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Rare Breed
cast: James Stewart, Maureen O'Hara, Brian Keith, Juliet Mills, and Jack Elam

director: Andrew V. McLaglen

105 minutes (PG) 1966
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Universal DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
One of James Stewart's later performances, this is an unusual combination of western, romance and broad comedy. It follows Sam 'Bulldog' Burnett and his interaction with Martha Evans and Hilary Price, a widow and her daughter who've come to America to breed Hereford cows using Hilary's prized bull, Vindicator. The reason why this is important is that Hereford bulls have no horns, making crossbreeds utterly unique and hugely valuable. Needless to say, a bidding war begins and Burnett, refreshingly, is on the wrong side of it.

This is a movie that revels in both stereotypes and confounding them. Stewart's longstanding career as the quintessential 'decent man' is neatly turned on its head here, with Bulldog spending much of the film's running time plotting to steal Vindicator. Even when he warms to Martha and Hilary and foils the plan, it ends in the death of one man and the serious injury of another. In fact, a great deal of the film is about Burnett's gradual rehabilitation, using his growing belief that Vindicator will breed successfully as a stimulus for his return to decency. It's a brave decision placing the moral rehabilitation of your main character in the hooves of a cow, but Stewart plays it absolutely straight and effortlessly wins the viewer's sympathy as a result. It's a real achievement getting the audience to invest emotionally in the future of a breed of cattle but this film does it and does it in spades.

Whilst this is Stewart's film, the supporting cast all give a good accounting of themselves. O'Hara brings a deft comic touch and a regal quality to her role Martha Evans. She's given a difficult role in the script, simultaneously acting as the object of Burnett's affections, his moral conscience, and the comic relief for much of the film's middle third. However, her quiet devotion to her journey is what brings Burnett back to humanity, and O'Hara underplays it so successfully that the viewer never once doubts his actions, or the ideal he aspires to.

The real surprise here is Juliet Mills as O'Hara's daughter. She has great comic timing throughout and balances it with the same sense of quiet devotion as O'Hara. She cares desperately for Vindicator and what he represents and expresses that beautifully, without the need for histrionics or overacting.

Of the remaining characters, Keith and Galloway, are both effective as Alexander and Jamie Bowen, the father and son who've bought Vindicator. As Jamie Bowen, Galloway manages to share screen time with Stewart and not look upstaged whilst Keith, as his father not only has a truly spectacular beard but an accent to match it. A former Scots guardsman, Bowen is by turns Burnett's ally and enemy, a stereotypical character who again is used in a very non-stereotypical way. By the end of the movie it becomes clear that Bowen represents what Burnett used to be, a symbol of the change in him as much his newfound optimism or the house he painstakingly constructs on the ranch.

With strong central performances and an incident packed script which takes in numerous fights, a stampede, a train top chase and a blizzard to name but a few, The Rare Breed has that wide, expansive feel that's naturally associated with westerns. Sweet natured, often very funny and wonderfully eccentric it's a classic ripe for rediscovery. Recommended.
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