"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Six Black Horses (Universal, 1962)


It was to have been a Boetticher/Scott picture




 
 
Six Black Horses was a late-ish Audie Murphy Western for Universal and not really one of his very best. At least on my DVD the picture quality is pretty ropey and the cast is small, more of an ensemble piece than a big Western, but it did have a couple of points in its favor, notably a screenplay by Burt Kennedy and Dan Duryea as second lead.

The following year Audie would do his last Universal Western and move to Columbia. For now, he continued riding for the studio that had launched him in the saddle back in 1950. He was not a happy bunny, though. He said that all they changed from picture to picture was the color of his horse. Not quite true, because there were some interesting screenplays. This one is quite original. For Audie it came between the feature Westerns Posse from Hell in 1961 and Gunfight at Comanche Creek in ’63. The previous year he had been Whispering Smith on TV but the show went through all sorts of problems and was discontinued in October ’61.

Six Black Horses is in Eastmancolor and was shot by Maury Gertsman (28 feature Westerns, 1944 - 67) in handsome Utah locations, so it’s no cheapskate affair. Universal were always good on this side, though this picture isn’t quite the glossy reasonable-budget affair that some of the other ones were. And maybe it’s the transfer but as I say the image isn’t the best on the DVD; in the opening shot you see a man walking in the desert, carrying a heavy saddle (a bit like the opening of Hondo). You assume it’ll be Audie but you can’t verify that until you get quite close up.

Audie is Ben Lane (Randy's name in Comanche Station)

Audie is Ben Lane (same last name as Hondo, come to think about it), a cowpuncher with dreams of a ranch in Montana but for now, a bit of a loser. His horse broke a leg and he’s afoot. Suddenly he sees a bunch of wild horses and he skillfully manages to rope one and break it to the saddle. But no sooner has he done this than six riders appear, led by Roy Barcroft, and, obviously (for this is the West) decide to hang him.

Uh-oh

Now Dan Duryea arrives, with a Winchester. He can’t abide lynchin’ so he liberates Ben. The disgruntled and murderous mustangers don’t care for this one bit but there isn’t much they can do. Dan is called Jesse. Then he’s called Frank. Well, which James boy is he? But nay, he is Frank Jesse, no relation. And Audie had dibs, really, playing Jesse James twice in Westerns.

Dan and his Winchester persuade the lynchers to let Audie go

The new pals ride into Perdido. There they see a gaggle of men in a circle, shouting. Obviously some cruelty is happening and sure enough, they are betting on a dogfight. Because Western heroes are obliged to be nice to animals or children in the first reel (I think it was in their contract), Audie stops the fight, and thus earns my undying gratitude, because one thing I cannot abide is cruelty to animals, especially dogs. Audie was already pretty high in my esteem but now he is up there with Gary Cooper.

The mutt attaches himself to his benefactor and spends the rest of the movie riding on the pack of a mule, even when chased by angry Apaches, or on Audie’s saddle. Sadly, and rather disgracefully, this canine is not named in the credits, but he sure is a great dog.

After the dogfight a couple of hired killers make an attempt on the life of the pair but Jesse and Ben are too quick for them and the would-be assassins lie in the dust, defunct. Who were they? Were they after Jesse, or was it Ben? Why? And who paid them? Ah, ‘tis a mystery.

Well, not entirely a mystery because moments before we had seen one of the gunmen with saloon gal Kelly (Joan O’Brien). Did she commission the hit? If so, why?

Kelly hires the pardners for a dangerous mission

Now Kelly (not sure if it’s her first name or last name) hires the two to take her to a remote town to meet her husband. But the trail lies through Apache territory. Danger lurks behind every rock. Yet she is determined. She offers them $500 apiece, then ups it to a thousand each. Wow. It would take them four years to earn that punching cattle. Now they can earn it in four days. But them durn Coyoteros! Ben hesitates. Then the mustangers turn up in town looking for Ben and Jesse. That decides it: they set out across Injun territory.

So now we get a woman and two men facing danger from hostile Apaches. They also meet up with a tough bunch of bounty-hunters and scalp-takers (shudder), ex-pards of Jesse, led by George Wallace, a stalwart of TV Western shows, and the trio have to drive them away with their guns. They leave, far from gruntled, vowing that they will meet up again soon…

This is where it gets Boetticher

On the way we get hints that Kelly is deliberately trying to sabotage the trip. She builds the fire up to high-smoke levels, she makes sure Ben’s horse slips a shoe, and she offers no warning when she sees some Indians in the distance. Mmm, what’s her game?

Obviously they find a lake and she has a nudie swim. It was a 60s Western, after all, and the deserts were, as you know, plumb full of such ponds, enabling heroines to disrobe and bathe.

At one point the Apaches try to do a deal: they want to trade the woman for a fine horse. Audie pretends to consider the bargain, and he seems to talk their lingo fluently, but hey, it’s Audie, so we know there’ll be no deal. The Indians ride off, also less than gruntled, but, Audie warns (for he is a man who knows Indians) they’ll be back…

The Coyotero chief (Henry Wills) checks out the merchandise in the same way that Audie did with the horse

So they make a run for an old abandoned mission, with the dog bouncing perilously atop the galloping pack mule. They reckon they can defend this place, and they make it, but only just and only thanks to Audie’s courage and skill. Of the ten Indians, Ben gets three and Jesse gets four.

At the height of the battle, though, Kelly aims her Winchester at Jesse. Such perfidy! Audie sees, and shouts a warning and just at that moment a Coyotero war lance pierces the lady, hurting her badly and scuppering her planned assassination of Jesse.

So now we know. It’s Jesse she’s after. She paid those two gunmen to get him back in Perdido. Jesse killed her husband, you see. She used to be a whore and her beloved had saved her from all that, so she is pretty miffed that Jesse shot him. She tells Ben this, and Jesse overhears, so the cat is now well and truly out of the bag.

Fine scenery. Pity about the picture quality.

Now the dynamic has shifted. It’s no longer the two pals Ben and Jesse (Jesse having saved Ben from hanging, so he owes him) versus their rather aloof lady employer but la belle Kelly and decent Ben on the one side (they will inevitably wind up on that Montana ranch together) and unscrupulous gun-for-hire Jesse on the other. Jesse tells Ben that he wants six black horses (the equines of the title) to pull the hearse at his funeral, and we sense that this ceremony will come sooner than Jesse may wish.

We still quite like Jesse, though. He may be a hired killer but he’s a sympathetic type, and he’s Dan Duryea after all. Maybe his character’s name suggests the good/bad heroes of countless Westerns, those James boys. There’s quite a subtle bit of dialogue in which Jesse tells Kelly that their former professions were more similar than she may want to admit: he took money to kill people just as she did to allow men to use her body. He couldn’t remember the faces of his ‘targets’ any more than she could those of her clients. Maybe she should be looking for the men who paid Jesse, not Jesse himself.

There will be an inevitable showdown between the two ex-pards. Ben duly delivers the classic line, “There are some things a man can’t ride around” (aka A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do). Actually, Burt Kennedy used that same line in Ride Lonesome. And in Ride Lonesome too an Indian wants to trade a horse for a woman. You knew that. And come to think about it, the hero of Ride Lonesome is named Ben. And the leading lady (Karen Steele) is Mrs. Lane. And Randy was Ben Lane in Comanche Station. Something else: O’Brien wears the same outfit as Ms. Steele did in Ride Lonesome. Mmm, I may have to do a PhD on this.

It will not perhaps surprise you to know therefore that Six Black Horses was to have been the eighth Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott Western. Wow, that would have been something. But it never happened and the picture came to Harry Keller, who first wanted Richard Widmark in the role of Ben Lane.

Keller had specialized in Westerns at Republic. In fact he’d edited Angel and the Badman for the studio in 1947 before starting to direct Allan Lane B-Westerns and the occasional slightly bigger effort such as Rose of Cimarron, and he moved to Universal when Republic went under. There he helmed Quantez (1957) and Day of the Badman (1958) with Fred MacMurray. He also directed episodes of Texas John Slaughter for Disney. Six Black Horses was his last Western as director; he then moved to producing. A couple of years before he had directed Audie in the entertaining Seven Ways from Sundown and he had directed Duryea that year too in Gundown at Sandoval (not yet reviewed).

Keller directs

The whole picture, though, has a definite Boetticher/Kennedy vibe: few characters, desert terrain, searching for someone, beset by danger, glam blonde.

Well, Jesse gets those black horses. And the Montana high country beckons the future Mr. & Mrs. Lane. Fin.

Harry Keller wasn't Budd Boetticher, and Audie Murphy wasn't Randolph Scott, but Six Black Horses, which only took a month to shoot, is an honest oater, and Duryea (who also appeared with Murphy in Ride Clear of Diablo in 1954 and Night Passage in ‘57) adds to the appeal. Murphy and Duryea worked very well together. The writing is good. The action scenes are well done (top-notch stuntmen, inc. Henry Wills). The scenery is fine. Bob Steele is a puncher. Ms. O’Brien is attractive (if you’re still allowed to say that); this and a couple of John Wayne pictures, The Alamo and The Comancheros, were her only big-screen Westerns.

And the dog’s good.


My hero. And Audie.


 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Winchester ’73 (NBC TV, 1967)


That rifle changes hands (again)




 
 
I have nothing against remakes as such. After all, it’s the third The Maltese Falcon we all know and love. As far as Westerns go, the third The Virginian (the 1929 one) was the best. Each generation has a right to have another go at a classic. Of course when some trendy director decides to put on a Shakespeare play in modern dress, s/he does still kind of feel obliged to stick to the original script. That doesn’t necessarily apply with the humble oater, where liberties may well be taken. Some remakes were hardly that: they were almost sequels.

And some weren’t too good, either. The 1966 Stagecoach was certainly no worse than many Westerns of that year but wasn’t even close in quality to John Ford’s original 1939 film Stagecoach. The country-singer Stagecoach, in 1986, for CBS TV, was pretty bad – one of the passengers on the stage was Willie Nelson as Doc Holliday. Some remakes could be OK, though. The made-for-TV Winchester ’73 in 1967, a reprise of Universal's fine 1950 picture Winchester '73, was, honestly, weak by comparison to the 1950 Anthony Mann-directed original with James Stewart. But that doesn’t mean that it was junk.

An introductory voiceover tells us that the Winchester was the gun that won the West, and adds that the fact that the Indians had Winchesters and General Custer did not was the reason for the death of 220 brave soldiers at Little Bighorn. You knew that, didn’t you?

We open in the town of Onyx, near Tascosa, TX. A big shootin’ contest is being prepared, with the winner getting only the third-ever Winchester special centenary model (President Grant has the first and Buffalo Bill the second). So it must be 1873. So how come Custer’s already dead? Oh well, never mind.

There’s no Wyatt Earp to be master of ceremonies, only a rather nondescript townsman (Robert Bice). Favorites to win the marksmanship competition are the marshal, Lin McAdam (Tom Tryon) and his brother Dan (David Pritchard). They are crack shots and no one is likely to beat them. Except maybe their cousin, Dakin McAdam (John Saxon) who gets off the stage in town after serving six years in the state pen, and he’s not a happy bunny.

The shootin' contest starts

Now, you need to know the McAdam family tree here: brothers Paul Fix and Dan Duryea have sons. Duryea is ex-convict Dakin’s pa, while Fix is the dad of brothers Lin and Dan. Got it? Unlike the original 1950 movie, therefore, this one reveals from the get-go that the rival shooters are related.

Dan is John's pa

Of course Dan Duryea and Paul Fix are very well known old hands to us Westernistas, and it’s great to see them again. Paul does his usual solid act, while Dan manages not to overact for once. Dan was, you remember, Waco Johnny Dean, he of the hyena laugh, in the original. There’s no such gunslinger in this one. This was in fact Duryea's last Western. He made a noble contribution to our great genre.

John Saxon as the angry cousin is also no stranger to us Western fans - seven big-screen Westerns, the odd spaghetti, any number of TV shows. He was impressive from the very start, in John Huston's splendid The Unforgiven in 1960 (riding amazingly well for a Brooklyn boy). I thought he was also very good in The Appaloosa and Joe Kidd.

Saxon is the bad guy

The brothers weren’t quite such specialists of the saddle. David Pritchard had only done two or three Bonanza episodes. Ho-hum. Tom Tryon as the hero Lin (the Jimmy Stewart part) was Texas John Slaughter on TV, so was quite a household name, but... He’d been in Three Violent People before that show started and had starred in The Glory Guys in 1965 but those were his only Western features. He’s OK, I guess.

There’s a good bit only six minutes in when a saloon gal (Jan Arvan), who is the crooked dealer at blackjack, tries to cheat Dan (not Dan Duryea, Dan McAdam). Dan challenges her, so she whips a derringer out of a (rather daring) lady-holster and points it at him, asking him where he wants it. In the nick of time, though, brother Lin, the marshal, turns up, disarms her and runs her outa town. Well, that sent the picture up in my estimation.

The best bit

As you may guess, Lin wins the Winchester fair ‘n’ square, with Cousin Dakin going grrrr in the background. He’s a bad egg. So bad, in fact, that rather than renounce owning that Winchester, he shoots and kills his Uncle Paul Fix to get it (Uncle Paul was engraving Lin’s name on it at the time). Dakin’s dad, Duryea, sees this but lies to protect his son, claiming that Uncle Fix pulled a gun first and it was self-defense. Preposterous.

Uncle Paul Fix is gunned down

Well, first Dan, then Lin set out after their renegade cousin to bring him in for trial – and get that Winch back. They go to Tascosa, where John Doucette (who was also in the original movie) runs a saloon. He has a splendid armored gun-turret on the bar from behind which he pokes his shotgun.

You don't want to argue with this saloon owner

And in the saloon, playing solitaire, is frock-coated gambler/arms dealer John Dehner. I always like Dehner; he was never less than excellent in Westerns. His character’s name is High Spade, as John McIntire’s was in 1950, but this time, oddly, he’s High Spade Johnny Dean, I suppose in homage to Waco Johnny Dean in ’50. Anyway, he wins the Winchester at poker. That he does so may have something to do with the fact the dealer is none other than saloon gal Arvan, sleight-of-hand supremo and lover of High Spade, run out of Onyx by the marshal and now palming cards in Tascosa.

Dehner is High Spade

You know the ongoing story, I’m sure. An Indian (Rock Hudson in the original, Ned Romero as the Comanche Wild Bear in this one) kills High Spade and possesses himself of the rifle. He in turn is killed but a little Mexican girl finds the Winchester in the long grass afterwards and gives it to her pop, who promptly falls out with his brother over it. They decide that the gun is cursed (they may have a point) and go to church to get the local padre to bless it. Mmm, that’ll work.

That nice Universal Western town lot is Onyx (it was a Universal Television production) and pleasant Old Tucson and surrounding locations are used for for Tascosa and the in-between bits. It’s shot in Technicolor. Universal was always good at that side of things.

The director was Herschel Daugherty, who helmed all sorts of Western TV shows and the odd feature (such as the not-very-good The Raiders). He handles Winchester ’73 well enough, I reckon, you know, for a TV show. There are all those fades-to-black, of course, with preceding mini-climaxes in the plot, to accommodate the commercial exigencies of television.

The writers were Richard DeLong Adams and Stephen Kandel, using the 1950 Borden Chase/Robert L Richards screenplay based on a Stuart Lake story as the starting point, but considerably departing from that script (after all, it wasn’t Shakespeare) especially in the second half.

There are some good character actors in support. In addition to the aforementioned Fix, Doucette and Dehner, evil Cousin Saxon has a couple of henchmen, ex-lags from his jail days, and they are John Drew Barrymore as a vulture-like preacher and good old Jack Lambert as a vicious Scot (his Scots accent is almost as good as mine). If you don’t blink you’ll also spot George Keymas and James Griffith.

There’s a shoot-out in church (lower budget than Vasquez Rocks, I guess) when one by one the bad guys cash in their inevitable chips. Dan smooches the derringer girl but Lin doesn’t seem to get anyone. The rifle comes back full circle into the hands of its original owner, like O Henry's umbrella.

But for how long?

Until the next remake, I suppose.






Sunday, July 15, 2018

The First Traveling Saleslady (RKO, 1956)



Very early Clint, very late RKO
 

 

 
 
1950s comedy Westerns could be quite fun. A Ticket to Tomahawk, Alias Jesse James or The Sheepman, for example. But this one is labored and the cast wasn’t up to those others.
 

I watched this on British TV, which I get here in France by satellite, and hilariously it had a PG (Parental Guidance) rating because of “outdated racial and gender representations”. It is true that Ginger Rogers’s character, Miss Rose Gillray, is patronizing (I suppose we should say matronizing) to a black porter and her companion Molly (Carol Channing) shrieks when she finds that an Indian outside a cigar store is not made of wood, but actually there are very few African-Americans and Native Americans in the picture, so it can’t really be fairly accused of racialism. As for the representation of women, it might make a present-day feminist clench her (or his) teeth but in fact Rose is a sort of suffragist pioneer, championing women’s rights in 1897 America. And she wins out. So it ain’t that demeaning to women either.

Considering.

It was directed by Arthur Lubin (left), the Abbott & Costello fellow, who directed their 1942 comedy Western Ride ‘Em Cowboy. In the 1950s he was put in charge of the Francis the Talking Mule series which doubtless had you glued to the screen (if you are old enough). Traveling Saleslady was the last picture produced by RKO. Ginger Rogers quipped that the movie sank the studio but in fact years of mismanagement, especially under Howard Hughes, had driven away many directors, producers, and stars. Big-budger flops made the debts mount hugely. In January 1957 RKO’s owners, General Tire, sold the Hollywood and Culver City facilities to Desilu. It was a sad demise. The studio had done wagonloads of Westerns but now it rode off into the Sunset.

It was no low-budget affair. It was shot in Technicolor, had a runtime of 92 minutes and it boasted a huge cast. If the actors weren’t quite of the top rank they were still well enough known. Ginger Rogers topped the bill, though her star had definitely faded (she would abandon movies for a time in ’57, aged 46). She is the eponymous salesperson, amusingly (for the 1950s) purveying corsets but then somehow getting involved in selling barbed wire in Texas, which makes her about as popular as an arms dealer at a Quaker meeting.

Ginger

Second billing went to genial all-around nice guy, Barry Nelson, playing the hapless man Masters who is finally mastered by the saleslady. He had been the first ever screen 007 (on TV) but he was hardly a huge star. Carol Channing, alumna of the stage productions of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Hello Dolly, played Rose’s companion Molly. She has a really grim song A Corset Can Do a Lot for a Lady, in which she comes across as, frankly (and sorry), coarse.

She insists on driving his horseless carriage and (obviously) they land up in the ditch

Of course these were all comedy/musical stars, not Western ones, but once we get past them on the cast list we find David Brian, James Arness and Clint Eastwood. Brian, who plays Carter, the barbed wire magnate, had a solid track (or trail) record in oaters. Being blond, he was often the villain. Think of him as raider leader Austin McCool in Springfield Rifle (1952) or saloon owner Dick Braden in Dawn at Socorro (1954). Jim Arness was of course already famous as Matt Dillon because the TV Gunsmoke had started in 1955. Clint wasn’t famous yet; Rawhide didn’t start till 1959. He’d only had bit parts thus far, such as First Saxon (uncredited) in the gripper Lady Godiva of Coventry. This was only his second credited role in a feature and his first Western. He plays a lieutenant recruiting for the Rough Riders (Teddy Roosevelt makes a brief appearance, played by Ed Cassidy). Molly falls for the handsome young officer hook, line and, naturally, sinker. He will soon be off to Cuba but that doesn’t stop him wooing the saleslady’s companion (though she was at least a decade older, but we mustn’t be ungallant).

Clint 'n' Carol

In bit parts here and there we have some faces Westernistas will recognize, such as Danny Borzage, Lane Chandler, Tristram Coffin, Franklyn Farnum and Kermit Maynard.

Rose tells Carter, “I never use being a woman as a selling point,” but this is patently false. Feminine wiles are an integral part of her sales technique. She and Molly go to Kansas City because “that’s where the West begins” and there she meets the rather obviously named Joel Kingdom, rich Texas rancher (Arness, in very 1950s hair oil), who falls for her, even when he knows she is selling the dreaded barbed wire. He wears a six-shooter in a holster even in his hotel suite. She gets the suite by pretending to be a secretary of the Prince of Wales, whom Kingdom wants to meet, giving as the reason a wartime expression, “Hands across the sea”.

Hilarious

A lot of nonsense ensues.

I must say that much of the dialogue is really clunky, and the acting is often correspondingly heavy handed. The picture was not a glorious way for RKO to bow out. Ginger fans may like it.

But I didn’t.

 

 

 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Sierra (Universal, 1950)


Audie's second oater




 
 
On July 16, 1945 Audie Murphy appeared on the cover of Life magazine. He had returned to the US as the most decorated hero of World War II. He had not yet even celebrated his twenty-first birthday.

James Cagney saw that copy of Life and felt that Audie had real movie-star potential. The young ex-soldier moved to California in the summer and stayed with Cagney for a year. Nothing much happened during this time in terms of movie parts but finally Audie landed a minor role in an Alan Ladd picture, Beyond Glory, to be followed by another small part in Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven. He was dissatisfied and wanted a starring role. In the fall of 1948 Audie got his chance, starring as a juvenile delinquent in Allied Artists’ Bad Boy, premièred in February 1949. The month before, he had married rising Paramount star Wanda Hendrix. Audie and Wanda were puffed as “America’s most romantic young couple.”

The commercial success of Bad Boy convinced Universal to offer Murphy a seven-year contract at $2500 a week. They saw him in the saddle and indeed, although he would do other genres, from then on Audie became associated chiefly with the Western. Because of his youth (he was still only in his mid-twenties) and baby-faced appearance, he was given roles in 1950 as Billy the Kid and the young Jesse James, in The Kid from Texas (released in March 1950) and Kansas Raiders (released in November that year) respectively. Between those two pictures he made Sierra, released in May, with Hendrix, though in fact their marriage was already on the rocks and they would divorce soon after.

America’s most romantic young couple, but not for long...

Sierra was far from Audie Murphy’s greatest Western. It had a rather improbable plot and in it Murphy showed limited range as an actor. He spent most of it being surly, like his part in Bad Boy. It was directed by Alfred E Green, a real vet who went right back to being an actor in the Selig Polyscope days in 1912, directing features, as Al Green, from 1917. The IMDb bio says he was “A solid, dependable journeyman, not given to flashy directorial touches” and that “he was picked by Mary Pickford to direct quite a few of her pictures in the 1920s.” Sierra was the last of only four Westerns he ever directed in that very long career, so he was hardly a specialist.

Alfred

However, one of those four was the absolutely charming Four Faces West (MGM, 1948) in which he directed Joel McCrea and Frances Dee. I love that picture, so Green is in my good books. Still, it must be admitted that Sierra was not exactly his finest hour. He was better pairing Groucho Marx with Carmen Miranda in 1947.

The picture is attractive to look at. It was shot in Technicolor by Russell Metty, his fifth Western (he would later do the visually splendid The Misfits) and the locations round Kanab, UT are really nice. There are some great shots of running horses. There’s also pleasant-enough music by Walter Scharf.

Russ Metty

Another good feature is the entertaining character of a singing old prospector Lonesome, a sort of plump Greek chorus, played by the great Burl Ives. Ives appeared in eight big-screen Westerns and would be wonderfully good in Day of the Outlaw for André De Toth in 1959. Here he has a smaller part than that but is still enjoyable.

Hermit Lonesome rides the Sierra on his mule, singin'

Audie plays Ring Hassard, a mustanger living up in the Sierra as a recluse because his pa Jeff (Dean Jagger, in a rather blander role than he was used to or capable of; this was his first Western since his magnificent part in the noir Pursued) was wrongly accused of murder some years before (it was a mysterious large man who had really been the killer) and so they hide away from the world in a remote and hard-to-find cabin in the mountains. You can only get to it by riding through a canyon-bottom river (it kinda reminds you of the lair in Johnny Guitar or Tom Mix’s Riders of the Purple Sage).

Audie is surly (at first)

A young woman appears, Riley (Hendrix). She has lost her horse and has been wandering round for days. She stupidly fires a shot when Ring is trying to get close to some wild horses. She then faints. She continues to be equally tiresome and silly through most of the movie. Ring blindfolds her and takes her to his cabin to give her food and rest but from then on she seems to be a jinx. She follows Ring and Jeff on one of their horses and then loses that one too. Then Jeff is badly hurt trying to bust a bronc to replace the missing horse. She and Ring ride into town to get a doc but she is bitten by a rattler. He saves her (by shooting the poison out of her arm with his sixgun, rather a natty bit, that) but ends up on trial for horse stealing - and, as any Western fan knows, that there’s a hangin’ matter. She turns out to be a “lady lawyer” (a bit like Paula Raymond in Devil's Doorway later the same year) but is a signally incompetent one. So Lonesome has to bust Ring out of jail, in a very unlikely scene in which he sings a song which reveals his plan to the man behind bars but also to the deputy (Gregg Martell), who must have been mighty dumb.

Then she gets snakebit. It's one thing after another.

Now Ring really wants those wild horses. When I see these movies with a splendid black stallion running at the head of his herd and a covetous man looking on I always root for the horses. How much better it would be if they remained free! But they never do.

However, he can’t corral them all on his own, what with Pa being laid up flat on his back and all, so he gets Lonesome to recruit some outlaws who would like the work (I told you it was improbable). They are led by outlaw-with-a-heart-of-gold Old Sam Coulter (Houseley Stevenson). He has three sons, Brent, Jed and Little Sam. Brent is played by Anthony Curtis, in his first Western. Universal would later try him out as a Western lead, in The Rawhide Years in 1956, but it didn’t take and he never did another one. Brent has robbed a bank and that’s why his family are on the run. Jed is played by our old pal John Doucette, already a seasoned Western vet who had been doing oaters since 1942. And the part of Little Sam is amusingly taken by 6’ 6” (1.98m) James Arness, billed as Jim Arness and only in his third Western (he wouldn’t become Matt Dillon till 1955).

They were trying Tony out with a sixgun

The lady lawyer is already falling for Ring (not yet vice versa) but she’s engaged to aggressive rancher Duke Lafferty (the rather forgettable Elliott Reid, in his only Western) and being an aggressive rancher, Duke naturally has henchmen (they were de rigueur in them days), led by his foreman Big Matt (Richard Rober, in his first Western of five). Now as Big Matt is (a) big and (b) a thug, we may fairly suspect him of being the big man who had really killed the fellow that Ring’s dad Jeff was blamed for. And (spoiler alert, oops, too late) we would be right.

Ring is now softening towards Wanda (even though she has lost yet another horse and tripped up feebly in front of the stampeding herd; if it’d been me I would have left her there, but no, Audie rides gallantly to the rescue as good Western heroes are obliged to do). We know they are destined for nuptial bliss (even if they would divorce early in ’51).

Great cabin

The ending is so neat and pat that it is trite. But never mind.

There’s a story that during the filming the Murphys camped in the bed of the dry Kanab Creek but a sudden cloudburst caused a flash flood. Audie “leaped on the back of his horse, grabbed Miss Hendrix and rode up the canyon-side to safety.” Pity the cameras weren’t rolling. They could have used that footage in the movie.

Sierra was based on the Stuart Hardy novel The Mountains are my Kingdom and it was a remake of Universal’s 1938 black & white melodrama Forbidden Valley with Noah Beery Jr.

No great shakes, Sierra is still honest entertainment. Two-and-a-half revolvers, perhaps. It had a decent budget and production values, and it is a must for Audie fans, of course.