The Tall Men (film)

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The Tall Men
Directed by Raoul Walsh
Produced by William A. Bacher, William B. Hawks
Written by Heck Allen (novel) (as Clay Fisher),
Sydney Boehm (screenplay),
Frank S. Nugent (screenplay) (as Frank Nugent)
Starring Clark Gable,
Jane Russell,
Robert Ryan,
Cameron Mitchell
Music by Victor Young
Cinematography Leo Tover
Edited by Louis R. Loeffler
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • October 5, 1955 (1955-10-05)
Running time
122 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3,115,000[1]
Box office $6 million (US/ Canada rentals)[2]

The Tall Men is a 1955 American western film directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Clark Gable, Jane Russell, and Robert Ryan.

The 20th Century Fox film was produced by William A. Bacher and William B. Hawks. Sydney Boehm and Frank S. Nugent wrote the screenplay, based on a novel by Heck Allen (as Clay Fisher).


Ben Allison (Clark Gable) and his brother Clint (Cameron Mitchell) journey to Montana in search of gold. They were on their way home after four years of absence serving the Confederate Army where Ben Allison was a Colonel and they were broke. They come upon wealthy businessman Nathan Stark (Robert Ryan) who they rob and kidnap before he talks them into becoming partners with him on a cattle drive to Montana. As they travel to Texas to buy the cattle, their pack mule loaded with supplies and food fell in a snowy river. They come upon a party of settlers with Nella Turner (Jane Russell) serving as the spokeperson who share their fire and agree to slaughter a mule for food; as they leave the next day they realize the Indians (Sioux) are likely to attack the settlers. Ben believed that unless someone would help, the settlers including Nella would be massacred. Ben told brother Flint and Stark to go on to San Antonio to buy the cattle and he will just join them there. Ben heads back to the settlers camp just in time to see the last of the settlers being attacked by a war party and shoots several of them. He saves Nella Turner (Jane Russell) Ben and Nella have a fling while stuck in a cabin during a snow storm. The love between Nella and Ben abruptly joined the harsh cold winter environment as Nella vehemently disagreed with Ben's plan once they get married. Nella rejects him as he "dreams too small" for just wanting to settle down to a ranch in his hometown of Prairie Dog Creek and she sees Ben's lifestyle as the road to unhappiness given her parents' experience.

When the two-punch snow storm finally subsided and with the aid of a platoon of Union soldiers, Ben and Nella left the cabin and rode on separate horses without saying a word to each other. They then took a coach from Abeline headed for San Antonio. Although there was ample room inside the coach next to a lovely lady, Ben rode atop with the driver. The driver was surprised why Ben insisted on riding with him with the chill of winter still lingering. Ben stated that he did not want to be seated next to a big dreamer who dreams of finding gold at the end of a rainbow.

Arriving in San Antonio, and alighting from the stagecoach, Nella threw her beautiful multi-colored blanket at Ben as a souvenir telling Ben "you might need it and don't get lost in a big city, prairie boy". They then went their separate ways. When Nella was checking in the hotel, an elegantly dressed Stark happened to be just going down the stairs. He was delighted to see Nella and told the desk clerk to give Nella the best suite that Stark was occupying and move his belongings to the second best suite. Both seemed to have the same desire to make as much money as possible especially Stark who lusted for power and who was certain to be the next governor of Montana. Nella was pleased to hear Stark telling her that he owned all the rainbows in Montana which coincided with Nella's own ambitions. Nella was however firm that Stark conduct himself as a true gentleman. Stark hired the best couturier to teach Nella how to dress and conduct and behave at the high class level. While the couturier was dressing up Nella, Nella asked her if she happened to know a Ben Allison in San Antonio. "Do I know Senior Ben Allison? Everybody in San Antonio knows Senior Ben especially the beautiful women on both sides of the Rio Grande river. They are all crazy for senior Ben but no woman was really very special for senior Ben. He just enjoys and then rides with his men to fight the gringos." Nella was aflame with jealousy!

At Stark's persuasion, Nella agreed accompany him on the final trek to Montana with the clear path of being the State of Montana's First Lady as Stark practically controlled Montana. Along the rugged 1,500 mile journey Ben and Nella would harp upon each other when the opportunity arises, giving Stark the impression that Ben and Nella hate each other due to their major difference in their lifetime goals. Stark sleeps in his own wagon close to Nella's. At night, inside the privacy of her wagon that had a very special expensive bath tub Nella always sings the same "Cherry Tree at Prairie Dog Creek" tune but varies the lyrics depending on her mood. When she sings, she always made sure that Ben was listening. One night her lyrics seemed to go this way "There was a man at Prairie Dog Creek, who always wear with his boots and spurs and sleeps with his mules and cows and was never a Romeo." But deep within each other's heart, Ben and Nella still nurture the love that was born in the winter cabin.

The friction between Ben and Stark kept on building up fueled by the belligerence of Clint towards Stark as Ben was protective of his younger brother Clint. The brothers had deep imprints of the influence of their grandmother who was a princess of a major Indian tribe. Their Indian grandmother practically raised Ben and Clint. The first major disaggreement between Ben and Stark erupted when Ben refused to pay the $5,000 "border crossing tax" that the Jayhawkers mandated for the 4,000 cattle and 1,000 horses that they were bringing into Montana. (The Jayhawkers were to the North as Quantrill's Raiders were to the South) Stark thought that the Jayhawkers who were former officers and soldiers of the North were well-trained and too numerous for them to overcome. As "boss" of the cattle drive Ben overruled Stark. All of the wranglers under Ben in the cattle drive were also his men during the Civil War. Ben advised Stark to tell Nella to get into her bath tub for a shield during the fight. Ben outwitted the leaders of the Jayhawkers and decimated more than half their numbers during the fight where Stark also fought bravely. Ben did not lose a single man and all followed the cheer of their leader, Luis, that Ben is now General. Ben thanked them and ordered them to bury the dead Jayhawkers.

Meanwhile as they continue their 1,500 mile trek, Stark warned Ben to control Clint as Clint was becoming even more disrespectful and harassing Nella. Clint sensed that his big brother Ben loved Nella and Nella was hurting Ben. Ben told Stark to be careful as his brother, Clint, was fast with his two guns. Finally a showdown took place when they camp near a river. Nella was bathing in the river when Clint saw her and Clint threw all of Nella's clothes and outfit into the direction where Nella was. Stark heard Nella's pleadings for Clint to behave properly which Clint ignored. Stark faced Clint with about 20 feet separating the two and Stark told Clint "It's time to teach you a lesson Junior". Clint was very quick in reaching for his gun but Stark was lightning faster. Upon hearing the shot, Ben came but was told by his brother that Stark beat him to the draw "fair and square".

In his shame for being outdrawn, Clint persuaded Ben, to let him ride as "point man" so that way he would rarely be seen by the main body of their group. Ben was the point man from the beginning of the drive from Texas. The point man change took place when they were just about to enter Bozeman, Montana. The Colonel of the US Cavalry at a nearby fort told them to head back to Texas. If they would not go back to Texas, they have to build houses and structures for them and their cattle and horses for a long winter as the Sioux indians with all of their tribes and chiefs had them perfectly trapped. Stark wanted to go back to Texas but Ben mentioned that he would not go back to Texas and sell their herd at a loss. He would not allow the entire Sioux to put them in forced confinement. He was deat set in entering Montana.

After many days, Clint's horse returned minus the saddle and Clint. Ben, together with two of Luis best men went to search for Clint. When they found Clint, Clint was tied with a rope to the trunk of a big tree with about half a dozen arrows protruding from his chest that covered with his own blood. In front of Clint, was a well multi-colored painted cow skull warning sternly that they must not enter the area. Luis performed the burial ceremony as a devout Catholic even kneeling down on the ground during the prayer. As soon as the funeral was over, Ben told Luis that he was going ahead as point-man and just in case something happens to him, Luis must take Stark, Nella and their cows and horses to Montana. Ben was not aware that Nella and Stark, who were obscured by a boulder, heard Ben's instructions to Luis.

One night while at camp, Nella noticed Luis seated on a rock and appeared very solemn. Nella slowly approached Luis and asked if Luis missed and cared for Ben as Ben had been gone and not heard of for days. "Do I care for senior Ben? I love senior Ben. He saved my life at least three times. I always pray for senior Ben. If you ask me senorita if I would die for senior Ben tomorrow, I will ask you what time?"

For days, Ben clandestinely scouted the movements and specific concentrations of the Sioux. Then he rode back to his "caravan" and told them that the Sioux's were thicker that fleas in a dog. He clearly laid his battle strategy and tactics, using the 5,000 cattle and horses as their battering ram in a stampede against the Indians and where his men including Stark will be positioned to make significant impact against the Indians in the ensuing battle. Ben would ride a few miles ahead and would fire four shots as a signal for his "troops" to charge at full speed. But before he left, he approached Nella and told her how sorry he was for bringing Nella in a perilous situation and into a very dangerous Indian country. Then he left at a fast gallop.

After hours that seemed like eternity, Ben fired the four shots from a vantage hill where he could see his "troops" as well as the Indians that were teeming and moving fast towards the stampeding units. Nella's wagon got into big trouble and Ben, forgetting his won safety, had to rescue and took her to a hill and told her to start shooting as the Indians were really too numerous. In the midst of battle, Ben was on a sharp lookout for the "Medicine Man" as all Indians always fight and retreat at the behest of the Medicine Man. Ben briefly saw the Medicine Man arrayed in his very colorful gala with his stick or spear also multi-colored slowly moving like a warlord behind a rock. Ben fired at him and the medicine man's horse got startled and ran towards the stampeding herd. He and his horse were trodden down by the stampeding herd. Without their spiritual leader, the Indians and their chiefs got disorganized and disarrayed. Hundreds and hundreds were killed by the stampede as the passage was very narrow. The Indians went into full retreat for good. Ben did not lose a man and Luis reported that they only lost about 100 or 150 heads of cattle.

Then they were scot free and entered the promised land of Montana where the 4,000 cows that they bought in Texas was sold for $170,000. Just before Stark took Nella to their hotel, Nella asked Ben if she would see him in town. Ben told her that yes, is she looks quickly as he would just pick up his share of the money from Stark and give his men the $16,000 that he promised them before the drive that they will get $4 for every head of cattle.

It was already twilight when Nella heard a rider approaching the salon that Stark owned and where his vigilantes always spend their time. From the hotel that was next to the salon, Nella saw from her upper hotel room that the rider that alighted from the horse was definitely Ben. Upon entry, Ben asked the chief bartender where he could find Stark. When Ben was ushered into Stark's office, the $170,000 stacked, neatly arranged and bundled were on top of Stark's office table. Stark rudely told Ben that he was not happy that Ben was late in coming as Stark and Nella had to celebrate for their wedding. Ben said that he was late as he and his men had to properly count and turnover the cattle to the buyer.

Abruptly, Stark told Ben that for months since they first met, he was waiting for "this day". He sternly told Ben that he had not forgotten when Ben and Clint held him up. He said that no one in his lifetime had ever poked a gun on his side, profitted (insinuating the $170,000) and lived. Then Stark opened a door on another side of his office and came in his chief vigilantes with a rope. They were going to hang Ben. Ben, being a visionary, anticipated and was fully cognizant of the double-cross. As a signal, he kicked the door behind him through which he entered Stark's Office. In came Luis, gun drawn. Ben told Stark to better see the entire salon. When he looked, all of his men and vigilantes had been disarmed by Ben's men and had both their arms raised.

At that juncture, Stark said that he never thought that he would lose Nella and the governorship of Montana and the whole $170,000 that he and Ben would share at $85,000 apiece. He firmly believed that with the failed double-cross, Ben's men would kill him and all of his vigilantes mindful what they did to the overwhelming odds against the Jayhalkers and the Indians. What Stark heard next shocked him! Ben told Stark "Give me $16,000 as that's what I promised my men that they will get and give me $10,000 as I believe, I earned. I dream small so I do not need lots of money. The rest you can keep for you and Nella as you both dream big." Then Ben picked up another $100 bill from the table. He handed the $100 bill to the chief bartender and told him to buy special champagne for Stark and Nella's wedding party. "At the party. tell the lady that Ben said Goodbye" Then Ben told his men that drinks were "on the house" and, whiskey bottles in hand, they all headed to their camp preparatory to their departure back to Texas the following morning.

When they reached their camp, Ben gave the $16,000 to Luis to be distributed among his men. His men were celebrating but Carlos, Luis' next in command, visibly noticed that Ben was not celebrating. Luis told Carlos that Ben is very sad because the woman that he truly loved will be getting married the next day with Stark. Luis told Carlos that after two or more drinks, he (Luis) will ride into town and make Nella a widow so she can be free and bring her to Ben so Ben will be happy. Just then they all heard that too familiar voice with the too familiar song about a cherry tree in Prairie Dog Creek. The singer was inside the wagon where Ben was starting to unroll and spread his blanket on the side of the wagon wheel. When the song ended, Nella emerged and climbed down from the wagon and extended her boots close to Ben. "Pull my boots off, my feet are so tired from walking from the hotel. I started walking fast after I saw you entering the salon."

And they lived happily in Ben's small dream. A beautiful home at Prairie Dog Creek with a cherry tree at the top of the hill overlooking the river and fair size ranch with Luis and his vaqueros. Plot written by Marino B Bual/8-25,2014/updated 9-2-2014 . . . .



  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p249
  2. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1955', Variety Weekly, January 25, 1956

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