The Burning Hills (1956)
Hunter in the Wood
Technically there isn't a lot wrong with "The Burning Hills" with a reasonable story of western revenge and western romance. At times the acting may be a little over the top but it is reasonably well cast and there is a decent amount of action which comes into its own during the second half. But the trouble is that whilst there isn't a lot wrong with "The Burning Hills" it is basically just another 50s western with little which makes it stand out from all those other westerns which got churned out during that decade.
Having returned to the land he owns with his brother, Trace Jordon (Tab Hunter) discovers him murdered and follows the killer's tracks to the nearby town where not only does he find the various men of the town unwilling to help but he also ends up in a confrontation with local landowner Mr. Sutton (Ray Teal) who has been trying to get his hands on land around the town. Forced to go on the run having shot Mr. Sutton, Trace finds himself being assisted by Mexican half breed Maria (Natalie Wood) who has her own issues with the Sutton's as they murdered her father. But with Mr. Sutton's son Jack (Skip Homeier) and a gang of gun men on their trail they must try to keep one step ahead of them, biding their time till they can get their revenge.
For about the first 15 minutes "The Burning Hills" shows some genuine potential as we witness a man being shot in the back by a faceless, cheroot smoking villain. It maybe cliche that the shot man's brother follows the tracks left by the villain and his men to the nearby town as he looks for answers and revenge but there is this possibility of something different. I say something different because "The Burning Hills" could have gone down the route of this good guy stuck in a town of bad guys knowing that they're not going to let him leave alive. That idea had been done before but it would have been more interesting than what follows.
Now what follows is after a minor skirmish which sees local land owner Mr. Sutton shot we have Trace forced to go on the run whilst still wanting revenge and typical western fashion he finds an ally in Mexican half breed Maria who also dislikes the Sutton's for the murder of her father. All of which means is that after that reasonable build up "The Burning Hills" becomes quite obvious as Trace and Maria try and keep ahead of the Sutton gang, trying to outsmart them by covering their trail till finally Trace gets to face his brother's killer. Along the way there is some ingenuity, a run in with some Indians whilst under explored at least adds something unexpected. But it does boil down to the big final battle and Trace getting the girl.
Now to be honest the casting is reasonably good especially Tab Hunter as Trace Jordon because he has the youthful anger of a brother who wants revenge but at the same time delivers the good guy element, the kind side. And Skip Homeier gets across a nice amount of evilness as Jack Sutton especially when he becomes physical with Maria. It is in fact Natalie Wood as Maria who sadly over acts when trying to deliver the hot headed Mexican temperament, it's just so forced that many of her scenes are over the top.
What this all boils down to is that whilst "The Burning Hills" does have the potential to be slightly different it only ends up a run of the mill 50s western. And sadly whilst it does build to an expected crescendo of action it is the over acting of Natalie Wood which ends up being what you remember it for.
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