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Although cast totally against his usual image as not only a vicious killer but as the gun slinging subordinate to a character played by a lesser star, Robert Taylor must have welcomed this assignment from his longtime studio MGM. Taylor owned a ranch, and according to accounts from friends and co-workers, genuinely loved the outdoors: riding, handling cattle, hunting, fishing. The image cultivated for him at the studio, however, was quite different. Early on in his career, he was typecast as the "pretty boy," the handsome, romantic leading man opposite the studios biggest female stars - Garbo in Camille (1937), Crawford in The Gorgeous Hussy (1936), Harlow in Personal Property (1937); parts in which he was required to do little more than be, well, handsome and romantic.
In her autobiography, Ava Gardner, Taylor's co-star in three movies, including this one, said, "Bob couldn't stand those parts. He wanted parts that mirrored his real life. He wanted to be out there fighting against the toughies and shooting the baddies."
By the early 1950s, however, Taylor's matinee-idol looks were starting to show signs of wear, and although he was still considered appealing enough to be cast as Sir Lancelot (opposite Gardner again) in Knights of the Round Table (1953), he was also able to open his range to include this Western (whose title can be roughly translated as "Ride 'Em, Cowboy!"). In Ride, Vaquero! (1953), he plays Rio, adoptive brother of vicious outlaw Esqueda (Anthony Quinn in a performance that earned the film its top critical raves). Esqueda has developed a strong hatred for rancher King Cameron (Howard Keel) and his bride Cordelia (Ava Gardner) and fires up a bloody campaign to rid his territory of the couple. Fearing an all-out attack, the Camerons turn their property into a fortress, managing not only to beat back their enemy's assault but also to capture Rio in the process. Cameron persuades the outlaw lieutenant to stay on as a ranch hand, and an attraction soon develops between Rio and Cordelia that will shift Rio's loyalties and bring him into direct, violent confrontation with his adoptive brother.
Despite dissatisfaction with many of the roles he was offered, Taylor's loyalty to Metro was lasting. He remained under contract about 30 years, long after the studio system had collapsed and far longer than his contemporaries would hang on.
Ride, Vaquero! was one of MGM's first big-scale wide-screen Westerns. It was directed by John Farrow, husband of actress Maureen O'Sullivan (Jane to Johhny Weismuller's Tarzan) and father of Mia Farrow. It also boasts the talents of Frank Fenton, who maintained successful dual careers as both actor and screenwriter, and cinematographer Robert Surtees, whose long career included Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), The Graduate (1967), and The Sting (1973).
Director: John Farrow
Producer: Stephen Ames
Screenplay: John Farrow, Frank Fenton
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Editing: Harold F. Kress
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Arthur Lonergan
Cast: Robert Taylor (Rio), Ava Gardner (Cordelia Cameron), Howard Keel (King Cameron), Anthony Quinn (Esqueda), Kurt Kasznar (Father Antonio), Ted de Corsia (Sheriff Parker).
by Rob Nixon