Pirates in a Western!
To be fair "The Rawhide Years" is an entertaining western but it is also a distinctly generic 1950s western. It is entertaining because it has countless light hearted moments with Tony Curtis turning on some awkward charm whilst Arthur Kennedy plays a sort of comical sidekick. But then the storyline is so ordinary with a corrupt gambler accused of murder, forced to go on the run till eventually he discovers the truth. It's basically elements from countless other westerns which whilst work nicely together don't make for the most memorable of movies.
After having a moment of guilt as he helped his boss cheat a gambler out of his money at the steam boat card table, Ben Matthews (Tony Curtis - Winchester '73) decides to call it a day and settle down with his girl Zoe (Colleen Miller) in Galena. But when Matt Comfort (Minor Watson), a passenger on the steam boat, is murdered by a gang of river pirates Ben becomes the main suspect and is forced to go on the run for 3 years, only communicating with Zoe by letter. When the letters stop arriving Ben returns to Galena with Rick Harper (Arthur Kennedy - The Man from Laramie) who he meets on the way and when he discovers that Matt's murderer not only lives in the town but is behind the river boat pirates, he has to try and clear his name.
In many ways "The Rawhide Years" feels like a progression through western cliches, as the movie opens we have a casino on a steam boat and Tony Curtis plays corrupt gambler Ben Matthews who although a bad guy is the good guy because he feels guilty about helping his boss stiff a player. Establishing that Ben is a good guy we have a murder and Ben ends up being chief suspect, forced to go on the run for 3 years only able to communicate with his girl Zoe via letter as if he returns he will be at best arrested but more likely lynched. But of course he does return when he stops getting the love letters and along with cowboy Rick Harper discover the truth behind the murder, why the letters have stopped and who are the river pirates which have been plaguing the steam boat.
It is all for the most obvious, clues as to who the bad guys are get forced upon us and an important wooden Indian statue is clearly focussed upon so we know it will be pivotal later on. There is a little surprise which comes later on when it comes to who all of the bad guys are but in traditional western style the outcome of all this is very obvious, well lets be honest how many westerns do you know where the good guy ends up not being the hero.
Because "The Rawhide Years" is basically a bog standard western tale it does rely heavily on what its stars bring to the mix. Now Tony Curtis maybe believable as a gambler he is a lot less believable as a cowboy, yet the awkward charm he delivers with the occasionally quick quip makes it entertaining. And just as entertaining is Arthur Kennedy as Rick Harper especially in his comically money grabbing ways, befriending Ben only because he spots him with a money belt and through all there escapades together including jumping into the river it is the money he is more concerned about.
As for the rest of the cast well it's not that memorable with Peter van Eyck as Saloon owner Andre being one walking cliche. And then there is Colleen Miller as Ben's girl Zoe, a showgirl who makes an impression because of a couple of musical numbers which to be honest don't really fit in but yet are still entertaining.
What this all boils down to is that "The Rawhide Years" is nothing more than your generic, 50s, B-Movie western which runs through a variety of cliche ideas but does little with them to make them feel original. Yet despite being ultimately very ordinary the performances from Tony Curtis and Arthur Kennedy end up making it at least entertaining in a slightly comical way.