Harry Carey Masters the Young Duke
For those who think John Wayne did the same thing in all his movies should check out some of his earlier work such as "The Shepherd of the Hills" to see a different side to The Duke. Ironically whilst "The Shepherd of the Hills" is known as a John Wayne movie in truth it really belongs to Harry Carey who is brilliant as a kindly old stranger who comes to a backwater community and slowly brings peace where there is hatred. It is a wonderful story full of drama and tension and along with John Wayne and Harry Carey also sees some great performances from the likes of Betty Field, Beulah Bondi, Ward Bond and Marjorie Main playing different roles to what you may expect.
Young Matt Masters (John Wayne - Dark Command), a moonshiner in the Ozark Mountains, has vowed that he will kill his father if he ever meets him, having abandoned him and his mother when he was still a young child. Matt is not the only one who feels the same hatred as his Aunt Mollie (Beulah Bondi - Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) is even more bitter and twisted as she blames Matt's father for the death of her sister and it is her hatred which makes the community living in the hills a place of mistrust and spite. But when a friendly old stranger by the name of Daniel Howitt (Harry Carey - Beyond Tomorrow) shows up things start to change as his kindness to everyone and anyone brings peace among many of the community except for the Masters family and Matt who doesn't trust this elderly man who has befriended his on off girlfriend Sammy (Betty Field).
To be honest the storyline to "The Shepherd of the Hills" is quite obvious and it doesn't take a brain surgeon to fathom out what the link between Daniel Howitt and Matt Masters is. But the journey to the point where it is made clear is an enjoyable one as we watch how the easy going Daniel brings a calming influence to the mistrusting community. There is something quite charming to the way he ends up befriending the feisty Sammy who becomes his constant companion and guide. And there is much humour from the quirky locals who's lack of knowledge of the world outside their hills makes Daniel a curiosity, a rich man who ingratiates himself with one and all even the bitter Aunt Mollie who he ends up buying some land from.
Of course at the same time of all this easy going charm there is also a steady build up of tension as Matt takes a dislike to this stranger especially when he buys Moaning Meadow where his mother is buried. Henry Hathaway builds this tension beautifully with peaks and troughs because you almost feel like Daniel may befriend Matt as well but then something happens to spoil things. Yes the big finale which sees accidental deaths and some sort of witchcraft as Aunt Mollie tries to lift the curse on her family feels forced but the drama of it all grabs your attention even if after the drama you get a cliche and cheesy ending.
All of which makes "The Shepherd of the Hills" an entertaining movie and it is made all the better for the astonishing sharpness and colour. This was John Wayne's first movie in Technicolor and it has to be said he was a handsome fellow in his younger days. But it's not just Wayne which is helped by the colouring as the wonderful mountain scenery makes for a stunning backdrop which is as attention grabbing as the drama.
Now as already mentioned "The Shepherd of the Hills" maybe known as a John Wayne movie and to be honest whilst he does a very good job of playing the angry young Matt it is a movie which belongs to Harry Carey as Daniel Howitt. Carey gets the perfect blend going on with his character so he is a bit mysterious when he first arrives, but he is also kind and caring yet you also get an element of danger, a man who can handle himself if needs be. It makes Daniel a fascinating character which you enjoy watching especially when he befriends young Sammy played by the brilliant Betty Field. In fact you could say that "The Shepherd of the Hills" belongs to both Carey and Field's because it is their friendship which in a way drives the story and there is a naturalness to how they get on.
It's also nice to watch the likes of Beulah Bondi, Marjorie Main and Marc Lawrence play different sorts of characters that you would expect and of course there is always Ward Bond who in a small role once again makes a big impression.
What this all boils down to is that "The Shepherd of the Hills" is a surprisingly good movie which whilst 70 years old is as entertaining as ever. The storyline and the outcome is to be honest very obvious but the journey from start to finish is an entertaining one. And whilst it maybe better known as a John Wayne movie and his first in Technicolor it is the performances of Harry Carey and Betty Field which end up being the more impressive.