Cast a Long Shadow (1959)
The Man with no Surname
Matt, I was a girl now I'm a woman - Janet
Young Matt Brown (Audie Murphy) has a habit of finding trouble as he drinks hard, gambles harder and gets hit even harder when he hasn't the money to pay his debts. It's during one of these fights that Matt is saved by Chip Donahue (John Dehner), foreman on the Keenan ranch, a ranch now owned by Matt as the previous owner, Jake Keenan, has passed away and with no legitimate family it goes to his illegitimate son Matt. With a spread of land that size it makes Matt sober up and start acting responsibly whilst also making amends with former girlfriend Janet (Terry Moore) who he plans to marry much to the annoyance of Sam Mullen (James Best) who hoped to marry her. When they discover that Keenan left a lot of debt and the ranch along with those who graze their cattle on the land in danger of losing it to the bank. The only hope of saving the ranch is to raise the cash through a rushed cattle drive but between Matt being tough on those riding with him and Sam trying to sabotage things it is going to get messy.
"It is what it is" is a phrase which I have never liked but some times it just happens to be the perfect phrase to describe a movie and it is perfect to describe "Cast a Long Shadow". Here is an Audie Murphy from 1959 which simply comes across as a movie made for the sake of giving people something to do rather than because someone stumbled across the novel by Wayne D. Overholser and thought what a great western that would make. In truth Overholser's novel could have been a great western with a story about a man who went off the rails partially out of resentment for his father who refused to acknowledge him as his son. In fact there is plenty of conflict in the story as we have Janet's brothers who feel that Matt is of a lower class and not the sort of people Janet should be with, whilst Matt not only has issues with drink but also a lack of a surname.
The trouble with "Cast a Long Shadow" is that it feels like a western made because they were popular so rather than trying to explore the psychological side of the characters the typical western aspects end up taking precedence. As such we have the kid trying to turn over a new leaf, old romantic conflict but most of all jealousy leading to skulduggery and of course some action. It's not that any of this is bad but considering how much potential there is in the storyline to "Cast a Long Shadow" it is disappointing. Ironically with it being shot in black & white, a decision which might have been an artistic choice but I fear was more budget orientated actually works in the movies favour and at least aids in creating a sense of atmosphere especially during the interior shots.
As for the acting well "Cast a Long Shadow" has a good cast lead by Audie Murphy all doing a solid job but never fully delving in to the depths of their characters. It means that when we have Matt and Janet coming face to face for the first time in a long time the conflict between them is simply cleared up with a few words and Janet announcing she is a woman now followed by a typical western clinch. The lack of delving into the character depth lets the movie down.
What this all boils down to is that "Cast a Long Shadow" is one of those westerns which is perfectly fine but when you watch you can't but help think how much greater it could have been if the depth of the story could have been fully explored.
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