Cutting the Western Cord
When his men wrecked the town of Hamilton in a drunken spree it was trail boss John Cord (Joel McCrea) who ended up serving 5 years for the want and destruction. But those 5 years pass and John finds himself back in Hamilton where the locals want to kill him except town patriarch Ralph Hamilton (Don Haggerty) had asked him to return as the town is struggling and they need Cord to lead their cattle to sale, a 5000 mile journey full of danger. At the same time some rival ranchers also want Cord to lead their cattle to sale giving him the opportunity to get revenge on those in Hamilton for robbing him of 5 years of his life and trying to kill him. But whilst bitter about this and that his former girl Janice (Phyllis Coates) has got married to a Hamilton John finds himself unable to go through with the revenge he planned and finds himself discovering the truth as to what happened 5 years earlier.
"Cattle Empire" starts in an impressive manner as we watch a beaten and blooded Cord being dragged behind a horse whilst the town cheer on. It isn't brutal but certainly has the desired impact of not only establishing the town's dislike of Cord but also adding to his reasoning to hate the locals. Unfortunately that is the best "Cattle Empire" gets as after that it then descends in to familiar B-movie territory.
As such whilst "Cattle Empire" is nicely shot with some genuinely nice framing much of the drama which we are faced with from romantic conflicts to treachery is only the sort of plot devices which filled almost every other western of the 1950s. And unfortunately when it comes to the main storyline which sees Cord plan to get revenge on the Hamilton's and the town's folk by double crossing them only to discover the truth of what happened all those years earlier ends up feeling convoluted. It would only have taken a slight change to bring the convoluted storyline to order but whilst certainly not a mass produced western it does feel like one which at times is on auto-pilot.
Despite this "Cattle Empire" has Joel McCrea who deserves to be up there with John Wayne and Clint Eastwood when people talk about westerns. McCrea like in other westerns makes John Cord an interesting character and breathes life into some of the cliche character traits he is given. Unfortunately whilst there are no terrible performances the rest of the cast almost feel like they are there to make up the numbers with characters which could have been lifted from any other western.
What this all boils down to is that "Cattle Empire" has its moments and benefits from having Joel McCrea in the lead but in the end it is only an attractively shot but typical 1950's western.