Montana (1949)

by Paul on January 4, 2013

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It certainly is easy to recognize that some movies were thrown together quickly, and that is exactly what you will find with “Montana” (1949). The film stars Errol Flynn and looks like it could have been filmed in just a couple of days. Flynn (a native Australian), in an opportunity to actually play an Australian, is a sheepherder named Morgan who has traveled to Montana in order to capitalize on the lush grazing that the cattlemen have been monopolizing for years. The cattlemen believe that sheep destroy the land, and therefore they have adapted a shoot on sight policy for all sheepherders passing through this part of the open range.

After one of Morgan’s men is killed, he poses as an assistant to a traveling salesman (S.Z. Sakall) and heads into town. Once there, he meets the main cattle owners, Maria (Alexis Smith) and her fiance, Rod (Douglas Kennedy). Maria and Morgan are instantly attracted to each other and Morgan convinces Maria to lease him some of her extensive property.Montana (1949) When Maria discovers that Morgan is a sheepherder, she is furious for being tricked and vows revenge for Morgan’s lies, even if it means killing him.

Virtually everything about “Montana” is ridiculous. The script is obviously a work in progress, and director Ray Enright seems to have done the best job possible with what he was given, but it isn’t enough. Flynn and Smith had previously paired together in “Dive Bomber” (1941), “Gentlemen Jim” (1942) and “San Antonio” (1945), and “Montana” is not their best pairing. Smith’s character can’t seem to figure out what she is doing with her life, and from scene to scene, changes her attitude and demeanor. She even kisses Morgan moments before giving a speech that convinces everyone to join her in shooting all sheepherders.

Did she actually expect Morgan to give up his life long career, just because she threw herself at him?

The saving grace of the film (just like many films before) is Errol Flynn, playing every role with a lighthearted breeze. He never let the little things (like a bad script and a low budget) bother him, as Flynn gives the same performance that he has Montana (1949)several other times, but it’s still enjoyable because he seduces us with his smile and charm.

“Montana” also struggles because it was released in a critical time in the history of the western film. Westerns were transitioning from care free adventure films into important, serious, and even darker films, with more than just a desire to entertain; they had something to say to their viewers. Notable westerns from the late 1940’s were few and far between, but starting in 1950, filmmakers like Anthony Mann were about to explode onto the screen with such classics as “The Furies” (1950), “Winchester ‘73” (1950) and “The Naked Spur” (1953). Other directors were about to make contemplative and luminous westerns of their own, like Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon (1952), George Steven’s Shane (1953), Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954), and the incomparable John Ford with quite possibly the greatest western of all time, The Searchers (1956). How can an easy going, quickly made film like “Montana” hope to compare to any of these landmark films?

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