After watching Silver River, with it’s strong plot, good cast, and high production values, it’s a bit of a disappointment to view Montana (1950) next. What we have here is a B movie that uses technicolor in a vain attempt to disguise that fact. It’s a real struggle to find anything good to say about this film; the story is flat and unengaging, the cast largely anonymous, and the action (what little there is) is dull and devoid of tension. On the plus side, the colour photography adds a little sheen to a few scenes and it’s mercifully short, clocking in at just 76 minutes.
Montana falls into that small sub-genre of westerns that deals with the conflict between the cattlemen and the sheepmen. Now, there’s a very good reason why such stories never gained much popularity – it’s essentially a dull subject that doesn’t grab you. The plot deals with the efforts of Morgan Lane (Flynn) to drive his herd of little woolly guys into Montana and graze them on the open range. The cattle ranchers, who have already established themselves, are implacably opposed and are prepared to use whatever means are necessary to keep the sheepmen out. The ranchers, in the shape of Maria Singleton (Alexis Smith) and her betrothed Rod Ackroyd (Douglas Kennedy) have the range carved up between them and are preparing for war. Lane manages to trick Miss Singleton into signing over a lease, and the stage is set for a showdown. The problem is that there’s no real tension generated and the on-off romance between Flynn and Smith just feels contrived and serves only to pad out what is basically a lean tale. By the time you get to the appallingly poor climax it’s hard to care what the outcome will be.
This is one of Flynn’s poorest performances and it’s clear his heart just wasn’t in it. He looks tired for most of the running time and even his likability can’t lift this drivel. Worst of all there’s the unedifying spectacle of the star gritting his teeth and warbling along to a godawful ditty in a duet with Alexis Smith. Miss Smith wasn’t really served any better by this material and spends much of her time flouncing around playing a character whose behaviour perpetually alternates between the arch and the petulant. The rest of the cast is filled up by a bunch of instantly forgettable nobodies giving one flat, one-note performance after another. Oh, S.Z. Sakall makes another of his unwelcome appearances but his character abruptly disappears and no explanation is offered – he’s just there, and then he’s not. This kind of continuity lapse, and the short run time, suggests that portions of this movie ended up on the cutting room floor. Ray Enright was one of those journeyman directors who could produce something passable given the right material, but his point-and-shoot handling of Montana is underwhelming and uninspiring. His filming of the big stampede at the climax is an object lesson in how not to shoot an action scene. We get pointless images of rampaging cattle interspersed with head and shoulder shots of Flynn and others bobbing up and down, pretending to be riding horses, against a painted backdrop!
For such a weak film Montana is presented handsomely on DVD in R1; the transfer is clean and the colours are strong. There’s a good selection of extras from Warners with trailers and shorts – best of all are three western shorts, which I actually found more entertaining than the main feature. Prior to this viewing I hadn’t seen Montana in over twenty years. I had forgotten most of the story and I have to say it really is a forgettable movie. If you’re a Flynn completist, like me, you’ll probably want it just to plug the gaps but I seriously doubt it’s the kind of movie anyone is likely to return to in a hurry. Next will be Flynn’s final western, and the last in this short series of reviews – Rocky Mountain.