I grew up with old school Disney. Though I never understood the appeal of Mickey Mouse, I adored Donald Duck. And thanks to a well-stocked local video store, I also watched many of Disney’s live action movies from the 1950’s on. Films like Shaggy Dog, Pollyanna, Swiss Family Robinson, The Apple Dumpling Gang, The Monkey’s Uncle and others offered wonderful family entertainment for a girl whose mother was very careful about what she was allowed to watch. To this day these films also hold a high nostalgia factor for me. Which is why when choosing a film for the James Garner Blogathon, I had to pick The Castaway Cowboy.
The Castaway Cowboy is a movie I’m certain I’ve seen before, but couldn’t recall a thing about. It’s the rare combination of Hawaiian meets Western.
Garner is Lincoln Costain, a Texan who ends up on the island of Kauai after being shanghaied. After washing up on shore, he is rescued by young Booton MacAvoy and his widowed mother Henrietta. They are struggling to make their potato farm profitable and are in danger of losing it to local businessman Calvin Bryson who has shown a romantic interest in Henrietta.
Costain immediately recognizes that running cattle would be a better use of their land and allows Henrietta to talk him into the herculean task of turning her local labor force into cowboys.
However, Costain has no intention of remaining in Hawaii for long. He also makes an enemy of one of the men after challenging his position as leader. Then there is the fact that someone is quietly sabotaging all of Costain’s and Henrietta’s efforts.
As is typical for a Disney film, The Castaway Cowboy has a predictable plot, one-dimensional villain and very little character development. Sadly, Vera Miles puts in a rather bland performance as Henrietta MacAvoy. Nor does she show much chemistry with her handsome co-star. But these things didn’t take away from my enjoyment of this film in the least.
James Garner is wonderfully cast as Linc Costain, a man who just wants to get back to Texas, but can’t leave a widow and young boy in need. His performance here reminds me a bit of his character in Support Your Local Sheriff, low key, even tempered, drily witty, but surprisingly resourceful and talented at getting the job done.
His relationship with Booten is one of the highlights of the film for me. The young boy looks to Costain as a father figure, while Costain is somewhat leery of filling that role. Still, he works patiently with Booten, teaching him the skills of a cowboy. There is a running gag of Costain constantly calling Booten by the wrong name which is rather cute.
Costain is a bit less patient with the native Hawaiians who work for Henrietta. The film portrays them as lazy, but I think their different work ethic owes more to a misunderstanding of cultural differences than anything else. It is rather fun watching the gradual building of trust between Costain and his native crew. I particularly like how their cowboy work wear reflects both the practicality of their jobs but also the joy of their culture.
The other major selling point of The Castaway Cowboy is that it was filmed on location in Kauai. The natural settings make for stunning visuals as well as making the film feel more authentic. Even if it had nothing else to recommend it, the beauty of the island would be entertainment enough. Fortunately, Garner’s presence along with the sweet onscreen relationship with young Booten and the inherent comedy of turning Hawaiians into cowboys means that the Kauai scenery is icing on the cake.
Even though I’m convinced I’ve seen The Castaway Cowboy before, the only thing I remembered was the score and the song Kay Yi Yippee, Yippee Yay. The minute I heard it, I traveled straight back to my childhood.
Over the years, I’ve made a point of watching many of James Garner’s films. He’s a much better actor than he is generally given credit for. He proved himself equally adept at drama and comedy. And he’s one of those rare actors who was able to overcome the distraction of his good looks with great performances. He could also put across an average film simply by his presence in it, as he did in The Castaway Cowboy. While it will never be my favorite Garner film, it is one I will always be able to enjoy because he makes it both interesting and entertaining.
Thanks to Gill of Realweegiemidget Review for giving me the chance to celebrate this wonderful actor in her James Garner Blogathon.