The Rare Breed (1966)

Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen

The Rare Breed is one of those many older movies that has become a series of contradictions: it’s good and it’s bad, it’s timeless and it’s dated, it’s memorable and it’s forgettable. I suppose that last, forgettable, is one of its ruling characteristics given the number of people I’ve encountered who were not even aware of it.

The plot, via IMDb:

“When her husband dies en route to America, Martha Price and her daughter Hilary are left to carry out his dream: the introduction of Hereford cattle into the American West. They enlist Sam “Bulldog” Burnett in their efforts to transport their lone bull, a Hereford named Vindicator, to a breeder in Texas, but the trail is fraught with danger and even Burnett doubts the survival potential of this “rare breed” of cattle.”

Essentially, it’s a meat-and-potatoes western with a side order of romantic comedy to boot. I have to conclude that I like it quite a lot given the number of times I’ve watched it, so let me see if I can figure out why.

To begin with, it combines two genres I love – the western and the romantic comedy. In his biography of Jimmy Stewart author Marc Eliot barely gives the movie a mention, saying only, “Production went smoothly, almost mechanically …”

That is a good word, “mechanically,” for The Rare Breed. It explains, at least in part, why I like the movie: while not particularly inspired, it works the elements of both genres expertly so if these are genres you like you’ll probably enjoy the movie. The people involved with the film are craftsmen working their crafts skillfully.

But that’s hardly a rousing endorsement for the movie. Surely there is something else?

Yes, there is and for me that other something is actually two somethings, Juliet Mills and Maureen O’Hara. Frankly, in the first half of the movie Mills steals the show. Apart from being pretty and vibrant on screen, her comedic abilities are brilliant, her timing flawless. She plays O’Hara’s young, proud, “not afraid to say what she thinks” daughter, calling people on their half-truths and facades. Jimmy Stewart plays off her perfectly with his double-takes and halting responses, as only Stewart could do.

O’Hara also works well, though for her it’s not much of a stretch as she plays a character she played many times — the bristly, somewhat proper romantic interest. She’s the woman that the man (or men) won’t win until they clean up and become respectable citizens. (It sounds like one of her many John Wayne films because it is the same role she is playing. But it works!)

About halfway through the movie, the story takes a new turn and we encounter Brian Keith as Alexander Bowen, a Scotsman in Texas in what must be Keith’s most bizarre character and performance. The movie is, after all, a comedy and the Bowen character certainly provides laughs but I’m not sure how much is the character and story and how much is absurdity of the Scot stereotype we see.

Bowen is master of his huge Texas domain and a man who lives like a kind of mountain man: isolated, ill-kempt, rude and barbarous. O’Hara, of course, must tame and civilized this beast of a man.

In yet another contradiction, or at least an off-setting of merits and demerits, the comedy that Juliet Mills has been providing now takes a backseat as we lose the feisty girl when she falls in love, softens and becomes googley-eyed. The loss is balanced, however, by Jimmy Stewart’s character who steps to the fore as someone of substance.

As the movie progresses, O’Hara’s character, the practical Martha Price, abandons her dream of introducing Hereford cattle to Texas. Stewart’s Sam Burnett, however, won over by the conviction of the these two women from England (O’Hara and Mills), takes up her dream and is determined to see cross-bred calves (Hereford, Texas longhorns) in the spring. In the end, he is the only one who believes it will happen.

I think you can imagine how all this wraps. The Rare Breed is a fundamental western. It’s also a fundamental romantic comedy. And while the movie fails to bring anything new to either genre, it’s craftsmanship in doing both, and simultaneously, makes the movie good. It’s fun to watch and I don’t recall it losing momentum anywhere throughout. It engages from beginning to end.

This is the sort of movie you go into knowing pretty much what you’re going to see, and the movie gives you exactly that – what you expected.

You wouldn’t want this from every movie you watch, but there are some where getting what you expect is what makes them so enjoyable.

The Rare Breed is that kind of movie.

2 Responses

  1. Bhavjit says:

    Send the movie om the rare breed

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