Thu 26 Feb 2009
RELENTLESS. Columbia, 1948. Robert Young, Marguerite Chapman, Willard Parker, Akim Tamiroff, Barton MacLane, Mike Mazurki, Clem Bevans. Based on the novel Three Were Thoroughbreds by Kenneth Perkins. Director: George Sherman.
I taped this movie many years ago, but for a time that was just as long, I put off actually sitting down and watching until several days ago. I just couldn’t see Robert Young as a cowboy star, you see. Once you know an actor as a family man (Father Knows Best) or a kindly family doctor (Marcus Welby, M.D.). it’s hard to go back and see him in a western like this one, or even a crime film. He just doesn’t fit the image.
Looking through his list of credits, though, I see that Young was in Western Union (1941) and another film I don’t recall knowing about before, The Half-Breed (1952). I may have missed another, but even so, while it’s not a long list, he’s hardly a zero in the western category. (His first movie credit may have been The Black Camel, the 1931 Charlie Chan film with Warner Oland.)
And in Relentless he proved to me that he could shoot, he could ride, and he was good with horses, and that’s a fact, even if he still looks like a dude to me. In the story, he’s a drifter who’s framed for the murder of one of a pair of claim-jumpers.
Turns out, of course, that it was the other half of the pair who did it, and to clear his name Nick Buckley (that’s Young) has to track down the real killer (that’s Barton MacLane) while the sheriff (Willard Parker — he’s the one on the right in the lobby card above — who later became Ranger Jace Pearson on TV’s Tales of the Texas Rangers) is hard on his heels throughout the movie.
Where does Marguerite Chapman come in? you ask, and you should. She’s the proprietor and sole operator of a general store in a covered wagon, sort of a traveling saleslady, you might say. When she (Luella Purdy) and Nate Buckley both proclaim their independence and total disinterest in getting hitched up with anyone, you know from that moment on that their fate is sealed — even though when Luella once shows up in a dress rather than in her rather fetching cowgirl garb, Buckley barely takes notice — seemingly far more interested in the colt he’d had hopes of raising into a race horse than in her.
Marguerite Chapman, a vivacious brunette and a true girl-next-door type, had a decent career in Hollywood, but sadly, I don’t believe that the general public remembers her at all today.
Interestingly, IMDB says she was asked to appear as “Old Rose” Calver in Titanic, but she was too ill at the time (1997, when she was 89) and the role went to Gloria Stuart. (She’s far too glamorous in the close-up photo I’ve found. She doesn’t look anything like this in this movie, but I thought I’d show it to you anyway.)
As for the movie itself, filmed in color to good effect, it keeps the players on the move throughout the film, with more than enough story line to fill its full 90 minutes or so. It’s even entertaining enough to watch a second time.
But getting back to Robert Young, even after all this, I still have to tell you that he’s too soft-spoken and nice to be a western star. As a guy more interested in his horses rather than the girl — for all but the final scene! — he’s dumb enough in that sense to be one, that’s for sure.