Every so often a Western sneaks up on my blind side and surprises me. I’ve always respected Jacques Tourneur as a director, and his better known pictures, Out of the Past, I Walked With a Zombie and Cat People are smart and original. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film starring Joel McCrea that wasn’t improved by his presence.
McCrea and Tourneur collaborated on Stars in My Crown (1950), which was among the favorites of both director and actor. So when McCrea agreed to work on Stranger On Horseback, he brought aboard Tourneur as director.
While there’s little in the plotting that distinguishes the film, the dialogue, scenery and simplicity set this movie far apart from other B-Westerns of the era. None of the characters step off into clichés, and each holds some element of dignity and surprise. Stranger On Horseback manages to be a wholly original Western with seeming effortlessness, driven by understatement and honesty. In fact, I would put this film up against many of what are thought of as the more ambitious Westerns of the decade.
This first-time DVD was taken from a print at the British Film Institute, as the negatives have been lost. The color has suffered a bit over time, but the Sedona scenery is no less striking for it.
Also, in keeping with the Texas Rangers theme of this article, I should mention this DVD includes two opisodes of McCrea’s radio series, Tales of the Texas Rangers.