Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Overlooked Movies: The Maverick Queen (1956)

THE MAVERICK QUEEN is one of those Western movies that played on TV over and over again when I was growing up, but for some reason I never watched it until now, quite possibly because when I was a kid the pairing of Barbara Stanwyck and Barry Sullivan as the leads wouldn’t have appealed to me. (More about that later.) But it’s based on a novel by Zane Grey and I like Grey’s work when I’m in the right mood, so I figured why not give it a try?

Stanwyck plays Kit Banion (good character name), who owns a saloon but is also part of the Wild Bunch, the outlaw band headed up by Butch Cassidy. Jeff Younger (Sullivan), a cousin to the notorious Younger Brothers who’s recently been released from prison, drifts into town, falls for Kit, who has just broken up with the brutal Sundance (Scott Brady), and works his way into the gang, eventually taking part in a train robbery with them. But there’s a twist (not a particularly surprising one) that threatens to keep Kit and Jeff apart as well as maybe winding up with both of them dead.

I can only give THE MAVERICK QUEEN a qualified recommendation as it’s more of a series of missed opportunities than it is a movie. (Minor spoilers ahead.) Since it was produced by Republic Pictures and the opening credits say the special effects are by Howard and Theodore Lydecker, as soon as I saw that I thought, “Hey, at least there’ll be some spectacular minature work.” Well, no. When the outlaws set out to rob the train, I thought, “That train’s going over a cliff.” Nope. There’s a little bit of stunt work (you know me, I like the bit where guys run along the top of trains), but that’s it. Why bring the Lydecker brothers onto a production if you’re not going to give them anything to do? The stunt work is pretty good, with whoever’s doubling Stanwyck and Brady doing a nice tackle from horseback, followed by a rolling fight down a hill.

What ultimately brings THE MAVERICK QUEEN undone, though, is the casting. The supporting cast is good, with Emile Meyer, Wallace Ford, Walter Sande, John Doucette, and Jim Davis on hand, and Scott Brady is top-notch in his interpretation of the Sundance Kid that’s miles and miles away from Robert Redford’s. (This movie bears no resemblance to either BUTCH CASSIDAY AND THE SUNDANCE KID or the actual history behind the story.) The leads are the problem. I like Barbara Stanwyck, but it seemed like they did everything they could in this picture to make her unattractive. Still, she tries hard and it’s almost impossible not to like her. But whoever decided to cast Barry Sullivan as the stalwart hero was really off the mark. Sullivan’s a fine villain/character actor and he might work as a leading man in some movies, but not this one. I realize I’m supposed to be talking about the movie that is, not the movie I wish it was, but dang, I kept thinking how much more entertaining this film would have been with, say, Virginia Mayo and Randolph Scott as the leads.

But that’s just me, and misgivings aside, I’m glad I finally watched THE MAVERICK QUEEN.


Rick Robinson said...

I'll watch Stanwick in just about anything, but prefer her earlier movies. This time of year, it's Christmas n Connecticut.

James Reasoner said...

CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT is an excellent movie.