An early Tim Holt oater from RKO
Along the Rio Grande is a classic black & white Tim Holt Western of the early 1940s. Holt (1919 – 1973) was the son of lantern-jawed heavy Jack Holt, who appeared in many silent and early talkie Westerns, and Tim often accompanied his dad on location and even in 1928 appeared in a silent movie, The Vanishing Pioneer, playing Jack’s son. Tim went straight into the film business from school. In 1937 he was signed to contract by the famous producer Walter Wanger and in 1938 RKO cast him in their Western The Renegade Ranger supporting the then top star George O'Brien, followed immediately by The Law West of Tombstone supporting Harry Carey Sr. He was the young lieutenant in Stagecoach in 1939 and RKO signed him to a seven year contract. His boyish and clean-cut good looks were a great asset.
RKO tried him out in some big films like The Girl and the Gambler and Swiss Family Robinson but the studio then decided to star him in a series of B-Westerns. These proved very popular and Holt made 46 of them, many directed by Lesley Selander. Along the Rio Grande was the third of these, after Wagon Train (1940) and The Fargo Kid (1940).
After distinguished war service (he was wounded on the last day of the war) Tim impressed as Virgil Earp in John Ford’s My Darling Clementine and in 1948 he surprised everyone with the quality of his acting as Curtin in John Huston’s great film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. They shouldn’t have been too surprised: Orson Welles had seen his potential back in ’42 when he cast him as the malicious son George in The Magnificent Ambersons. Still, the fact remains that we remember Tim mostly for his very repetitive Western programmers and second features, and Along the Rio Grande is a classic example.
It was directed by Edward Killy rather than Selander. Killy was fairly new to the genre: he’d done Wagon Train with Holt the year before and he went on to do quite a lot of oaters for RKO in the 1940s, including two with Robert Mitchum, Nevada and West of the Pecos.
Tim is ranch hand Jeff who, with his pardners Smokey (Ray Whitley) and Whopper (Emmett Lynn), decide to bring to justice evil rustler Doc Randall (Robert Fiske) who has cold-bloodedly murdered their boss. You can immediately tell Randall is a baddy, before he shoots anyone, by his Vincent Price mustache. There follows much skullduggery, derring-do and bringing to book.
Obviously a baddy
There are songs. Holt didn’t essay one this time but Mary Loring (Betty Jane Rhodes), a demure maid who daringly gets a job singing in the saloon and who takes a shine to Tim, gives us Monterrey Moon and then Smokey yodels away through another country chanson, before the two duet on the title song of the movie.
Jeff and Mary hit it off
There’s plenty of comic relief as the badmen hold up a stage, only to find that the women passengers are in fact tough marshals in drag.
Well, it’s predictable, traditional, and could have been made any time in the 1930s, as a Three Mesquiteers picture, for example. Having said that, it’s not a bad example of the type and you could while away an amusing hour if it came on TV.
You could give it a go
We'll look at some more Tim Holt oaters in the days to come, so stay tuned, e-pards!