A trim, taut, unjustly forgotten western from Twentieth Century-Fox, Rawhide was written as a loose western remake of the 1935 gangster film Show Them No Mercy!, which starred Cesar Romero and Rochelle Hudson. In the update, Tyrone Power and Susan Hayward are held prisoner at a way station by an escaped murderer (Hugh Marlowe) and his three henchmen (Jack Elam, George Tobias, and recent Oscar winner Dean Jagger), who plan to rob a stagecoach the next morning of $100,000 in gold. Power runs the station, and Hayward and her infant niece are simply travelers waiting for a different stagecoach, but the villains assume she and Power are married, and to stay alive, they decide to maintain the ruse. Jack Elam, who replaced the originally cast Everett Sloane, is especially memorable here as a leering, downright evil sociopath.
As written and directed by two A-list veterans -- Dudley Nichols and Henry Hathaway, respectively -- Rawhide garnered strong reviews. The Hollywood Reporter called it "exciting sagebrush entertainment" with a "compelling screenplay that combines the best features of the suspense drama and the orthodox western... Performances are first-rate." Variety praised the "considerable suspense and gripping action" but thought Power wasn't used effectively: "Despite a strongly-told story,...picture isn't the proper vehicle for Power, who is wasted in part and...is never permitted a chance as a hero."
Rawhide was Susan Hayward's first film after having been suspended by Fox for refusing to work on Stella (1950). (Ann Sheridan replaced her in that one.) Hayward's talent was undeniable, but she had a difficult and frosty reputation, and Fox assigned her to this Hathaway film in the hope that the steely, no-nonsense director could whip her into shape. Hathaway had known and worked with Hayward before (though not on an official, credited basis), and his opinion of her was blunt: "She was a bitch," he said (according to Gene Arceri's Hayward biography Brooklyn's Scarlett). "Anybody who is a bitch to work with has got to be a bitch to live with. That's an inherent thing, a part of your make-up, to be an obstruction to everything... It was in her head, her look, her walk, in the way she stood, that girl was twisted."
But on Rawhide, Hathaway said, things were different. She still kept to herself and did not mingle much with the cast or crew, but "there was not a speck of trouble with her on that picture." In fact, Hathaway would go on to direct her in three more films: White Witch Doctor (1953), Garden of Evil (1954) and Woman Obsessed (1959). Meanwhile, the already twice-Oscar-nominated Hayward would rack up three further Best Actress nominations before finally winning the award for I Want to Live! (1958).
Hathaway finished Rawhide ahead of schedule despite some difficulties at the Lone Pine, Calif., location. The story was set in the summer, but production took place in the winter, and it was a cold one, with frigid, windy blasts of single-digit temperatures disrupting the shoot more than once. For a love scene between Power and Hayward, a long shot was filmed on location, but the close-up had to be done weeks later on a Fox soundstage. "People can't kiss when their lips are blue with cold," said Hathaway.
Another time, the cold interfered during a scene in which actors were to ride to a stop, leap from their horses, and start talking. "They jumped off," said Hathaway, "but nothing came from their lips except blue smoke. Not a word. They were so cold they couldn't say a thing." Hathaway had anticipated such delays and rode out several days of a snowstorm by filming stagecoach interiors on a makeshift stage on location, instead of back at the Fox lot as would have been customary.
By 1951, Lone Pine was celebrating its thirty-first year as a Hollywood location. Over More than 200 productions, primarily westerns, had already been shot in the striking landscape at least in part. It would continue to be popular with filmmakers, and director Budd Boetticher really made it his own in the late 1950s with his series of Randolph Scott westerns. Recently, Django Unchained (2012) and Man of Steel (2013) were partially filmed there.
When Rawhide was shown on television in the 1960s, its title was changed to Desperate Siege, to differentiate it from the Clint Eastwood TV show Rawhide. Power's prop gun here is the same .44 Colt he used on Jesse James (1939).
By Jeremy Arnold