The Maverick Queen
Cast & Crew
In post-Civil War Wyoming, ranch owner Lucy Lee is en route to Rock Springs to sell her cattle. When Jeff Young approaches her camp, asking for food and a place to sleep, she at first fears that he is part of Butch Cassidy's notorious Wild Bunch, an outlaw gang that has been terrorizing the country, but nevertheless allows him to stay. That night, members of Cassidy's gang slip past her guards and hold them up, intending to take the cattle. When Sundance, a member of the gang, tries to force himself on Lucy, Jeff, his face masked by a bandana and a gun in each hand, sends them fleeing. Afterward, Lucy, whose father was killed by the Wild Bunch two years before, is grateful when Jeff agrees to ride with the crew for the rest of the trip, but he refuses to accept her offer of a permanent job. In Rock Springs, the gang relaxes at the "Maverick Queen," a saloon-hotel owned by Kit Banion, a displaced Southern woman from a "proud" family who is secretly in league with Cassidy's gang. Although Kit and Sundance have been lovers, Kit informs him that she wants a "better man." Jealous, Sundance accuses her of planting a hired gunman in Lucy's camp to get him killed. Later, when Jeff, unrecognized as the masked man who thwarted the rustling, beats Sundance at poker, the outlaw reacts violently, causing Kit to realize that Jeff is the "better man" she has been longing for. When Jeff introduces himself as ex-convict "Jeff Younger," the nephew of Jesse James gang members Cole and Jim Younger, and hints that he wants to join up with Cassidy, Kit hires him as a faro dealer. After several days, she invites him to assist in a train robbery, finally admitting her connections to the Cassidy gang, but confides that she cannot see Jeff as one of James's cold-blooded killers. When Jeff asks why she never married, she replies that marriage is not for someone like her. After selling her cattle to Kit, Lucy, unaware of Jeff's plans to take part in a robbery, helps him onto a departing train. Soon after, Jamie, a reprobate chuckwagon cook hired by Lucy's father, informs Kit that Jeff was the masked man who prevented Lucy's herd from being stolen. Angry that Jeff has deceived her, Kit rides to Cassidy's mountain hideout, called "Hole-in-the-Wall," but then decides to withhold the information until she learns how Jeff handles the robbery. Meanwhile, after disconnecting the passenger car from the train, Jeff forces the engineer to drive the baggage car farther down the track and stop, allowing the gang to ride up and steal gold from its safe. After the gang returns to the hideout, Kit accuses Jeff of sabotaging the gang's attempt to steal the Lee herd and Jeff explains that he intervened only to save Lucy from Sundance's lecherous advances and that he did not mention the incident because he feared Kit would have refused to invite him into the gang if she knew. Satisfied with Jeff's explanation, Kit decides to keep the incident to herself. She urges Jeff to escape to California while he can, predicting that the gang will be "gone" in a couple of years. When Cassidy asks her to return to Rock Springs to monitor events there, she asks him to prevent Sundance from following her. However, after seeing Kit kiss Jeff before leaving, the jealous Sundance manages to slip away unnoticed and catches up with her. Threatening to kill her and Jeff, Sundance knocks her off her horse. In the ensuing fight, Kit rolls a log toward Sundance, sending him tumbling over a cliff. Although Kit assumes that Sundance is dead, he emerges unharmed and proceeds to the Lee ranch, where Sheriff Wilson is recruiting volunteers for a posse. After all the ranch hands, except Jamie, leave with the sheriff, Sundance sneaks in and takes Jamie and Lucy prisoner. After Jamie reveals that Kit knows that Jeff was the masked man who foiled the trail robbery, Sundance takes Jamie and Lucy to the hideout, where he hopes to prove Kit's disloyalty to Cassidy. When Kit returns to town, Pinkerton agent Leo Malone accuses her of being a go-between for the Wild Bunch and orders her to leave Rock Springs. Soon after, a stranger arrives who claims to be the real "Jeff Younger" and shows her a picture of Younger to prove his identity. Accompanied by Younger and her employee, Jake, Kit then leaves town. The sheriff, hoping she will lead the posse to the gang's hideout, follows. During the night, Kit steals the newspaper article from Younger and sneaks away, and when the posse catches up to Jake and Younger, they force Jake to lead them to the hideout. Meanwhile, at the hideout, Sundance orders Jeff locked up after learning of his duplicity. Soon after, Kit, who has come to warn Jeff, sneaks into his locked room. As Kit avows her love for Jeff, Sundance assaults Lucy. Coming to her aid, Jeff knocks out Sundance. The three then escape, but Sundance and two members of the gang follow them to a cabin in the valley below, where they imprison Lucy and Kit inside. As Sundance guards Kit, Jeff slips into the cabin and in the ensuing fight kills Sundance. With Kit's help, he then rescues Lucy from the two gangmembers. When the rest of the gang rides up, the three take refuge in the cabin, but the outlaws set fire to it, forcing them out. Using the smoke as cover, Kit sends Lucy down the trail and then assists Jeff, who has been wounded. While trying to protect Jeff, she is shot and dies in his arms. Alerted by the smoke, the posse arrives and captures the gang. Afterward, Malone congratulates Jeff, who is an undercover Pinkerton agent, for the success of their mission, but Jeff claims that the "Wild Bunch came to an end because of the Maverick Queen."
John Mccarthy Jr.
Melvin M. Metcalfe Sr.
Richard L. Van Enger
A. J. Vitarelli
Herbert J. Yates
The Maverick Queen
It is fitting that two of the 1950s westerns feature "queen" in the title, because the word not only suits Stanwyck's regal bearing but also indicates the power and authority her characters wielded in most of these films. Women characters were conventionally of two types in classic westerns: They were either the school marm/settler's wife who represents the civilized values of marriage, family, and education in the untamed wilderness; or they were the rough and rowdy saloon girls, Indians, and "half-breeds," who belonged to the wilderness. Neither archetype conventionally represented power or authority, which is signified in westerns by mastery over weapons and horses. Stanwyck's series from the 1950s stands out not only because her characters can match any man with a gun or on a horse but also because they seem to reject the conservative values of the 1950s. During World War II, women had worked at male-dominated jobs and positions while the men were at war, but in the postwar era, they were pressured to give up those jobs to returning soldiers. Reflecting this change in cultural attitudes, Hollywood genre films, especially melodramas and romantic dramas, worked hard to return women to traditional roles. Stanwyck's westerns, including The Maverick Queen, seem to fly in the face of that trend.
In the film, "The Maverick Queen" refers to both Stanwyck's character, Kit Banion, and the hotel and saloon that she owns in the Colorado territory. Kit has formed an alliance with the infamous outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, assisting them in their plans to rob trains and rustle cattle. Kit and Sundance are involved in a relationship, though Kit clearly has the upper hand. After Sundance returns from being on the trail, he rushes to see Kit, but she pushes him away, griping, "Oh, for heaven's sake, take a bath first." The Queen begins to change after Jeff Younger, cousin to legendary outlaws Cole and Jim Younger, comes to town. She decides that Jeff is the "better man" she has been searching for and gives him a job as a faro dealer in her saloon. As her feelings for Jeff grow, she invites him in on the next train robbery and admits her connection to the Hole in the Wall Gang.
Vying for Jeff's affections is ranch owner Lucy Lee, another character that thwarts the female archetypes in westerns. As much at home on the cattle trail as in the ranch house, Lucy buys and sells cattle, orders the ranch hands around, and is in charge of destiny of her property. Powerful and authoritative, Lucy is the equivalent to Kit except she is on the right side of the law. The climax revolves around Jeff's true identity: He is actually a Pinkerton agent in disguise who is determined to bring in Butch Cassidy and the Hole in the Wall Gang.
The Maverick Queen was based on a novel attributed to Zane Grey, though the book may have been completed by Grey's eldest son, Romer. Still, the novel was in the style of the elder Grey, who happened to be Stanwyck's favorite western author. Apparently, the Old West fascinated Stanwyck. In one interview, she referred to the era's gunfighters, pioneers, and outlaws as "our royalty, our aristocracy." She noted, "All the immigrants coming over on the covered wagons and atop the trains, the little Jewish peddler with his calico and ginghams on his back, the good men, the bad men, they all made this country." After Stanwyck's divorce from Robert Taylor was finalized in 1951, she kept their ranch and continued to ride the horses. She was in prime riding shape for the westerns she made during the 1950s, and she was inclined to perform her own stunts. Forty Guns includes a dangerous scene in which her foot is caught in a stirrup, and she is dragged across the prairie. In The Maverick Queen, the Sundance Kid chases Kit across the wilderness at full gallop, forcing her to ride down a rocky incline, which can be a treacherous maneuver for horses. The stunt required the sure hands and steady seat that Stanwyck clearly exhibits.
Unfortunately, Republic Pictures was not up to the potential in the material. Republic, originally one of Hollywood's small, niche studios specializing in serials and programmers, had expanded its budgets during the war years. Studio head Herbert Yates had begun to tackle serious films with major stars, including Johnny Guitar (1954) and The Quiet Man (1952), which won John Ford the Academy Award for Best Direction. However, Republic's attempts to enter the big leagues with major stars in high-profile films only exposed its Poverty Row origins. Aside from Stanwyck, The Maverick Queen featured the studio's stock players, including Barry Sullivan, Scott Brady, and Mary Murphy, who were not in her league. Murphy in particular lacked the charisma and weight to hold the screen in her scenes with Stanwyck.
Director Joe Kane had a reputation for working quickly, and The Maverick Queen was his fourth film of 1955. Whether Kane cut too many corners, or whether he preferred to focus his energies on chase sequences, confrontations, and fight scenes, his directorial choices didn't always bring out the best in the material. Kane opted to depict the exposition and complex interrelationships in extended dialogue scenes. For example, a voice-over narration opens the film with commentary on the lawlessness of the post-Civil War era, which is then followed by a lengthy dialogue sequence between two incidental characters who reveal the entire backstory of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as well as the set-up in which Jeff tries to infiltrate the gang. Not only was this a tedious approach to exposition, but the eye-lines between the characters in the conversation scene do not match as the camera cuts from one man to the other.
The Maverick Queen was shot in Trucolor and Naturama, which were Republic's color and widescreen processes, respectively. Trucolor offered bold hues that were bright and vivid, while Naturama flaunts the beautiful Colorado landscapes, though at 2:35 to 1, the process was narrower than CinemaScope. Whatever the film's shortcomings, a bravura performance by Stanwyck combined with the location shooting near Silverton, Colorado, where George Roy Hill's more famous Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) would be shot thirteen years later, make The Maverick Queen worthwhile viewing.
Producer: Herbert J. Yates
Director: Joseph Kane
Screenplay: Kenneth Gamet, DeVallon Scott (screenplay); Zane Grey (novel)
Cinematography: Jack Marta
Editing: Richard L. Van Enger
Art Direction: Walter Keller
Costume Design: Adele Palmer
Music: Victor Young. Song "The Maverick Queen" by Victor Young and Ned Washington, sung by Joni James.
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck (Kit Banion), Barry Sullivan (Jeff Younger), Scott Brady (Sundance), Mary Murphy (Lucy Lee), Wallace Ford (Jamie), Howard Petrie (Butch Cassidy), Jim Davis (Stranger, the real Jeff Younger), Emile Meyer (Malone), Walter Sande (Sheriff Wilson), George Keymas (Muncie)
by Susan Doll
The Maverick Queen
First picture in Naturama, Republic's widescreen process.
Voice-over narration after the opening credits discusses the lawlessness after the Civil War. Verses of the song "The Maverick Queen" are sung intermittently during the film. In the opening sequence set in the town of "Stillwater," a news reporter and another man discuss the notorious Wild Bunch gang. According to a September 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item and Hollywood Reporter production charts, portions of the film were shot at Durango, CO.
The Maverick Queen was the first film to be shot with Republic and Consolidated Film Industries' new anamorphic lens system, Naturama. Although Naturama's aspect ration was 2.35:1, according to studio press notes it also could be shown at 1.85:1. As noted in the New York Times review, when the film opened in New York, it was six days ahead of schedule, after the film Massacre (see entry above) closed after a nine-hour run.
Although the film was fiction, some of the characters were inspired by the historical figures Butch Cassidy (Robert LeRoy Parker, 1867-1908?) and The Sundance Kid (Harry Longbaugh, 1861-1908?), who have been the subjects of many films. For information on additional films featuring Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, please consult the entry above for the 1951 Columbia release The Texas Rangers.
Released in United States Spring May 1956
Republic's first film shot in Naturama.
Released in United States Spring May 1956