Saturday, May 1, 2010

Robert Taylor in a Darker Role

I was surprised by the intensely brooding performance of Robert Taylor in the Western, Ride, Vaquero! (1953), made in the last decade of the actor's tenure at MGM. Long dismissed as a lightweight, as he aged, Taylor's presence in a film became darker, as the TCM Movie Morlocks blog explored this week, beginning below:
Above: Robert Taylor, Howard Keel & Anthony Quinn in Ride, Vaquero! (1953-John Farrow).

This is an MGM Movie?

In the rousing opening scene of Ride, Vaquero! (1953), a half-drunken bandido leader called José Esqueda (Anthony Quinn), announces to his ragtag, brawling followers that the Civil War has ended.

The Americans, he explains, will turn their violent attentions to the Indians and gangs like theirs, moving into their territory along the Rio Grande border. To counter this threat, José Esqueda (Quinn), self-described as “the strongest and most cunning of them all,” promises that they will now burn all the newcomers’ ranchos as soon as they build them.

This bit of desperado theater may seem to be performed for the animalistic men and women who populate the squalid lair of Esqueda, but it is soon clear that his real capering is reserved for an audience of one–his intense, soft-spoken right hand man Rio (Robert Taylor), who privately questions the logic of this promised action while he carefully cleans his gun. Their relationship is a study in contrasts. Esqueda is the personification of every human appetite on two legs, filthy, effusively violent, shooting a man who dares to drink from his bottle. He’s also illogically generous, sending Rio to town to give a priest some of his booty for orphans. Esqueda even indulges in a bit of wood carving sculpture in his off-hours. However, when faced with Rio, Esqueda is confronting his beloved opposite, a man he calls brother, though they are not related in a traditional sense. Rio, encased in a black moodiness as dark as his clothing, has a self-possessed, lethally quiet manner and an unsettling detachment from life that frustrates Esqueda. Alternately threatening Rio and cajoling him, the garrulous Esqueda thinks that the other man relies on his fondness for him to keep him from killing him.
Giving his companion a cold, knowing glare after he is threatened, Rio asks “Why do you talk to me this way? You wouldn’t kill anything…unless it was alive.”

UPDATE 2-22-11: Ride, Vaquero has just been announced as a Warner Archive Made to Order DVD. More information about this can be seen here.


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