects, while audible, are often tinny and not very clear. There are no subtitles, alternate language tracks, or bonus features.
If you're looking for a rootin', tootin' western, you're not going to find it in Stampede. Bland cowboys, a flaccid story, and lackluster direction make this creaky flick an easy recommendation...to skip.
The film's title is the most exciting thing about this derivative western.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 77 Minutes
Release Year: 1949
MPAA Rating: Not Rated