One can only marvel at the imagination the team at Walt Disney Productions brought to the plotting of the studio’s live-action films back in the day, because the stories for some of these movies are so bizarre and elaborate they seem like transcriptions of fever dreams. In the offbeat Western The Castaway Cowboy, James Garner plays Lincoln Castain, an amiable Texan who gets dumped from a vessel crossing the Pacific and drifts to shore near the struggling Hawaiian plantation of plucky widow Henrietta McAvoy (Vera Miles). In the course of working to earn money for passage home, Lincoln discovers that Henrietta’s estate is home to a sizable cattle herd, which would fetch a handsome price on the mainland. The only problem is that the rocky shores of the island of Kauai make it impossible to get cows from the beach to cargo ships. As Lincoln ponders this issue, he (of course) falls for Henrietta and (of course) gets into a hassle with his rival for her affections, one Calvin Bryson (Robert Culp). Calvin’s a competing landowner intent on ruining Henrietta’s farm, so when Lincoln comes up with a way around the transportation problem—using small boats to guide swimming cows through ocean waters right up to the sides of waiting ships—Calvin mucks up the works with tricks like persuading a crazy local to use island magic against Lincoln. As with many Disney pictures of the same vintage, The Castaway Cowboy is as exhausting to watch as it is to describe, because character development and logical credibility get smothered by nonstop plot twists. Garner’s innate charm cuts through the overwrought narrative, and the location photography is impressive. There’s also minor novelty in watching the bovines swim through crystal-clear Hawaiian waters, but that only goes so far. Still, The Castaway Cowboy is hard to match for sheer randomness: A would-be cattle baron kickin’ it Hawaiian-style? Whatever.
The Castaway Cowboy: FUNKY