Appraised strictly for technical execution, from cinematography to performances to production values, frontier adventure The Wild Country is impeccable. Wide-open locations convey the beauty and toughness of the story’s Wyoming setting, while sincere work from a cadre of proficient actors puts across the simple story of an earnest family in conflict with nature and an unscrupulous neighbor. Furthermore, smooth direction by Robert Totten allows the story to unfold at a steady but unhurried pace over 100 minutes. Yet originality matters, and that’s where The Wild Country has problems. Every single moment is a cliché or a platitude, if not both, so The Wild Country represents some of the worst inclinations of the folks at Walt Disney Productions. Those seeking a fresh take on the travails of homesteading circa the Wild West era should look elsewhere. That significant disclaimer having been provided, there’s a lot to enjoy here for viewers who accept the picture’s limitations. Steve Forrest and Vera Miles make a handsome pair of pioneers, and it’s a hoot to see real-life brothers Clint and Ron Howard acting together as the homesteaders’ children. (The juvenile performers’ father, Rance Howard, appears in a tiny supporting role.) The Wild Country also benefits from beautiful images of animals and wilderness.
The story begins with the Tanner family arriving in rural Wyoming after a long journey from Philadelphia. At first, Jim (Forrest), Kate (Miles), teenaged Virgil (Ron Howard), and young Andrew (Clint Howard) seem ill-prepared for their new life on a small farm, but they summon enthusiasm and grit while whipping the spread into shape. Enter one-dimensional villain Ab Cross (Morgan Woodward), who owns a cattle outfit in the mountains overlooking the Tanner place. He’s built an illegal dam cutting the flow of water to the Tanners’ property, so Jim tries every means available to remedy the situation, even if that involves bare-knuckle brawling with mean old Ab. Everything about The Wild Country is predictable, but the picture gains a certain toughness as it proceeds toward an intense climax during which circumstances force Virgil to become a man. That said, The Wild Country is hopelessly retro, an expression of 1950s values that must have seemed pathetically unhip when the film was released in 1970. In that regard, it’s quintessential live-action Disney.
The Wild Country: FUNKY