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A spunky Western with a wry sense of humor, The Sheepman became a surprise hit in 1958, winning favor with audiences and critics alike. It's easy to see why - the unconventional heroine played by Shirley MacLaine (her best MGM role after Some Came Running, 1958), worked well opposite Glenn Ford. Ford, who after years at Columbia switched over to Metro in the mid-1950s, appeared in a number of popular dramas like Blackboard Jungle (1955), Trial (1955) and Ransom! (1956) before The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956) revealed the actor's wonderful flair for light comedy. A follow-up role in Don't Go Near the Water (1957) substantiated his gift for timing - earning him The Sheepman lead.
The plot - a roving rancher decides to bring a trainload of sheep into cattle country and runs afoul of the local cattle baron - has the structure of a traditional Western but its distinctive sense of humor sets it apart from other films in the genre. Certainly the script by William Bowers and James Edward Grant sprinkles comic gems throughout the traditional storyline - a knack both men honed individually from years of alternating between genres, writing for John Wayne and Clark Gable as well as Bob Hope and Abbott and Costello. One of the more famous gags is Glenn Ford's first entrance into the frontier saloon where he orders a glass of milk from the bar.
The main credit for the charm of this CinemaScope rib tickler goes to veteran director George Marshall, who, after more than three decades on both sides of the camera, managed to rack up enough comedic credits to open a movie clown school. No stranger to the farcical oater, having previously scored with 1939's Destry Rides Again, Marshall was also responsible for some of the best work featuring Hope, Laurel and Hardy, W.C. Fields and Martin & Lewis. His remarkable expertise with seasoned supporting players is well-evidenced here by the scene stealing antics of Edgar Buchanan, Mickey Shaughnessy, Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez and Slim Pickens - an education that a pre-pratfall Leslie Nielsen, portraying the third wheel in the picture's romantic triangle, no doubt relished with glee.
In her autobiography, My Lucky Stars, Shirley MacLaine recalls working with the star of The Sheepman: "Glenn Ford decided I should learn to smoke a cigar. I did and threw up. Then he put my cowboy hat under his horse to "christen" it. Glenn definitely looked into my eyes, and told me his life story with women. I was fascinated, but frankly much more interested in the news that the ghost of Rudolph Valentino inhabited the house he lived in with Eleanor Powell. He said Valentino would sometimes move the furniture around and put on music that he had loved to tango to. Glenn loved the presence....Eleanor didn't. When I told him that Eleanor was my father's favorite star and dancer, Glenn was not amused. He was competitive with Eleanor. He hadn't resolved their split. But Glenn was a darling man with a dry sense of humor. We became good friends, though not as good as he'd have had some people think."
Director: George Marshall
Producer: Edmund Grainger
Screenplay: William Bowers, James Edward Grant, William Roberts
Cinematography: Robert J. Bronner
Editor: Ralph E. Winters
Art Direction: Malcolm Brown, William A. Horning
Music: Jeff Alexander
Cast: Glenn Ford (Jason Sweet), Shirley MacLaine (Dell Payton), Leslie Nielsen (Johnny Bledsoe), Mickey Shaughnessy (Jumbo McCall), Edgar Buchanan (Milt Masters), Pernell Roberts (Chocktaw Neal), Slim Pickens (Marshal).
C-83m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Mel Neuhaus