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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Trail Beyond (Monogram/Lone Star, 1934)


Possibly the best of 'em




 
 
OK, yes. I agree. I know I said that was enough John Wayne B-Westerns for a while. But I did quote General MacArthur and say, “I shall return”. To the theme, I mean. I agree, it took Doug over two years to arrive back in the Philippines and the local population (not to mention the Japanese) would have been mighty surprised if he had turned up the Wednesday after leaving. Still, as far as posting is concerned, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, as any Western-lover knows, and when Western bloggers are on a kick, they are on a kick. I can’t help it.

And there’s another reason. The Trail Beyond is the last Monogram/Lone Star John Wayne Western to be reviewed on this blog. We have now watched, ruminated on and discussed all of them. As you know, there were sixteen, from Riders of Destiny in October 1933 to Paradise Canyon in July 1935. And do you know what? I think The Trail Beyond might be the very best of them!

OK, there are a couple of classic elements missing. There’s no crusty old-timer, Gabby Hayes, for example, and Duke rides a bay, then a palomino, and not his white horse Duke. And there’s no sign of Yakima Canutt (he did the stunts OK but didn’t appear as a henchman). But everything else is there and the usual suspects firmly in place: RN Bradbury directed, at his usual breakneck pace; Archie Stout was at the camera, giving Rob those flashy fast pans and snazzy fades he liked so much; Paul Malvern produced; Lindsley Parsons wrote the script. Yup, all’s right with the world.

Another reason I like this picture is that it was one of the few times Noah Beery Sr. and Noah Beery Jr. appeared in the same movie. There they are together, left, with Duke and an unnamed Indian. Portly Beery Sr. (who challenged leading lady Verna Hillie to a drinking contest on the set of The Trail Beyond; history does not record who won) was a veteran of the silent days who made the transition to talkies, appearing in 50 Westerns from 1917 to 1945, and his son Beery Jr., only 21 at the time of The Trail Beyond, first appeared on the screen as a child actor in 1920, when he was seven, and was still doing TV shows in 1986. He outdid his dad by appearing in no fewer than 174 Westerns, over a period of more than sixty years. I actually think Noah Beery Jr. was a fine Western actor. (As well as being great as Jim Rockford’s dad).

In The Trail Beyond he plays Wabi, a “half-breed”, wanted for murder (but falsely accused of course) who is an old school pal of our hero Rod Drew (Wayne, who unusually was not John Something) and Rod helps Wabi escape from a speeding (and very modern) train. They plunge into the water (or their stunt doubles do anyway) while the train passes over a high trestle.

You see Rod has been asked to go up to Canada (yup, it’s a Canadian story, with redcoats instead of bluecoats, but to all intents and purposes it’s a straight Western, with attractive Sierra Nevada locations doing duty for ‘somewhere in Canada’). Rod is charged by a friend (James A Marcus) with finding a lost niece, daughter of his disappeared brother, and bringing her back to live with her uncle and inherit his ranch. That’s when Rod bumps into Wabi. Thenceforth they get into all manner of scrapes together.

Purists regard movies set in Canada, or indeed in Mexico or other countries than the US West, as not true Westerns at all. But this one is pure B-Western, regardless of setting. All the classic Western action takes place. It just happens to be north of the border.

Now, not only do we have a brace of Beerys, we also have Earl Dwire the Great, habitual character actor in these Lone Star oaters, noted for his lugubriosity, and he plays Benoit, a French-Canadian henchman of the bad guy Jules LaRocque, renegade trader, played by Robert Frazer. The two bad guys, in their French-Canadian uniforms, are pictured left. The ‘French’ accents of both Dwire and Frazer are alone worth the purchase price of the DVD.

There’s a classic B-Western scene when Duke and Noah Jr. burst into an abandoned cabin and find two skeletons at the table. They also find a sack of gold and the map to where the gold mine is. Now you and I might find this all rather implausible, but remember the gullibility and average age of the audience then. Of course LaRocque gets wind of the map and will stoop to any skullduggery to get hold of it.

There are the usual stunts, especially the horse falls, which I hate. At one point Duke and Noah Jr. gallop up to a cliff over a lake. “We’ve got to jump!” cries Wayne. What he meant was, our poor mounts have to jump. At one point the hero is supposed to leap from the saddle of his galloping steed onto the buckboard of the baddy, but it goes wrong and Yak (presumably) doesn’t make it, falling into the dusty trail. But he gamely remounts, gallops alongside again and this time he succeeds. They left it in, and it looks more realistic than many a stunt.

There’s a canoe chase which was probably the prototype for Bullitt. Duke makes good use of his classic roundhouse punch. It all culminates in an attack by LaRocque and his gang (inc. Earl) on the trading post of Newsome (Noah Sr.) Benoit has hitherto emptied all the ammunition boxes in Newsome’s post but it doesn’t seem to affect them. They hold the gang off with a rate of fire that may only be described as profligate while Rod rides to the nearby police post to return with the Mounties at full gallop.

So it all ends well and Rod gets the girl (oh, I forgot to say there was a girl, but you knew that).
 
Hillie. I wonder who won that drinking contest? My money'd be on Noah.
 
You know, these Lone Star Westerns were huge amounts of fun. There were nine in 1934 alone, and as I said earlier, I reckon this one could be the pick of the bunch.

Someone forgot to renew the copyright on them with the result that they are all in the public domain. The downside of that is that many have been copied and recopied, and even edited, until the print quality is dismal. So you take pot luck. But the print I saw of this one was good.

Do watch them if you get the chance.

 
 


 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Kentuckian (UA, 1955)


Burt blows his own horn




 
 
That's enough 1930s John Wayne B-Westerns for a bit. Like General MacArthur, though, I shall return. But today, Burt.

The Kentuckian (not to be confused with Republic’s 1949 John Wayne effort The Fighting Kentuckian) was Burt Lancaster’s first full movie as director. It was not liked by the critics (with some justification) and Lancaster didn’t direct another for nearly twenty years (The Midnight Man in 1974). Lancaster had a mixed record as an actor in Westerns: he did some fine ones, such as Valdez is Coming, Ulzana’s Raid and, especially, The Unforgiven, but he was also in some real junkers like Lawman, The Scalphunters or the perfectly dreadful The Hallelujah Trail. As a director, though, he made a good actor.
 
Widescreen
 
He’d always been ‘busy’ on the set. Gary Cooper related how, down in Mexico shooting Vera Cruz (an overblown potboiler) Burt was always wanting rewrites of his lines, suggesting camera angles and so on. It was inevitable that he would try his hand at directing. And his company, Hecht-Lancaster Productions, was behind The Kentuckian, so he and Harold Hecht were co-producers.

It was quite a big-budget affair, in Technicolor and CinemaScope. Ernest Lazlo (who had worked with Lancaster on Vera Cruz and Apache the year before) was at the camera. Music (rather too sugary music, actually) was by Bernard Herrmann, and AB Guthrie Jr. wrote the screenplay, from the 1953 Felix Holt novel The Gabriel Horn. It was shot in handsome Kentucky locations, at the Cumberland Falls State Park, the Levi Jackson State Park and at Owensboro. And it came in at a hefty 104 minutes.
 
Source novel
 
The cast was quite strong, Lancaster himself in the lead, of course, with John McIntire as his brother, Walter Matthau on debut as the chief villain, and John Carradine, Rhys Williams, Will Wright, James Griffith and Glenn Strange in character parts.

It’s basically the story of the relationship between footloose Kentuckian Elias Wakefield and his young son Little Eli. Lancaster had first cast Shane-boy Brandon de Wilde in that part but had to settle for Donald MacDonald, in his only big role. The lad was adequate; you can't blame children for not being great actors. There is one moment in the movie when he really comes alive, though: when he is incarcerated in a stifling schoolroom and suddenly hears the whistle of the steamboat. His face is a real picture.

The buckskin-clad pair are bound for Texas. It’s 1820 and Texas is promoted as the promised land, flowing with milk, honey and heaven only knows what else. They are hunters and they have itchy feet. Symbols of the free spirit that inhabits them are their dog Faro (played by himself, rather a splendid mutt, actually) and the hunting horn that summons the hound, the horn of the novel’s title, which the young boy cannot yet blow. When he does, it will be a sign that he has come of age.
 
Father and son
 
They plan to stop at brother Zack’s on the way, and they do, but tobacco merchant Zack (McIntire) and his wife Sophie (Una Merkel) are rather staid and conventional figures, and it doesn’t go well. Aunt Sophie ties Faro up, a rather obvious symbol of the boy’s semi-imprisonment in starched clothes and the schoolroom. The bourgeois disapproval of the aunt is exacerbated by the fact that Eli and the boy are accompanied by Hannah (Dianne Bolen), a bondservant whom Big Eli has paid to free. Enter the prim spinet-playing schoolma’am Susie Spann (Diana Lynn), who sets her cap at Big Eli and joins in the attempts to tame him. Hannah isn’t jealous, exactly; she feels she hasn’t the right to be; but she sure has mixed feelings towards the teacher.
 
Hannah's rival, the prim schoolma'am
 
So the story rather descends into soap opera, I fear. Luckily, the Wakefields had been involved in a long-running feud back home and two members of the rival Frome family are on Big Eli’s trail. This adds danger to the plot, especially as the Frome brothers are probably the best actors on the set, Douglas Spencer and Paul Wexler, excellently malevolent and menacing.
 
Will they get to Texas?
 
A rival for the acting laurels is John Litel as a Buffalo Bill-like Texas promoter, the splendidly named Pleasant Tuesday, who sizes Big Eli up as the man to lead his expedition. Litel was rarely better. He usually played a tough police captain or hard-nosed DA but he did quite a few Westerns, especially those Errol Flynn ones.
 
Litel very good
 
Matthau did a good job as the villainous saloon-keeper Bodine, expert with a whip, and there is an inevitable and rather brutal fight between Matthau and Lancaster, which, unsurprisingly, Burt wins. It’s interesting how often men with names ending in –ine or –een are baddies.
 
Walter wields the whip
 
Glenn Strange the Great is another whipmeister, Carradine is a prolix charlatan, Griffith is a gambler on the riverboat. It’s an impressive sternwheeler, this riverboat. Will Wright has an unaccustomed part as a nasty type, another saloon man who slaps Hannah across the face for giving food to the child.
 
Impressive
 

Will Big Eli settle down with the schoolmistress and must Little Eli suffer haircuts and bowties, and Faro be consigned to a life chained in the yard? Or will the Elis and Hannah, accompanied by the free-roaming canine, set off for Texas after all? Ah, that would be telling.
 
Faro playing to the camera
 
But you may be able to guess.

It isn’t bad, this film. Not bad. It isn’t very good either, mind, and I’m not sure I’d splash out on a DVD if I were you, not unless you are a dyed-in-the-wool Burtista. But you could certainly watch it if it comes on TV, and if you don’t expect too much you’ll while away an agreeable hundred minutes (it should probably have been cut by a reel, though). It does have a sort of Little House on the Prairie vibe, not a terribly good thing in my book. It’s a sort of ‘family Western’, I fear. Still, it’s sincere, and it does have some charm. It just gets up to three revolvers for the character actors. Especially Faro.

 
 
 

 

 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sagebrush Trail (Monogram/Lone Star, 1933)


Duke's second Lone Star Western




 
 
Sagebrush Trail was the second of the series of sixteen oaters John Wayne made in the mid-1930s, coming out straight after Riders of Destiny. But it was a little different. It was directed not by RN Bradbury but by Armand Schaefer, who had helmed a lot of Lane Chandler Westerns. And indeed rich-voiced Chandler, who had flirted with sagebrush stardom at Paramount but was now taking support roles at Monogram (how are the not-very-mighty-in-the-first-place fallen), featured largely in this John Wayne epic.

There’s no Gabby Hayes, or indeed any cranky old-timer, no smoothie crooked town boss in a suit, no comic-relief character, no plucky small boy for the juvenile audience to identify with. Duke rides a bay and not Duke. In fact it’s lacking quite a few key elements.

Still, Archie Stout was at the camera, Paul Malvern produced, and Yakima Canutt did the stunts (and wasn’t just a henchman but in fact the chief villain). The usual suspects were, therefore, pretty well represented.

Despite the print quality (on my DVD anyway) it’s a fun watch and it gallops along. John Brant aka Smith (Wayne) isn’t a government agent this time, but an escaped convict, innocent naturally, who is on the hunt for the man who framed him. The law is after him but the gang he joins up with, led by Yak, is suspicious. He seems too much of a goody to be a baddy. ‘Jones’ (actually the man responsible for the plight of ‘Smith’) is a gang member who believes in Smith. It’s Chandler. But even he has his doubts.
 
Lane fancies Nancy but...
 
There’s a gal, naturally, Sally (Nancy Shubert), the storekeeper’s daughter, and she falls for ‘Smith’ and gallantly rides to his rescue later on at the head of a sheriff’s posse.
 
...she prefers Duke
 
This Western inhabits that weird twilight world of 20s and 30s B-movies in which there are modern printing presses, cars and trains, yet pistol-packin’ cowpokes ride the trail and hold up stages. I suppose that the ‘Wild West’ was still so recent in the memory of the audience of the day (rather like movies set in the 1970s to us today) that they could almost believe that this world existed. Or at least suspend their credibility for 54 minutes.

The sheriff is Bob Burns, who is OK. But it really needed Earl Dwire.
 
Earl-substitute Burns
 
At one point Duke (or maybe his stunt double Yak) mounts up by running from the boardwalk, using two horses as stepping stones and landing in the saddle of the third. It’s pretty cool. It rivals William Holden’s mounting-up in Streets of Laredo – probably the best mount-up ever in a Western.

The stage crashes and Wayne (Yak) is left driving the front two wheels like a Western Ben Hur. Yup, there are some good stunts alright.
 
The law's after him. Will they arrest him? As if...
 
Of course (spoiler alert) Chandler clears Wayne of the heinous crime in the last reel before expiring and Duke gets the gal, sealed with a kiss. Yak & Co are herded into custody. All’s well with the world.
 
Lane clears our hero befoe expiring
 
Oh well, there were worse Westerns. In fact there were much worse. Despite the budget (these Lone Star oaters were made for about ten thousand dollars each) the whole thing does work. You could watch it, e-pards. You probably wouldn’t regret it.



 

 




Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Riders of Destiny (Lone Star/Monogram, 1933)


Duke's first Lone Star Western




 
 
On one level Riders of Destiny is just another John Wayne B-Western of the 1930s with little to recommend it. However, on another level it was quite a key moment.

The great leap forward into stardom that Fox’s Raoul Walsh-directed The Big Trail had promised in 1930 turned out to be no leap at all. The huge-budget picture drove Fox to the edge of bankruptcy against the background of the Depression and Wayne found himself lucky to get work at all. The three pictures he made for Harry Cohn at Columbia were uniformly dreadful – cheap junk in which he didn’t even top the billing. The six Warner Westerns he made 1932 – 33 were a lot better, and Wayne was paid $850 each for them, but once the Warners contract expired it was not renewed. Wayne was depressed and concerned. He married in June ‘33 and children were soon on the way.

His friend the producer Paul Malvern (right, late in life) promoted a series of Westerns at Monogram. It was a long way down from Warners, or even Columbia. Poverty Row studios like this were where actors usually ended up, not where they made it big from. The sixteen pictures Wayne made there from mid-‘33 to mid-‘35 were known as the Lone Star Westerns and they were honestly pretty ropey. Certainly they were very low-budget. But because they are in the public domain (you can find most on YouTube) they have remained amazingly current. Riders of Destiny was the very first.

The director, as on many of the pictures, was Robert N Bradbury, whose son Bob Steele had been a pal of Duke’s since youth. Bradbury had an eye for good locations, liked flashy camera action, could churn out a picture on time and on budget, and would often bash out the vivid (sometimes almost lurid) scripts on a typewriter as well (average time taken, four hours).
 
RN Bradbury (right) with his son Bob Steele
 
His cameraman was the aptly-named Archie Stout, who had been working at Paramount on those talkie remakes of Zane Grey silents that Henry Hathaway was directing. Stout was an ornery cuss but he was greatly talented – as John Ford was to find later.
 
Archie Stout
 
Malvern had a good eye for character actors who would work cheap and was especially fond of George ‘Gabby’ Hayes, who often filled the comic/crusty old-timer role, though he was only in his mid-40s, and another pal of Duke’s, Yakima Canutt, who would take charge of the stunts, some of which were quite impressive, double for Wayne and also often play a henchman.
 
Gabby seems pleased that his daughter likes Duke
 
Another reason that this first Wayne Lone Star outing is famous is that he played the character Singin’ Sandy, “the most deadly gunman since Billy the Kid”, who sang a dirge-like song as he walked down the dusty street for the quick-draw showdown with the bad guy. Wayne couldn’t sing worth a damn. They dubbed him when he was serenading the gal or in the first reel as he rode his white horse Duke while strumming his guitar and crooning. The dubbed operatic singing was that of a rich and fruity baritone, a million miles away from Wayne’s normal voice. But in the showdown sequence Wayne had to sing himself, and it’s hilariously bad. The clip has gone viral and is very amusing watching.
 
Dubbed (fortunately)
 
The hired gun whom Singin’ Sandy shoots (only wounding him, naturally) is none other than Earl Dwire. I love the lugubrious Dwire, who appeared in numerous Lone Stars, but he was nearly always a kindly sheriff, banker or other worthy townsman. To see him as two-gun Slip Morgan, evil henchman decked out all in black, is a real treat.
 
Earl Dwire (center) is the hired gunfighter. That's crooked town boss Forrest Taylor in the suit.
 
Bradbury (who wrote this one) was especially fond of the mistaken identity plot device, and anyone found kneeling over a body is assumed immediately to be the killer. So Duke spends a lot of time in these movies with people shooting at him or trying to hang him. Of course in reality he is usually an under-cover government man, sent out West from Washington to thwart the nefarious schemes of the chief villain, always a man in a suit and usually with a thin mustache. This time it’s a certain Kincaid (Forrest Taylor) and he’s one of those crooked town bosses who wants the whole valley and is forcing ranchers to sell up cheap by cornering all the water rights. Taylor was already a veteran stage actor when he started appearing in silent movies but by the mid-30s he was on Poverty Row. He would later be the bad guy in Johnny Mack Brown oaters and was still going in TV Western shows in the 50s. He does well in Riders as a smoothie crook.

There was always a gal, of course, and this time it’s Cecilia Parker, Mickey Rooney’s older sister in those Andy Hardy pictures.  Gabby is her dad. She and Sandy fall in lerve, obviously, and kiss in the last scene.
 
Duke on Duke
 
Al St. John and Heinie Conklin play two comically inept henchmen. Quite amusing, I suppose.

There are couple of brutal horse falls, normal for the time but they still give me the creeps. Even Duke is tripped and the hero (or Yak anyway) unhorsed. In another stunt a horse plunges into a lake. I hate it.

Still, these pictures are energetic and fun. They rattle along. There are no subtleties to spoil the enjoyment of the juvenile audience and the characters often explain the simple plot to each other in the dialogue. It looks really quite reasonable for a $10,000-budget film.

If you want to explore mid-30s John Wayne Westerns, this would be a good place to start. You’ll get 53 minutes of amusement.

Well, at least he was working


 

 

 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Westward Ho (Republic, 1935)


Duke's first oater for Republic






Oh, I know I bang on endlessly about exclamation points. Both regular readers will know of the ALEPH, the Arnold Ludicrous Exclamation Point Hypothesis, which, well, hypothesizes that any Western which has an exclamation point in the title is, ipso facto, weak. They had to add the punctuation mark to make a dull plodder seem exciting. Think of McLintock!, Bandolero! or The Jayhawkers! QED.

As if to prove the rule, there are even Westerns which need exclamation points but which don’t have them. If ever a title merited the emphatic '!', it was Republic’s mid-30s John Wayne oater Westward Ho, for surely, Ho is a cry, a yell, a holler. Yet, nay, here is one Western in which the producers and studio restrained themselves admirably. A discreet Westward Ho is the title.

But enough foolishness. What of the movie?

Westward Ho was one of eight oaters the (still relatively) young John Wayne (right) made in 1935, and it was the first of the many B-Westerns he would make for Republic all through the 1930s and 40s, right into the early 50s. Indeed, it was the newly-founded Republic’s first picture. Studio boss Herb Yates had acquired several Poverty Row outfits, including Monogram, and merged them to found the new enterprise. Wayne brought with him from Monogram his essential back-up team of Paul Malvern, producer; RN Bradbury, director; Archie Stout at the camera; Yakima Canutt doing the stunts (and often appearing as a henchman); and Lindsley Parsons at the typewriter, tapping out predicable (note, I do not say corny) yet lovable ‘plots’. It was a winning team. The cowboy flicks they churned out at a rate of four or five a year were, yes, juvenile B-Westerns for the mid-West masses, but they were also, in their under-an-hour, black & white way, quite watchable, even, dare I say, verging on the classy, certainly way better than comparable Poverty Row offerings of the period. Westward Ho had double the budget of the Lone Star flicks – a princely $24,000.
 
The team: Archie Stout, cinematographer, director RN Bradbury (with his son Bob Steele), Lindlsey Parsons, writer, and Paul Malvern, Producer
 
Westward Ho has the distinction and honor of being one of Dickie Jones’s very first Westerns. He plays the young Jim Wyatt, pluckily going West (toting a Winchester) with his brother John (who would grow up to be John Wayne) on a wagon train with his parents, who are brutally murdered by a gang of outlaws led by the evil Ballard (Jack Curtis, alternately a marshal or badman in all these Wayne Westerns). The bandits also steal away Jim, who later grows up to be Frank McGlynn Jr., habitual bad guy, and indeed, being ‘adopted’ by the villains, he turns out to be villainous too, despite being John Wayne’s brother.
 
 
Dickie Jones would of course become the archetypal plucky lad in Westerns, rivaling Jim Hawkins of Treasure Island as daring youth, with whom the majority of the audience of these films (average age, 10) could most happily identify.

Yup, so far, so good.
 
He serenades her. But fortunately it's dubbed (by a rich and fruity baritone)
 
Amusingly, this film opens with the portentous text:

This picture is dedicated to the Vigilantes, builders of the New Empire of the West … Men who gave their lives to purge the new frontier of lawlessness.

Ah, those innocent days of yore (the 1930s) when audiences could actually believe that vigilantes were goodies.

We open with a wagon train moving West to the strains of a rather dirge-like title song crooned by cowpokes strumming their soft guitars. It’s 1849. After the outlaw raid we move to 1866 (though obviously all the costumes and guns are 1880s) when John Wyatt is grown and determined to bring to justice the perpetrators of the murderous raid which robbed him of his ma ‘n’ pa and little bro. The pusillanimous authorities won’t pay for his projected force of law ‘n’ order, so he raises a band anyway, and decks them all out with white horses, black duds and white bandanas. The Vigilantes are born.

Thenceforth action is the rule as the vigilantes chase down and round up (though never hang) outlaws, including ‘Black Bart’s gang’. Their leader, bold John Wyatt, will not cease until he brings in the gang that murdered pater and mater. There’s mucho gallopin’ and shootin’.

Good news: John’s second-in-command in the vigilantes is Carter – none other than Glenn Strange the Great (left). Glenn Strange (along with Leo Gordon) is my fave henchman. He henches better than almost anyone. Six foot-six, thin-mustached Glenn, who was reputed to be an eighth generation grandson of Pocahontas (believe that if you will), is perhaps best remembered for being Frankenstein's monster in those Universal films of the 1940s, but for us Westernistas he is Sam Noonan, bartender on Gunsmoke, and baddy-henchman on countless B-Westerns. Any oater with Glenn in it is worth watching.

At one point John goes undercover, as John Allen (an alias he used in others of these Westerns) and joins up with a cattle drive, hired by Lafe Gordon (Jim Farley, another regular of these pictures) who, naturally, has a glam daughter (Sheila Bromley) who falls for Duke (and vice versa, natch). This drive is joined by sneaky Jim, casing the rustlin’ job for his boss Ballard. Of course he doesn’t know he’s John’s bro, nor does John suspect fraternity with this dubious type.
 
Brothers, did they but know it
 
Of course it all pans out well in the end, as if you had any doubts. Ballard’s henchman Red (Canutt) spills the beans and the villain is thwarted. It must be said, though, that Ballard perishes in a wagon crash that, I fear, was a horrendously cruel stunt involving the death or maiming (and thus probably death) of the two lead wagon horses. Gosh, I hate those horse falls they did so routinely.
 
Henchman Yak
 
The print is good quality on this one (on many other similar pictures it’s pretty poor) and it’s available on YouTube. There are some surprisingly good Lone Pine locations. You could certainly give it a go.

Probably just as well


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Lawless Range (Republic, 1935)


Duke's first year at Republic




 
 
Lawless Range was the third Western John Wayne made for Republic in the first year of a long career with the studio. It had a classic line-up: Paul Malvern produced, RN Bradbury directed, Archie Stout was at the camera, Frank McGlynn Jr. was the villain and Yakima Canutt did the stunts and was a henchman. Perfect. And as if that were not enough, my hero Earl Dwire is in it too, playing the leading townsman.

It’s actually a lot of fun, in its formulaic way. John Middleton (Wayne was always John something) is a bulldogging star who sacrifices glory at the Cheyenne Rodeo when his pa (Sam Flint) asks him to go help out an old friend, fellow rancher Hank Mason (Wally Howe), who is in trouble. John dutifully sets off and gets recruited by the local marshal (Jack Curtis) in his office marked MARSHALL (a common mistake). John is to be an undercover deputy to infiltrate the rustling gang of Butch Martin and bring the ne’er-do-wells to justice.

As he rides off to the Mason spread on his white horse Duke, he sings to the strains of his soft guitar. Fortunately his singing voice is dubbed (by a rich and fruity tenor). He gets another song later, serenading Ann (Sheila Bromley, B-Western regular who was also Duke's gal in Westward Ho the same year), glam niece of Hank Mason (who has been kidnapped) but that’s equally dubbed.

Once in town, you can tell who the baddie is right away because he is the banker and has a thin mustache. And it’s Frank McGlynn.

Other characters have very original names. A short fellow is called Shorty and a fat one Chubby. I don’t know how they think them up.

Everyone jumps to conclusions, assuming John to be on the opposing side, and they all try to shoot him or lynch him. But none quite succeed.
 
She jumps to conclusions
 
Unusually, though, this time there is no small boy (perhaps a younger brother of the gal) to be plucky and for the audience (average age about ten) to identify with, nor is there a comic old-timer. We have to make do without.
 
So does the marshal(l)
 
Still, Henchman Yak makes up for it by being really villainous. And, oh joy, featuring as henchman’s henchman, i.e. Yak’s No. 2, is Glenn Strange the Great! Any picture with Glenn in it is worth watching.
 
While baddy Frank McGlynn talks to Duke, Yak Canutt and Glenn Strange hold him at gunpoint
 
The print quality is poor to middling, I fear. Why no one has remastered these masterpieces is a mystery.

Well, after being bold, brave and valiant, John wins out, saves the day, unmasks the villain (by removing his false beard) and gets the gal. No spoilers here, you will agree.

It’s all undemanding fun, predictable and painless, and you will have 53 minutes of amusement if you watch it.