Big, noisy, fast-paced and fun
The Desperadoes came out in 1943, during the war. I am not quite sure when it was shot. Perhaps Glenn Ford got leave from the US Marines to do it. It was Columbia’s first Technicolor picture and no B-movie. They threw budget at it.
Directed by Charles Vidor (only two Westerns, this and The Arizonian in 1935), it had Randolph Scott and Claire Trevor topping the bill but they were rather upstaged by the romance between the dashing young Glenn Ford, 27, and luscious Evelyn Keyes (who was the director’s wife). She wears leather riding pants and… Oh, sorry, where was I? Glenn had had his chance at Claire Trevor two years before in Texas, though had to fight William Holden for her. This time he’s not interested; he's after Evelyn.
Randy, Glenn - together
It’s a working of a Max Brand story. Glenn is Cheyenne Rogers, outlaw, who calls himself ‘Bill Smith’. He knows the sheriff (Randy) from way back. Of course Glenn is a good outlaw. He was forced into crime and is really decent. You know.
There’s a scam going on. The evil banker Clanton (good old Porter Hall) – the name Clanton is enough to mark him out as a baddy – is in cahoots – that’s the only word for it, cahoots – with rascally Uncle Willie McLeod (splendid Edgar Buchanan) who appears a harmless, cheery sort of bloke but is actually, as I say, in cahoots with slimy banker Clanton. Their scheme is to pay some bank robbers to raid the bank but remove the cash first. They then pay out the poor account holders at 50¢ on the dollar, gaining their gratitude, and pocket the rest. Damned clever.
Rootin', tootin' AND romance
Seizing the opportunity of Cheyenne's riding into town, they decide to blame him for the robbery, the cads. But brave Sheriff Randy and also Alison, Uncle Willie’s niece (Keyes) - who is not in on the sting - believe Cheyenne to be innocent…
With the unusually healthy Columbia budget he was allowed, Vidor threw in every known Western device: bank robbery, bar room brawl, stampede, explosions, the whole nine yards. And of course much is made of the color. It’s nice photography, in fact (George Meehan).
We have a big cast, including four principals (Scott, Trevor, Ford, Keyes), but also Buchanan, and Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams as an explosives expert.
All in all, no one would claim that this is an epic Western. I mean it’s not John Ford or anything. But it’s big, noisy, fast-paced and fun, and the actors, especially Ford and Buchanan, and Randy obviously, are excellent.
And if they talk about Custer’s last stand in a picture set in 1863, well, who cares? You want history? Read a history book.