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

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Proud Ones (Fox, 1956)


Ryan at his best (and that's saying a lot)




 
 
One of the best of the mid-1950s Westerns, The Proud Ones benefits from a superb performance from its star Robert Ryan. Thank you, reader John Knight, for reminding me that it was still to be reviewed!
 
The superb Robert Ryan

It was a big production, in CinemaScope and Color De Luxe, photographed by Lucien Ballard, no less, and shot on Fox’s attractive Western town lot and in some fine Arizona locations. And the FoxHome DVD is excellent on my widescreen smart TV.

Cinematographer Ballard (True Grit, The Wild Bunch, et al)

It is in many ways a classic tough-marshal-cleans-up-the-town Western, with Ryan as Marshal Cass Silver of Flat Rock, determined, this time, to stand up to crooked saloon boss Honest John Barrett, played, brilliantly, as ever with such roles, by Robert Middleton. I say “this time” because you see Silver used to be marshal of Keystone (read Tombstone) but his woman Sally (Virginia Mayo, solid as ever, in the fifth of her eleven Westerns) persuaded him to cut and run because the odds were to too stacked against him. He has regretted this ever since, so when Barrett comes to Flat Rock he sees it as being given a second chance, and he ain’t going to run again.

Silver has a couple of deputies, the nervous Jim (Arthur O’Connell) and old-timer Jake (Walter Brennan, practicing for his part in Rio Bravo four years later). And the lawman also hires on a young two-gun hotshot, Thad Anderson (maybe the model for Ricky Nelson’s character in Rio Bravo), who also, it transpires, has ‘a past’. Thad has come up as a cowpoke with a Texas cattle drive (as Ricky would) but he has a grudge against Silver: back in Keystone, Marshal Silver had shot his dad. Uh-oh.

Marshal Ryan with old-timer deputy Brennan

This is actually one of the few weaknesses of the picture: The Proud Ones stands or falls on the interplay between the characters of marshal and young man. At first the youth is surly in the face of the lawman’s kindness. He's a proud one, you see. Will he come round? Will he challenge the older man? Ryan is superb, so no problem there (he always was superb) but Jeffrey Hunter plays the conflicted deputy and he isn’t quite up to the task. You can see him thinking ‘I must act conflicted’, but that’s just it: he’s obviously acting, while Ryan just looks and sounds completely right in his part. You never really believe that Thad will draw on the marshal.

Hunter OK but...

Hunter did a good number of Westerns, starting with Lure of the Wilderness (more of an adventure really) in 1952, also with Walter Brennan, then in '54 he was one of the Three Young Texans. In 1955 he was the Indian Little Dog in White Feather and one of John Brown’s sons in Seven Angry Men. But he really came to Western fame with his part in The Searchers, and John Ford would later make him the star of Sergeant Rutledge (shamefully, Hunter outranked Woody Strode in the credits, but then of course Hunter was white). The Proud Ones was Hunter’s seventh big-screen Western and he isn’t bad in it. He was never bad. He was just not all that good.

Needless to say, there is something Earpish about Ryan’s marshal. We were discussing in comments about Warlock the other day how Henry Fonda’s clean-up-the-town lawman resembled Wyatt Earp (I mean the Wyatt Earp of myth, naturally, not the real one) and there are many Westerns of this type. Robert Ryan was one of the very best in the role.

Marshal and deputy take on the bad guys

Ryan was one of the best ever Western actors. He had started with small parts in Texas Rangers Ride Again and North West Mounted Police (both in 1940) and had been Bat Masterson’s decent supporter in Trail Street with Randolph Scott, in 1947. The same year he was the Sundance Kid in the splendid Return of the Bad Men in 1947 and in fact I always think he was better as the heavy. In 1952 he was the ruthless megalomaniac in Horizons West and the year after he was marvelous as the vicious opponent of James Stewart in Anthony Mann’s The Naked Spur. He was outstanding in Bad Day at Black Rock in ’55, maintaining his badman credentials, and the same year he was about the only good thing (though he was wasted in the part) about the turgid The Tall Men. So by the time of The Proud Ones he had a magnificent Western CV, and even as the hero you feel he has semi-badman apsects – as all Earpish marshals should. If there’s a Robert Ryan Fan Club I should be a life member. I must do a Ryanorama career retrospective/Western bio soon.

Ryan magnificent in Westerns

The director was Robert D Webb. Webb had worked as assistant to Henry King, for example on Jesse James, so presumably learned a thing or two. He directed Elvis Presley in Love Me Tender, a title which may have omitted a comma or confused an adjective for an adverb; but hey. His first Western as director was that one with Hunter, White Feather, and The Proud Ones was his third. Afterwards he would only do the late and rather ho-hum Alan Ladd oater Guns of the Timberland in 1960 and the slightly curious South African Western The Jackals with Vincent Price in 1967 so I’m not sure we can think of him as an expert in the genre. Still, The Proud Ones was his best Western and we can’t be too snooty. I mean, snooty, moi?

Robert Webb

Usually in these Westerns you get a respectable dame for the hero to fall for and a racier saloon gal for him to dally with, but he will eventually choose the good woman. This time, though, there’s no sexy moll in the bar, which is a disappointment, and the marshal is clearly in thrall to the restaurant owner Sally (Mayo) who, let it be said, is rather a nag. She doesn’t understand that a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do and keeps on trying to persuade her beloved to make a run for it again. Not gonna happen. He's a proud one.

Mind, Robert Middleton would have no truck with saloon women. The hefty Middleton nearly always played contemptible villains despite being the mildest and pleasantest of men but he was great in Westerns. Apart from being a regular on TV shows he did a goodly number of big-screen oaters and I think of him especially as the portly detective Siringo (not Charlie, presumably) in Love Me Tender, and he was an excellent dress heavy in Red Sundown three months before The Proud Ones. He was brilliant as the Ike Clanton-ish paterfamilias in Day of the Badman but any Western heavy part suited him (heavy in both senses). He was utterly superb as Big Clay Mathews in Cattle King. One of the great Western character actors.

Middleton and Mayo have a past. Most of the characters do.

Before he takes the job as deputy, Thad tries to hire on as gunslinger to Middleton but the saloon owner turns him down, saying he doesn’t employ henchmen (the liar). In fact no sooner has Thad been turned away than two of the crook’s paid killers turn up in town to dispose of the pesky marshal, namely Chico and Pike, played by our good friend Rodolfo Acosta and the rather sinister Ken Clark, complete with facial scar. Clark, vaguely Chuck Connorish in mien, was a regular on Fox B-Westerns and sci-fi flicks and was actually quite good. He too had started in Love Me Tender and made appearances in The Last Wagon and The True Story of Jesse James (in which Jeffrey Hunter was Frank), making a final appearance in the saddle in A Man Called Sledge. As for Rodolfo, his Western roles are too numerous to mention - this was his tenth feature Western of very many - but he was always good.

Pocket pistols play a key part in the plot (though sadly not proper derringers).

There are some old friends lower down the cast list, such as Whit Bissell as a townsman - the townsmen are properly pusillanimous, leaving the marshal pretty well alone to maintain law ‘n’ order: "If I were a member of this council," the marshal tells them, "I couldn't look in a mirror without vomiting." And Paul E Burns is especially good as a sort of silent (if rather inebriated) Greek chorus. He plays the town drunk who observes what is going on with some sadness. He is treated kindly by the marshal, being sent home from jail, a bit like Jack Elam by Marshal Gary Cooper in High Noon, you know how they do.

Marshal is kind to town drunk

The movie opens and closes to some ghastly whistling but a lot of the music, by Lionel Newman, is rather good, and goes particularly sinister, like a Hitchcock movie, when the hero gets blurry version (he is suffering from concussion) and can’t see to shoot the bad guys.

I like The Proud Ones. It has a classy look and reminds me of, say, Gunfight at the OK Corral or Wichita or The Tin Star, quality mid-50s Westerns with tough lawmen doing what a man’s gotta do and which are still definitely worth a look.

 
 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Sweet Country (Bunya Productions, 2017)


Aussie Western





 
 
There is a long and laudable tradition of the Australian Western that goes back well before Quigley Down Under (1990). The colonial history and then settlement of that vast country has much in common with the American story, with its lack of organized law and order in huge swathes of the land, the often inhospitable terrain and the conflict with aboriginal peoples, as well as the sense the largely European incomers had of entitlement and manifest destiny. Lovers of the American Western in all its forms will readily recognize all this. And in Ned Kelly the Aussies even had their own Jesse James. Mick Jagger and Heath Ledger were only the last in a long line of screen Ned Kellys. In fact one scene in Sweet Country, now showing on Netflix (at least here in France), shows spectators watching an early silent flicker of the outlaw’s exploits.
 

Of course some might say that ‘Australian Westerns’ are a contradiction in terms. A true Western, purists argue, must be set west of the Mississippi in the period between the end of the Civil War and the end of the century. I don’t agree with that narrow definition. If you look at some Australian motion pictures – take the very fine The Proposition (2005), for example – you will find much that is indubitably Western. And hell, how much further west of the Mississippi can you get than the Outback?

Sweet Country (a gently ironic title) opens with a torrent of racist abuse and that sets the tone for the whole story. The film is really a treatise on the deep-seated, institutional and widespread contempt that the ‘white’ settlers had for the ‘black’ indigenous peoples. It is not the first to do this (we think of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith in 1978) but it is certainly one of the most powerful. A newly-arrived farmer, Harry March (Ewen Leslie) asks his neighbor where he gets his “blackstock”. The man, Fred Smith (Sam Neill, such a versatile actor) who does not drink, smoke or swear - or at least he swears but asks forgiveness of heaven when he does so - replies piously that everyone is equal on his station (farm), which March scoffs at. In a way March is right because though Smith’s demeanor is decent he still as a favor lends out his farm hand Sam and his wife Lizzie (Hamilton Morris and Natassia Gorey Ferber) as free labor to the newcomer, as if they were draught animals.

They go on the run

This March is alcoholic and clearly damaged by his time on the Western front (the story is set in the 1920s). He is in fact close to mad. But he is also a brute who has designs on Sam and Lizzie’s young niece. He says, “I wanted the other one but you’ll do,” and rapes Lizzie instead, in a suggestive and chillingly brutal scene in complete darkness. He then sends the Aborigines away back to Smith’s station with no thanks, pay or food.

Fascinated by the white fella's watch

There is also a boy, Philomac (Tremayne or Trevon Doolan) who may or may not be the son of another neighboring farmer, Kennedy (Thomas M Wright), whom March chains like a dog because he fears the lad will steal from him. But the boy escapes in the night and goes to Smith’s station. March follows him and, crazed with fury, starts shooting into the cabin with his service rifle. To protect himself and his wife, Sam grabs Smith’s shotgun (Smith being away in town) and shoots the psychopathic farmer dead. The boy witnesses the deed but later lies about that.

So now Sam and Lizzie go on the run. He has killed a white man. He knows that any question of the rights and wrongs of that will receive little consideration.

Enter the lawman. Sergeant Fletcher (a superb Bryan Brown, pictured left), also a veteran, is almost as deranged as March. He has the job of raising a posse and tracking down the killer, and he seems obsessed beyond any normal sense of duty with bringing Sam in. It’s almost The Searchers. The pursuers consist of the policeman, a man named Minty (uncredited actor), Smith, Kennedy and an Aboriginal tracker, Kennedy’s man, Arch (Gibson John). Sam leads them into “Aborigine land” (read Indian territory) where the party comes into conflict with a warlike group and Minty is killed. First Smith, then Kennedy and his man give up and return, leaving Fletcher to continue the pursuit alone. He is no match for the wily Sam, who even manages to introduce a scorpion into the policeman’s boot.

Director/cinematographer Warwick Thornton

On the set at Alice Springs

It’s a pursuit/hunt Western, therefore, the kind we have often seen before, with rapid flashbacks and flash-forwards in the modern way. It is done with real atmosphere, with no background music and in “silence” (the loudness of soughing wind and croaking crickets). And the picture is starkly beautiful from a visual point of view too, with cinematography by Dylan River and director Warwick Thornton (who won a Caméra d’Or at Cannes for another movie) highlighting the pitiless nature of the terrain and its huge, empty beauty. The scene in the white sands or salt desert especially has a cruel beauty. The light has a yellow tinge to it, as I have noticed Australian Westerns tend to do. Sometimes the dirt is Arizona-orange but there is still a yellow wash over it.

Yellow

Though Sam has eluded the pursuing law, his wife now having fallen pregnant by March, he decides to give up and the sergeant, who has narrowly survived (only thanks to having been given water by Sam). The policeman finds the couple one morning sitting cross-legged on the ground outside the jail, waiting for him.

They turn themselves in

We are so used to trials in Westerns being farcical versions of the judicial process with corrupt, biased and incompetent judges, that we fear the worst when Judge Taylor (Matt Day) arrives to hear the case. We are also used to the sound of carpenters hammering and sawing outside the cell, showing that the legal system is hardly bothering to wait for the official verdict. The sergeant gloats over the prisoner, asking him if he can hear the noises. The coarse mob outside the saloon, or pub as they call it, can’t wait either and its members cry, “Hang the black!”

We see a few flickers of humanity from the bigots, and I always think it’s better when the bad guys show some goodness and the good ones some failings. The sergeant loves the saloon woman Nell (Anni Finisterer) and smiles affectionately at her daughter. He dreams of leaving the violent country and setting up a station somewhere (it’ll never happen). And finally he shows decency and a sense of duty which belie is earlier threat to Sam, “I am the law”.

The director/cinematographer had certainly seen some Westerns

But the ending (which I shall not reveal, dear e-readers) is as brutal and racist as the beginning, and there is a clever if ironic twist on the gallows building. We go out to the Johnny Cash song Peace in the Valley for Me, which seems curiously appropriate.

I think it’s a fine movie, and you should catch it if you can. Like The Proposition, it has a four-revolver rating, dudes!

A saloon by any other name would smell as rank

 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Arizona Bushwhackers (Paramount, 1968)


Farewell, Lesley Selander, and thanks




 
 
One of my favorites of the Westerns that producer AC Lyles made in the 1960s, the ones starring aging actors well known for their 50s oaters, is Arizona Bushwhackers, which was made back-to-back with Buckskin (with Barry Sullivan). Arizona Bushwhackers was released in March ’68 and Buckskin in May of that year. They were the last of the Lyles ‘geezer’ Westerns for Paramount – though in 1975 there would be a TV movie following the same formula, The Last Day, with Richard Widmark.

The great thing about these pictures was not their production values (budgets were limited) or originality (far from it) but the casts. The leads were such figures as Dana Andrews, John Ireland, George Montgomery, Dale Robertson and Rory Calhoun, who were more than competent – in fact talented – Western actors. Unfortunately, though, Lyles used Howard Keel for three of them, and Keel was not in the same class.

Having said that, to be fair, Keel was not at all bad in Arizona Bushwhackers as the tough sheriff who is also secretly a Confederate agent (it’s 1865). It was probably his best Western performance (not that that is saying much).

Howard is the new lawman

His co-star is once again Yvonne De Carlo, not my favorite leading lady in Westerns I must admit, but once again she does a reasonable job. She plays Jill, a (rather unconvincing) Confederate spy posing as a respectable milliner in the town, who is supposed to make contact with the new sheriff and tell him where a big supply of arms and ammunition, desperately needed by the Confederacy, is hidden. She explains her lack of Southern-belle accent by saying she was born in the North but brought up in South Carolina. She was indeed born in the North (Vancouver, Canada to be precise).

Deputy Ireland wants milliner De Carlo

The saucier dame, the saloon moll Molly, is supposed to be a Southerner from N’Orleans, with an accent, though this inflexion is from the deep south of Iowa, because it’s blonde Marilyn Maxwell, the less talented perhaps of the two Marilyn sex symbols of the 50s. She only did a couple of Western features and a few TV shows.

The new sheriff romances saloon gal Maxwell

So once again it’s not really the leads that distinguish this Western. It’s the supporting cast of character actors. We have John Ireland as the one-armed Reb-hating deputy, good old Barton MacLane as the sheriff on the take, Scott Brady as the crooked saloon owner who gives out the bribes, James Craig as badman Ike Clanton and Brian Donlevy as the frock-coated mayor. It’s an excellent line-up and very much in tune with Lyles’s formula of using well-known Western stars from the 40s and 50s.

Old Sheriff Barton is on his way out

Another reason I like this movie is because it was directed by Lesley Selander, the B-Western fan’s hero, who specialized in bringing low-budget oaters to life with pace and action. Actually, it was Selander’s last Western - indeed, his last film. He ended his eminent career in the genre by directing 45 episodes of Laramie and a handful of Lyles features. It was an illustrious CV which had started with his work as second unit director on a silent Buck Jones flick in 1925 and included, by the end, close to 200 Westerns. Respect.

Lesley Selander the Great

The screenplay was by Steve Fisher, Lyles’s go-to writer for these pictures, a fellow who bashed out large numbers of TV shows on his typewriter but also did some big-screen Westerns – not bad ones, either: the likes of The Quick Gun with Audie Murphy, Noose for a Gunman with Jim Davis, The Restless Breed, also with Scott Brady, and others.

Writer Fisher

Arizona Bushwhackers is narrated by James Cagney (uncredited but unmistakable) and we have a debutant Roy Rogers Jr. in a small (and actually rather pointless and irrelevant) part, and Regis Parton (billed as Reg) as henchman Curly and also stunt-doubling Keel.

The opening scenes are of booming cannons and we are told that the Civil War is raging and the military prisons of both sides are bulging, so Abe Lincoln allows Reb POWs to enlist in the Union army to serve out West, fighting Indians or even occasionally bringing law ‘n’ order to wide-open frontier towns. Thus stocky Lee Travis (Keel), former riverboat gambler and gunslinger, is wearing Union blue when he rides to Colton, Arizona, a town treed by crooked saloon owner Tom Rile (Brady) who has the corrupt sheriff (MacLane) in his pocket. Travis is to kick out the lawman, pin on the star himself and make the community a bit more law-abidin’.

Scott Brady is the crooked saloon owner

The snag is that Rile doesn’t care for this notion at all, so he sends out a few henchmen (Craig as Ike Clanton, Parton as Curly and Eric Cody as Jones) to bushwhack (hence the title) the new peace officer, and then the town will be able return to the old corrupt ways.

Good idea, you may think. However, the resourceful Travis is a match for the thugs. He changes clothes with Clanton so that the other two malefactors confuse the two and shoot down the wrong guy, viz. their accomplice Ike. Yes, I know Ike Clanton wasn’t killed in 1865 but survived even the gunfight at the OK Corral and was shot dead by detective Jonas V Brighton in September 1887 near Springerville. But we don’t watch Westerns for historical accuracy, now do we?

So Sheriff Travis takes charge in Colton and ex-Sheriff Grover (MacLane) is obliged to quit town. He was ready to, actually, being disgusted at himself for taking bribes from Rile.

Travis thinks that Southerner Molly must be his contact but when she doesn’t respond to the password he realizes he’s wrong. It’s demure milliner Jill who’s the one. Once they get that awkwardness ironed out, the new sheriff and the storekeeper decide to pretend to be lovers so they can associate with each other. As was bound to happen, though, the pretense soon becomes reality. Though the sheriff was rather taken with saloon gal Molly…

Donlevy is the mayor (briefly)

This is where Roy Jr. appears, pointlessly, so announce pompously that he hates Rebs and doesn’t drink. Then he departs. It was his first and last part in a Western.

Deputy Dan Shelby (Ireland) holds a candle for the hat-maker so now he has a double reason to hate the new sheriff: he’s a stinkin’ Reb and he’s wooing Deputy Dan’s flame. So he keeps a close eye on the lawman and it isn’t long before he rumbles that the couple are in cahoots in a dastardly Confederate plot.

The new sheriff, a consummate gambler, now wins the saloon from Rile at dice and the discomfited erstwhile owner is obliged to skedaddle.

The new sheriff wins the whole saloon at craps
 
Now, it appears that before losing his livelihood to the sheriff, slimy saloon owner Rile had discovered those hidden guns in an abandoned warehouse on the edge of town and, shock horror, has been selling them to some renegade Apaches. As you know, providing Indians with rifles in Westerns was a crime considerably worse on the scale of awfulness than cannibalism or matricide.

So it’s all building up to an exciting climax. There’s a curious bit where Sheriff Travis is wounded and has an arm in a sling and gets into a fight with his one-armed deputy so we get an unusual saloon brawl with two brachially challenged men hammering each other unidextrously.

Well, ex-Sheriff Grover now rides back in and tells Mayor Donlevy (who only had a short scene in the first reel and now has an equally short one in the last) that the war is now over, Lee having surrendered, and by the way, angry Rile and the Indians are coming, with their repeater rifles, so beware. Thus we have a last-reel shoot-out as ex-sheriff, new sheriff, former Yankees and former Rebels all join forces to fight the Apaches and the crook. It’s great stuff.

A few chosen characters are hit and expire but Deputy Dan gets the milliner back in his arms, Travis gifts the saloon to Molly and then he rides off into the sunset. The End.

And it's in Technicolor. Hell, what more do you want?

Producer AC Lyles and Howard Keel on the set of another of his Westerns, Waco,
with Jane Russell

 

Friday, June 15, 2018

My Outlaw Brother (Eagle-Lion, 1951)


Not Mickey's finest hour




 
 
My Outlaw Brother was also known as My Brother, the Outlaw, a name I prefer because the movie starred Mickey Rooney and the alternate title harked back to Rooney’s only previous Western, nearly two decades before, which was his part as the boy monarch (he was 12) in My Pal, the King, one of the great Tom Mix’s finest pictures, tragically no longer available. My Brother, the Outlaw. My Pal, the King. They go together well. Actually, Rooney generally avoided the genre until later life but did this one in a (failed) attempt to make money when he was in dire financial straits. After this picture Rooney would do no Westerns until a cameo in a 1970 comedy, Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County.
 
Not available: an outrage

Rooney produced the picture with Benedict Bogeaus. Bogeaus was well known in Hollywood for the likes of Captain Kidd and Christmas Eve (both with Randolph Scott) but he did do some Westerns: Silver Lode with John Payne, Cattle Queen of Montana with Barbara Stanwyck and Passion with Cornel Wilde, all in 1954, and Tennessee’s Partner with Ronald Reagan in 1955. My Outlaw Brother was the only one Bogeaus made without the enormously experienced Allan Dwan as director.
 
Bogeaus produced with Rooney

Instead, it was directed by Elliott Nugent, whom the IMDb bio describes as “An American minor leading man of early Depression-era talkies who played earnest, boyish leads”, adding that he “would earn more distinction as a writer, producer and director.” As director he specialized in Harold Lloyd, Bob Hope and Danny Kaye comedies; in fact his autobiography was entitled Events Leading Up to the Comedy. This was his only Western. And it shows. Really, Rooney and Bogeaus should have got someone a bit more experienced in the genre. Nugent also plays the Ranger captain.

Nugent, above, directed and, below, acted as the Ranger captain (right)
 
 
It was released by Eagle-Lion so did rather risk sinking without trace. I mean, Paramount it wasn’t. Eagle-Lion Films was a British film production company owned by J Arthur Rank which was intended to release British movies in the United States. In 1947 it acquired PRC Pictures, the Poverty Row B-movie production company. They did a couple of Westerns, such as High Lonesome and this one, but the company didn’t last and soon went under.

Hands across the ocean kinda thing

The story was based on the novel South of the Rio Grande by Max Brand and written up into a screenplay by Gene Fowler and Al Levitt. Rooney plays a New York dude come out West to find his brother, and he plays up the Eastern tenderfoot jokes to the full, rather overdoing it. He is befriended by Texas Ranger Robert Preston and together they go down Mexico way where investigator Preston is tasked with arresting the evil bandido El Tigre who has been robbing banks north of the Rio Grande - in fact we see such a raid in the first reel.

There are various jokes about Rooney's diminutive stature

Unlike Rooney, Preston was used to the saddle. Apart from his leading role in The Chisholms on TV he would do fourteen feature Westerns, often playing the charming rogue. He started in Union Pacific in 1939 and North West Mounted Police in 1940, and was especially memorable in Blood on the Moon and Whispering Smith (where he easily outshone the lackluster star Alan Ladd) in the late 40s, and later he was excellent in Best of the Badmen and, as an older man, Sam Peckinpah’s Junior Bonner, in which he was absolutely superb. Always watchable, as a goody or (more usually) a baddy, Preston was a credit to the genre.

Preston doing his thing

The brother that Rooney’s character is seeking is played by Robert Stack. For me (and many people, I guess) Stack will always be Elliott Ness but he did the occasional Western. He only made six, not a great number for the era, but he wasn’t bad in Badlands of Dakota, Men of Texas, War Paint, Conquest of Cochise and Great Day in the Morning. None of these was what you would call a top-class Western but he was reasonably convincing in them. Of course he was blond and blonds can't be goodies.

Wanda is unwilling fiancée of Stack

It has a Mexican setting and in fact had Mexican locations and crew. The picture has a 1940s B-Western vibe to it, with the evil El Tigre marauding and eventually being unmasked and ranger Preston firing his seven-shooter at the bandidos and shooting one off his horse on the distant horizon.

There’s a gal, obviously, the Señorita Carmel Alvorado, Stack’s fiancée, who soon finds she prefers brother Mickey, played by Wanda Hendrix, former Warner Brothers vamp who became Mrs. Audie Murphy and who did seven Westerns including this one.

Wanda falls for Mickey

Don ‘Red’ Barry is an uncredited Ranger, soon written out.

About the best actor on the set after Preston was José Torvay as the blacksmith Ortiz. He had been Pablo in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

There’s an unlikely finale/dénouement/shoot-out in a ruin when a deus ex machina in the shape of a troop of Federales arrives to save the day.

In all honesty this one is a bit of a dud but Preston makes it worth a look.

You will not waste away and die of grief if you never see this one
but on the other hand Preston is always worth watching