American Empire (1942) (aka: My Son Alone)

A Cattle Empire

Dan Taylor (Richard Dix) and Pax Bryce (Preston Foster) had been making a living by shipping freight with their riverboat but when one of their customers refuses to pay they hold on to his head of cattle they were transporting and end up as ranchers. It is then when Dan's sister Abby (Frances Gifford) shows up and not only ends up falling for Pax but they end up getting married and starting family when a son is born. But running ranch is a tricky business especially with Pax being ambitious and deciding that smaller neighbouring ranchers are not allowed to drive their cattle through their land anymore or a railroad will be allowed to build on it. It is a decision which causes unrest and heartbreak when things get out of hands.

As always that synopsis for "American Empire" stops short of telling you everything but considering this old western only scrapes in at 82 minutes there is a heck of a lot of story thrown together, more than you would get from some movies over double the length. It is what keeps you watching as Dan & Pax go from shippers to ranchers to dealing with trouble from the locals as well as finding time to for marriage and parenthood.

In truth watching "American Empire" now you quickly realise that the potential this story contains is never unlocked as the detail is skimmed and we always seem to be rushing towards the next moment of drama. Those moments of drama are good; a horse chase is particularly captivating when it arrives before the half way mark. It means that whilst it is a lot more entertaining than many a western made prior to 1945 thanks to the ambitious story it is a movie which could be remade now and made as the epic the storyline is screaming out to be.

What this all boils down to is that "American Empire" is like a whole series of stories from earlier westerns have been combined into one story which cover many years. But it tries to cram too much in to 82 minutes and is unable to do the epic nature of the story justice by failing to deliver the depth when it comes to both the characters and the story.