Taylor and Cassavetes fight for London
On first look "Saddle the Wind" is just another western about a gunfighter trying to go straight but with his past coming back to haunt him, which doesn't sound that great. But rather than this being a case of an old enemy tracking him down and forcing him to reach for his gun it is his own brother who leads to the trouble and not in the way you probably expect. The reason is that "Saddle the Wind" is a western about a younger brother idolising his older gunfighter brother so much that he wants to emulate him and step out of his shadow whilst at the same time becoming his protector so that his brother never has to go back to his old ways. This family element makes "Saddle the Wind" far more interesting because it makes it more personal rather than just a gunfighter dealing with some one who just wants to become notorious and because the younger brother is such a conflicted character it becomes fascinating.
Having turned his back on his life as a gunfighter Steve Sinclair (Robert Taylor - The Law and Jake Wade) is now a cattle rancher living the peaceful life where the locals including major landowner Dennis Deneen (Donald Crisp - The Man from Laramie) respect him. But all that changes when his younger brother Tony (John Cassavetes - Two-Minute Warning) returns from a trip to the nearest city with Joan Blake (Julie London), a singer he wants to marry and starts showing off trying to act the big man around her. As Tony becomes more and more out of control trying to be like Steve when he was a gunfighter Steve does his best to protect him but with Clay Ellison (Royal Dano - The Far Country) returning to claim the land belonging to his family things get completely out of control forcing Steve to deal with Tony.
so as already mention "Saddle the Wind" fits into the box of movies about gunfighters trying to go straight and in a few ways reminds me of "The Gunfighter" starring Gregory Peck. But the strength of "Saddle the Wind" is the depth and that it is Steve's younger brother Tony who ends up being the trouble thanks to his idolisation of Steve as a gunfighter and wanting to emulate him. It means that rather than having some stranger who wants to become notorious for killing a gunfighter you have it replaced by a brother who on one hand wants to emulate what his brother once was and wants to save him from having to pull his gun ever again yet on the other almost despises him for turning soft and putting his gun away. It gives "Saddle the Wind" a very different angle because it is personal, never about becoming notorious but an older brother trying to look out for his brother whilst the younger hot headed one wants to step out from his shadows.
Now as the story pans out there is plenty of what you could call gunfighter cliche, there is an attractive woman to provide some romance and there is even a stranger who comes to town looking to gun down Steve for killing a relative years earlier. But the cliche allows for a nice familiarity which in turn allows for the depth of this story to shine out. You know that with Tony being a bit of a hot head and thinking he is all that having killed his first man that Steve will inevitably have to choose between allowing his brother to continue recklessly or try and stop him especially as he becomes more and more threatening to anyone he disagrees with. But it is not plain sailing, there are plenty of surprises going on as the story winds its way to the inevitable confrontation which is one of the movies most magnificent and darker moments which speaks volumes to the relationship between the brothers.
All of this works and makes "Saddle the Wind" an interesting western which is made better by some first rate acting. In minor roles Royal Dano is brilliantly bitter as Clay Ellison who returns to claim the land which his rightfully his and Julie London as Tony's fiancee Joan Blake oozes strength as well as beauty even in the slightly out of place scene where she sings the title song. And you can add to these two performances Donald Crisp who as local land owner Dennis Deneen has this gentle authority going on which makes him nice but also someone you don't want to mess with.
But it is really 2 performances which really stand out and the first of these comes from Robert Taylor as Steve Sinclair. The paternal element when it comes to how Steve has raised and looked out for his younger brother is just brilliant and when you see Tony go off the rails you can get that real sense of failure from the way Taylor plays Steve a man who knows that he is going to have to confront him and blames himself for what is happening. And then there is John Cassavetes who makes Tony one brilliantly conflicted character who one minute you warm to the next you despise. You get a sense of this young hot head who wants to be like his older brother or at least how his older brother use to be yet there is an element of decency about him that he is partly doing it out of love for Steve, to save Steve from ever having to reach for his gun if trouble ever comes his way. Yet there is an evil side to him as well and the almost psychotic looks which Cassavetes gives are stunning making him someone who is seriously not all there whose hatred of being in the shadows comes to the fore.
What this all boils down to is that "Saddle the Wind" is a surprisingly good western and a nice twist on your general gunfighter trying to go straight storyline. With the exception of one scene it is a dark western which focuses on the conflicted character of Tony as he tries to emulate and protect his brother Steve whilst also despising him for what he has become. It may not have an abundance of action but it is full of surprises and great scenes thanks to the performances of Robert Taylor and John Cassavetes.