Starring a very young Dean Stockwell as an initially stuck up brat, Cattle Drive is the tale of how a wealthy young man learns humility. Directed in 1951 by Kurt Neumann, who helmed the original film of The Fly, Cattle Drive is a simple story of father and son relationships. Ultimately a redemptive tale of a distant father and his lonely, self-important and disdainfully haughty son, it shows how both of their relationships change when faced with the other’s absence.
Leon Ames plays Chester Graham Sr, a wealthy railroad owner and Dean Stockwell plays his young spoiled son Chester Graham Jr. Stuck aboard his father’s private carriage travelling across country as business conducted and little time is available to spend together, the poor lad is bored out of his mind. Bored he may be, but he’s also pretty unpleasant with it, getting in trouble with the train conductor (Griff Barnett) for his toffee-nosed antics. Sympathy is fairly low.
On a stop to take on water Chester Jr strays from the tracks and gets left behind. And tellingly it’s not until the train has travelled far away that anyone notices.
Chester Jr wanders far and wide and is discovered by a group of cowboys and their large herd of cows, on a cattle drive to the Santa Fe. They find Chester’s snotty nosed superiority funny rather than annoying and experienced cowhand Dan Matthews (Joel McCrea) kindly offers to take him with them, as they are heading to his father’s destination, albeit the long way round. It’s an offer to learn the ways of the land. There’s virtually no women on screen throughout and it’s clear that it’s a man’s world on saddle-back. This is a story of lost fathers after all. There’s little mention of Chester’s mother.
On the journey Chester Jr has to learn the ways of working in a team and becomes the tenderfoot of the team, picking up the skills and learning to love life on the land.
And, that’s about it. There’s not a great deal of drama, the plot is very simple and everything wraps up in a suitably sweet but slightly illogical way.
The performances are perfectly adequate, and it’s a real curiosity to see the usually usually irascible character actor Dean Stockwell (best known as Al from Quantum Leap) as a kid. But as there is not much in the way of challenging storyline or real character conflict the film appears to have a beginning and an end, but not much of a middle. Aside from the nicely staged cattle footage, the action is oddly static for something which takes place on the road. As a film it doesn’t trouble the audience much, and as it rides off into the sunset its departure doesn’t leave the viewer begging for more.
Cattle Drive is out on DVD on Monday 18th April.