THE TALL MEN would be—in the olden days before a zillion channels made TV so dull—the sort of Saturday afternoon matinee watched in the den, with a BLT and a creme soda, after Dad got back from golf. Fine by me. In 1955, people flocked to see it at drive-in’s, enough to trot it into 8th spot of the years hits ($6,000,000+) . Some may have been drawn from sock hops and bomb shelters by the advertising, which announced “The tall men stood tall…fought all….loved tall…and one man towered above them all!”
Most just wanted see Clark Gable, Jane Russell and Robert Ryan on a cattle drive in CinemaScope and Technicolor, covering familiar but relaxing and reassuring ground under the practiced direction of Raoul Walsh. No sweat. Lots of dust.
Two brothers drivin’ a big-ass herd to Montana, with a doggone bustin’-out’a-her-blouse gal who likes to back-sass, a fancy-manners-partner to swap threats with, Kansas Jayhawkers to decimate, and a horde of fairly clumsy Sioux to evade (vaqueros with their shirts off—the location work was in Durango, Mexico).
Leo Tover does the pretty lensing, Victor Young’s score is okay if somewhat repetitive, the shootout with the Jayhawkers (led by Chuck Roberson, bein’ mean) is a fun old school dustup. At 122 minutes, it takes its time, dawdling some between perils. It’s also a bit choppy—looks like they cut out a slug and that affects the continuity. “Like, so what, Dr. Killbuzz?“, shrugs the western fan: feet up, eating nachos, waiting for Russell to take a bath, grinning when Clark and Cameron Mitchell have a brotherly shoot-off by knocking a tin cup back & forth, idly wondering how what looks like a thousand Indians can be fooled by a stampede.
According to J.R.Jones revealing biography “The Lives Of Robert Ryan”, Ryan related later “I went through the location in a daze. I’ve hardly any recollection of Durango. Gable and Jane and I would sit around getting swacked.” Director Walsh’s memoirs (he was among other things, a tall-tale-teller par excellence) mention that hundreds of members of the cast and crew contracted dysentery, Montezuma’s legendary payback-2-Step.
Enjoyable old-fashioned oater also features Juan Garcia, Harry Shannon and Emile Meyer, Russell Simpson and Will Wright.