Tim and Chito ride again
By the early 1950s Tim Holt was very well established as a RKO Western star. He appeared in Westerns for the studio first in 1938 and made 46 in all, all through the 1940s. They were formulaic, not to say repetitive, but they were energetic and fun. Try, for example, Along the Rio Grande. Many were directed by Lesley Selander, a more than competent oater hand, and he helmed Gunplay in 1951.
Tim Holt (1919 - 73)
Holt’s winsome smile won many hearts. His career reached a peak in 1948 when he revealed unexpected acting talent as Curtin in the great The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and in that (golden) year he also co-starred with his famous father Jack in The Arizona Ranger. By the 1950s, however, predictable and conventional one-hour black & white second-feature Westerns were beginning to lose their charm, boyish Tim was into his thirties and 1952 saw the end of the series. Desert Passage was Holt’s last Western, if you exclude a couple of appearances on The Virginian on TV in the early 60s. Gunplay, therefore, is rather at the tail end of the story.
One of Tim's six Westerns of '51
Still, it has something going for it, if you like black & white programmer Westerns. Selander was good as ever at the action scenes, Paul Sawtell did the chirpy music, and Robert J Wilke is a henchman. Chito Rafferty is back as sidekick, eying up the ladies (though when one rather feisty example proposes to him he runs a mile). It’s a bog-standard plot of a town owned by a bad man in a suit and with a mustache (Mauritz Hugo, 101 mostly TV Westerns but I remember him as Ely Harrison in Alvarez Kelly). Decent Tim Holt (Tim Holt) and English-mangling Chito (Richard Martin again) take a poor orphan boy (Harper Carter) under their wing and work out that the boy’s dad has been murdered by Bob Wilke on the orders of the evil Mauritz.
One good thing about the movie is that the female is unusually strong and sympathetic. Joan Dixon, who was in five Tim Holt Westerns, plays Terry, pistol-packin’ rancher with plenty of zip. As was often the case in these Holt Westerns, there is no hint of romance. Chito may play the gallant but Tim hardly even seems to notice her.
Chito charms Terry but is shocked when she proposes
Naturally the bad guys are thwarted (Bob turns on Mauritz and is gunned down by his erstwhile boss), the boy is packed off to boarding school and Tim & Chito ride off to the next adventure. All’s well that ends well. Except for the poor kid maybe.