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Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Low on the Horizon

Tall in the Saddle (1944) on IMDb

Plot Overview

A tall handsome stranger named Rocklin (John Wayne) arrives in town via the Red Rock Stage in the company of fellow misogynist (“I never feel sorry for any­thing that happens to a woman”) stage­coach driver Dave (George 'Gabby' Hayes.) “Buenos tardes, señor.” They've come to Garden City—in Arizona judging from the cacti—, Dave to complete his driving career (“This is my last trip”) and Rocklin to fill an unspecified but lucrative position at the “Topaz” Ranch. Unfortunately, Dave is way­laid (“They hit him with a pistola”) and Rocklin's employer local rancher Red Cardell has been murdered. That leaves Rocklin open for hire—if he even wants to stay—by ranchers of unknown merits and motives.

Dave puts it succinctly using an analogy of whiskey and women: “They both fool you, but you never figure how to do with­out them.” Dave proceeds to drink him­self into a stupor while Rocklin's women troubles keep multi­plying. It starts with a queen in dispute at a game of cards and proceeds to the card player Clint Harolday's (Russell Wade) sister Arleta 'Arly' Harolday (Ella Raines). She attempts (“I always get what I want”) first to shoot Rocklin, then to hire and/or fire him. It goes then to Red's niece Clara Cardell (Audrey Long) who asks for Rocklin's help to thwart a greedy aunt Eliza­beth Martin's (Elisabeth Risdon) scheme to deprive her of her inheritance. With all this women trouble, Rocklin stands him­self a belt of whiskey while Dave gets so besotted he takes his belt to one of them. Tall as he is in the saddle, Rocklin seems unlikely to ride off into the sun­set for all the hooks people have got into him.


Maybe it's an oversimplification to say life is like a card game, but the one portrayed in the Sunup Saloon where a card gets misdealt sunny side up is illustrative of an inept deal maker getting ahead of the game. By the rules of poker—at that time in that town at that table—the exposed queen has been declared ‘dead’, not an addition to Clint's hand. If the game had proceeded properly, Clint's full house would have beat Rocklin's two pairs, and it still will if Clint has his way. Some­times interfering with the normal course of history will backfire.

Words sometimes acquire new meanings over time. This is a 1944 movie set in ye olden west. My 1951–1958 [close enough] Thorn­dike-Barn­hart Dictionary defines: “gay, adj., 1. happy and full of fun; merry. … 4. dissipated; immoral.” From CGB in Word Lore, his time­line shows “the ‘homo­sexual’ sense of gay not established until the late 1930s or early 1940s … then known only to homo­sexual, bohemian, or artistic sub­cultures” (103f). Assuming the screen­writer was part of a Holly­wood artistic subculture, or acquainted with one, he might have known gay to mean homo, and then only as an in-word.

Bear in mind the TB Dictionary defines “marriage n. 1. a living together as husband and wife … 3. a close union.” Rocklin encountered two dames who'd set their caps for him, though he felt “that no woman is going to get me hooked, tied and branded.” Clara would bring him happiness, she being full of fun that her aunt kept trying to stifle. With her he'd have a gay1 marriage1. Arly was a gal who dissipated her ammunition on him, and then he dissipated his passion with her. With Arly he'd have a gay4 marriage1. And speaking of dissipation, Dave & Zeke (Raymond Hatton) were drinking buddies joined at the hip. We could say they had a gay4 whiskey marriage3.

From scripture a man's gay1 marriage1 would be given by (Eccl. 9:9) “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of thy life” & (Isaiah 62:5) “as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee,”a gay4 marriage1 by (1Cor. 7:9) “But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn [with passion]” & (1Cor. 7:2) “to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband,” and whiskey based gay4 marriage3 by (Prov. 23:20) “Be not among wine­bibbers …” (Isaiah 5:11) “… that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!”

Although gay has since come to include a meaning of homosexual, the dyad "gay marriage" meaning the union of two queers was unthink­able until first the Netherlands legalized same sex marriage, and then in the U.S. by the Massachusetts court … in Good­ridge v. Dept. of Public Health, 2003. Other states as well trying to follow suit fumbled the ball and got ahead of history.

For comparison let's look at Fowler's definition in 1946 of: “Libel: (Law) any public state­ment damaging to the reputation of a person; (Pop.) any false & defam­a­tory statement in conver­sation or other­wise. ¶“Scandal: (Law) any injurious report published concerning another which may be the foundation of legal action; (Pop.) the utterance of disgraceful imputations” (324). There are legal definitions (Law) and popular definitions (Pop.) Often the law is based on common law following the community held sense of matters. In this case the courts have been decreeing by judicial fiat the implementation of same sex marriage contrary to popular referenda and legislature—in 20 out of 36 states that had it legalized—, contrary to common law that regarded marriage as hetero­sexual, and contrary to all of civilized history. Had the Supreme Court held off and allowed the states to work it out individually, perhaps changing attitudes would have changed public opinion, but the Court's ruling on June 26, 2015 that same sex marriage must be recognized and implemented by all 50 states has set in stone its legal definition opposed to a contrary (by vote) popular one. The expression gay marriage (rather than same sex marriage) is too vague to be made into law, so that's the province of popular speech which in turn is subject to religious inter­pretation, which in fact Justice Kennedy in his majority opinion said the Court was friendly towards. So if some­one mentions or asks me about gay marriage, I'll be happy to discuss it with him per the scriptures quoted above and/or refer him to my review(s) here or on Epinions.com. If, how­ever, he wishes to use the terms gay with marriage to mean between two people of the same sex, he'll have to contex­tualize it with the triad "gay and lesbian marriage." People get away with looser usage so long as they aren't challenged, as Clint tried to do in the poker game in this movie, and we want to see if Rocklin will stick to his guns.

Production Values

Tall in the Saddle” (1944) was directed by Edwin L. Marin. Michael Hogan and actor Paul Fix wrote the screen­play based on Gordon Ray Young's original story Tall in the Saddle that appeared as a serialized novel in the Post. It stars John Wayne, Ella Raines, and Ward Bond. Wayne is finding his stride. Hayes as always is memor­able. The rest of the cast passes muster, some meritoriously.

The film is pretty tame, approved western fare with some shooting, fisticuffs, and kissing, not to mention a fleeting innuendo. Robert de Grasse's cinema­tog­raphy in Black & White was really fine, coupled with first-rate directing. Roy Webb's music was western appropriate. It was an enjoy­able combination.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

“Tall” got the job done as a ‘B’ western. If that will suit you rather than, say, an epic romance or swash­buck­ling adventure, go for it. It succeeds with­out excelling. It uses reliable formulae and uses them well.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Well done action flick. Suitability for children: Suitable for children. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Suspense: Some suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Three and a half stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture quotations from the Authorized King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Print, software.

Fowler, H.W., A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. USA. Oxford UP. 1946. Print.

Thorndike-Barnhart Comprehensive Desk Dictionary. Ed. Clarence L. Barnhart. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1951–1958. Print.

Word Lore: The History of 200 Intriguing Words. New York: Random House, 2002. Print.