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

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Badlands of Dakota (Universal, 1941)


Deeply silly but a lot of fun




 
 
The black & white Universal Westerns of the 1940s were often pretty silly, but they usually had a certain vim and zip about them, and Badlands of Dakota, a Wild Bill/Calamity Jane picture, was no exception. It is even more preposterous than most Westerns of the period, making no attempt at all to stick to fact, but since when did we expect historical accuracy from Western movies? The important thing is that the film is energetic and fun.
 
Energetic
 
It’s a nice quality print, not one of those crackly, faded efforts one often sees, and it holds up well on a big modern TV screen. It was shot by Stanley Cortez (later the cinematographer on Apache and Man from Del Rio) with some Red Rock Canyon locations – Universal didn’t stint on this aspect. The direction is by Alfred E Green, who had been making large numbers of films since 1912 with Selig Polyscope. He directed Bette Davis in Dangerous in 1935 and also later did The Jolson Story in 1946, so he was no unknown or minor figure. He only made nine Westerns, though: four silents in the early days and a few B-Westerns subsequently. His high point, without a doubt, was the charming little Joel McCrea oater Four Faces West in 1948, a little jewel. In Badlands he keeps the pace rattling along and there’s plenty of action.
 
Young Robert Stack was given the lead. Of course, like most people I think of Mr. Stack as Eliot Ness but he had been at Universal since the 1930s. Badlands was his first Western, and he only made six, generally eschewing the genre, even in its 1950s heyday. Here he is Jim Holliday, the blond lover of Ann Rutherford and, despite the publicity still below, not really a gunslinging tough-guy at all. (As an aside, we have said elsewhere that blond men rarely made good Western actors, except maybe as baddies, and Stack knew this; he had his hair dyed black for future roles).
 
Robert Stack and Ann Rutherford. Not really Western specialists...
 
He steals la Rutherford away from his big brother Broderick Crawford, Bob. Of course the year before Broderick as Bob (Bob Dalton) had also had his fiancée stolen away from him, that time by Randy Scott, in When the Daltons Rode. He was beginning to get a rep as a jilted lover. Crawford was ever unconvincing in Westerns. His stockiness (to be polite) didn’t help, but fat or not, though he was certainly tough, he was too Eastern, too urban to be any good in oaters. He needed mean streets or a highway patrol car. He was plain ridiculous in The Fastest Gun Alive (fanning his double-action Colts) in 1956 and he never cut it as a Westerner. Still, he liked the genre and appeared in fifteen big-screen oaters altogether, as well as many Western TV shows. In Badlands he is a saloon owner who, when thrown over by his belle in favor of his younger bro, goes bad and dresses up as an Indian with Jack McCall’s gang and holds up the Deadwood stage. (Yes, I’m afraid the plot is that silly).
 
Broderick Crawford. Shoulda stuck to tough cops.
 
Ms. Rutherford (Scarlett’s little sis in Gone With the Wind) had been in four Gene Autry oaters and three John Wayne ones before the war, so she knew her way around the West. She was a graceful woman (if I’m allowed to say that kind of thing these days), if not entirely convincing ridin’ the range. In Badlands she is rather bossy and Stack is on the verge of being henpecked (if I’m allowed to say that kind of thing these days).

Jane (she is never referred to as Calamity) is played by Frances Farmer. Farmer went to Hollywood in 1935 where she won a seven-year contract with Paramount but in 1943 she was declared mentally incompetent and committed by her parents to a series of asylums and public mental hospitals. It was a tragic affair. She didn’t really do Westerns; Badlands was the last of only three (the previous one, in 1936, had also been directed by Green) but in the first, Rhythm on the Range in 1936, she had the female lead opposite Bing Crosby. In Badlands she was, like Crawford, totally unconvincing as Jane, managing none of the Doris Day-type tomboy charm the role was usually accorded and still less any genuine pathos.
 
Frances Farmer. Unconvincing as Jane.
 
Richard Dix does Wild Bill Hickok and, despite the daft script, he does it rather well. As I said in a recent post on another Dix Western, Cherokee Strip, Dix (1893 – 1949) was RKO’s leading man from the dawn of talkies through 1943. At six foot and 180 pounds, he presented a burly figure and had been a successful athlete in earlier years (his first roles were in baseball and football movies). He was quite a box-office draw for RKO in the 30s and he did a good number of Westerns, starting with a Victor Fleming-directed silent, the first version of Zane Grey’s To the Last Man, in 1923 and finishing with The Kansan in 1943, when he was in his fifties. His most famous Western role was of course as Yancey Cravat in the 1931 hit Cimarron, for which he won an Oscar. In Badlands, he is a rather dashing Wild Bill in frock coat, long hair and mustachios. He does not have an affair with Jane at all, though does ride with her on a posse with Marshal Robert Stack to capture the bad guys. He shoots a couple of fellows on his first day in Deadwood, presumably to establish his gunslinger street cred, but he is told that it didn't matter at all, they were rogues anyway. Bill turns down the marshal’s job in favor of Robert. Hickok is duly murdered by Jack McCall (we just hear the shot and see his corpse draped over the card table, with the dead man’s hand of aces and eights).
 
Richard Dix rather good as Wild Bill, with Farmer as Calamity and Addison Richards as Custer
 
Some of the minor roles are fun. Lon Chaney Jr. does Jack McCall. His McCall is the gang leader (“I give the orders around here,” he sternly admonishes fellow badman Brod Crawford) and has a scam in which he and his hoodlums dress up as Indians and rob the stage. This means, however, that we have a hilarious scene of Chaney and Crawford in warpaint and feathers, on their horses waiting to waylay the stagecoach. Hero Marshal Stack shoots McCall in the end, so he is not hanged at Yankton for the murder of Hickok.
 
Lon Chaney Jr., always worth a watch, as badman Jack McCall
 
Custer appears, impersonated by Addison Richards. This Custer is noble and brave, and saves the town of Deadwood from a devastating Indian attack (the Sioux burn the place to the ground) by charging in with the 7th Cavalry at the last moment, before declaring that he can’t stay: he has to “finally have it out with Sitting Bull and his Sioux at Little Bighorn”, and he gallops off. Addison Richards is actually worth looking out for. He appeared in huge numbers of B and TV Westerns (140 in all) from Lone Cowboy in 1933 to an episode of Rawhide in 1964. He often did the crusty old-timer or comic sidekick.

Fuzzy Knight is the stage driver, Hurricane, and duly does his schtick. Andy Devine, as Spearfish, the MC of the variety show at the Bella Union, ditto. They are both always fun to see. The Jesters give us some enjoyable songs. Glenn Strange the Great is there too. Though uncredited, he has a few lines and he’s not just an extra. He’s a thug, obviously. How I like Glenn-spotting in Westerns.
 
Andy Devine with Crawford and Chaney
 
Well, the whole thing is deeply silly. Still, it’s amusing and entertaining and most definitely worth a watch if it comes on. I probably won’t buy the DVD though.

 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Shadow on the Mesa (Larry Levinson Productions/Hallmark, 2013)


Considering the genre (family TV Westerns) this is quite good




 
 
The good news is that they are still making Westerns. The slightly less good news is that many of these Westerns are for the TV market or straight-to-video, and are pretty ordinary. They tend to be ‘safe’ and bear the, er, hallmark of so-called family entertainment. And the actors all look far too modern, with perfect skin and teeth. And their diction is 21st century Californian too.

However, every so often you get one that is a cut above that. Shadow on the Mesa does suffer from the last of the defects listed (overmodern and unconvincing young actors) but actually it has a sharp edge and could perfectly well have been made in the 1950s with, I don’t know, Sterling Hayden or Forrest Tucker in the lead. It is an old B-Western redux. Given the Boetticher/Scott treatment (or even Mann/Stewart) it could even have been a classy picture. I am sometimes a tad rude about Hallmark but I do try to be fair and this picture, aired on that channel, is really not at all bad.
 
 
The best thing about the movie is that Barry Corbin is in it. Older and jowlier, sure, but still going strong in 2013. Of course Western aficionados (that’s us, e-pards) will remember Barry best as Roscoe Brown but he has been in a lot of Western TV shows and is always a delight to see. In Shadow on the Mesa (nice title) he plays the adoptive grandfather of the hero. It’s rather a talky and inactive part but he does it really well. Sadly, he is written out after the first reel. If they still have reels.
 
 
Probably the best actor after Barry is Kevin Sorbo, as the hero’s real dad. Hercules has been in a few oaters and this was his third TV Western (after Avenging Angel and Prairie Fever) and a couple more are projected for this year.
 
 
The hero Wes is played by Wes, with Wes Brown as Wes Rawlins. He’s not an actor I know (he had a small part in the 2012 Wyatt Earp’s Revenge) but he isn’t bad as the unsmiling sometime bounty hunter out to avenge his murdered ma. He does, as I said above, look very modern but you can’t really hold this against Westerns. Every generation of oater imposed its own ‘look’ on the movies of the day, and we have 50s Western heroes in Brylcreemed hair and baggy pants. They almost never look like the photographs of the real Westerners of the time. Except maybe William S Hart in the 1910s.

Another good actor, in a smaller part, was Dave Florek as the ranch hand Baldy. Gail O’Grady as Sorbo’s wife, however, showed us that mascara and false eyelashes were surprisingly common on the nineteenth century prairie. Almost as bad as Shirley MacLaine in Two Mules for Sister Sara.

It’s the old tried-and-tested plot about the big rancher trying to drive off the smaller homesteaders and get the whole valley. Still, nothing wrong with tried and tested plots.

Don’t expect too much – it’s Hallmark after all – but this is certainly one of the better recent TV Westerns.

 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cherokee Strip (Paramount, 1940)


Don't expect too much but it repays a watch





 
 
Cherokee Strip is a black & white Richard Dix Western of the early 1940s and as such is hardly a classic of the genre. Still, it has its points, especially as it features two of the best ever baddies, Victor Jory and Ray Teal (though the latter, sadly, only in an early bit part).

It was directed by the excellent Lesley Selander for Harry Sherman Productions and released by Paramount. Sherman productions dated back to 1918 and they mainly did huge numbers of the Hopalong Cassidy features from 1935 to 1941. Occasionally, though, they moonlighted on non-Hoppy oaters. Selander worked his way up in the silent movie business, became assistant director then got to direct B-movies galore. His first was a Western, in 1936, and he directed literally dozens, including many with William Boyd of course, before turning to TV, where he did dozens more small-screen Westerns, especially episodes of Laramie. He made Shotgun (which we reviewed recently), The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold and many pictures with the word Fort in the title. About his best Western was Fort Yuma, with Matt Dillon’s brother, Peter Graves. His direction might be described as workmanlike rather than inspired but he was very good at the action scenes and his movies are well paced.
 
A B-Western but watchable
 
As for Richard Dix (1893 – 1949), he was RKO’s leading man from the dawn of talkies through 1943. At six foot and 180 pounds, he presented a burly figure and had been a successful athlete in earlier years (his first roles were in baseball and football movies). He was quite a box-office draw for RKO in the 30s and he did a good number of Westerns, starting with a Victor Fleming-directed silent, the first version of Zane Grey’s To the Last Man, in 1923 and finishing with The Kansan in 1943, when he was in his fifties. His most famous Western role was of course as Yancey Cravat in the 1931 hit Cimarron, for which he won an Oscar.
 
Solid
 
Cherokee Strip wasn’t that much of a B-movie. It had the great Russell Harlan (of Red River fame) doing the cinematography. The writing (Bernard McConville, who wrote a good number of John Wayne B-oaters in the 1930s) is not at all bad, with attempts, at least, at subtlety and character development. But with modest budget, Selander at the helm and pretty minor actors alongside Dix in the cast it could hardly be described as an A-picture either. Still, it repays a watch.

We are in Goliath, Oklahoma, where Victor Jory is a classic corrupt banker, Barrett, who is slimily pretending to have buried the hatchet in a family feud with the Lovells. But who should turn up in town as the new US marshal but Dave Lovell (Dix), two-gun strong man (Fighting Marshal was in fact an alternate title of the film). His belt, probably left over from a pirate flick, has a huge buckle. For a while everyone pretends that the feud is over and Victor is now a goody but who could seriously believe that for long?
 
The best crooked banker ever
 
Obviously there’s a dame for the marshal to fall for. It’s Kate (Florence Rice, only three Westerns, all B). Dix acts bashful at first, in a William S Hart sort of way, being especially evasive about his age. There’s equally obviously a comic old-timer sidekick, Ned (Addison Richards, a regular in that role). There’s a marshal/storekeeper set-up between Dix and George E Stone as Abe which reminded me of Sol Star and Seth Bullock in Deadwood. There’s a big shoot-out at the end in which bullets oddly ricochet off straw.

It gets a two-revolver rating. No picture with Victor Jory as the badman could get only one. That evil smile!


Sunday, January 25, 2015

His Name Was Madron (Four Star Excelsior, 1970)


One mule for Sister Mary




 
 
I was always a great Richard Boone fan, ever since a boyhood addiction to Have Gun - Will Travel. He was really best as an out-and-out badman (my favorite role of his was when he was the evil Grimes in Hombre) but he could occasionally also be the good guy. More usually he was a badman who was fundamentally decent, the classic good badman of Western lore.
          
Boone in Hombre
 
Richard Allen Boone (1917 – 1981) was the son of an LA corporate lawyer, a descendant of Daniel Boone the frontiersman. He was Pat Boone’s cousin. He was Pontius Pilate in The Robe but his first proper (i.e. Western) part was in the Delmer Daves-directed Return of the Texan in 1952 (with Dale Robertson and Walter Brennan) - if you call that a Western. Parts in B-Westerns followed throughout the mid-1950s and of course he was very good as Wick Campbell, the rotten rival to the rich rancher Randy Scott in Ten Wanted Men in 1955. In ’57 he was back with Scott as badman Frank Usher in The Tall T. He was already establishing himself as one of the great Western bad eggs.

CBS’s Have Gun - Will Travel aired from 1957 to 63 (and on radio from 1958 with the excellent John Dehner as Paladin). I will waffle on at length about this splendid series another day.
 
One of the best ever TV Western shows
 
Like many Hollywood Western leads, however, Boone did the occasional Italian ‘western’ at the end of his career, or at least in his case between the end of Have Gun and and the start of Hec Ramsey in 1972. One such was Madron, a real dud.
 
Do not buy the DVD. There is a lie on the cover.
 
It’s the Sister Sara plot about the tough hombre teaming up with a nun on a mule (the Eastwood/MacLaine picture came out the same year). Wayne and Hepburn used a similar theme in Rooster Cogburn five years later. This time the religious sis in 60s cosmetics is French-born Leslie Caron, in her only Western. She is rather beautiful, though.
 
Sister Mary. The West seemed to have teemed with nuns with guns.
 
The picture is slow and too long. It has bad music (you know, harmonica and electric guitar dross), poor color and is dubbed. The version I saw was heavily censored. It was shot in Israel. It’s a typical Eurowestern, in fact.

It was directed by an American, at least, Jerry Hopper, a former Paramount editor. He had cut his teeth on the clunky Pony Express in 1953 and also directed Dana Andrews in Smoke Signal but was mostly known for TV Westerns, especially episodes of Wagon Train. He also directed Boone a few times in Have Gun. Hopper didn’t have much of a sense of pace (surprising for an editor, perhaps) and his movies all have parts which drag.

Leo McMahon and Edward Chappell wrote it. McMahon did a lot of stunt work on 1930s B-Westerns and graduated to writing TV shows later. It was co-writer Chappell’s only Western. The writing of Madron is plodding. At one point they seem to quote The Wild Bunch but get it wrong, “I wouldn’t have it no other way.”

The hero’s name is pronounced muh-drone and he wears his poncho. There’s the inevitable pool in the desert so the nun can undress.
 
Tough hombre in a poncho
 
On the DVD cover it says “One of the best adult Westerns since Shane” which would be laughable if it weren’t such an arrant lie. I call it One Mule for Sister Mary and it’s lousy, but I don’t suppose they’d want to put that on the DVD cover.

 

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Rawhide Years (Universal, 1956)


Standard fare but quite fun




 
 
Universal made a lot of Westerns in the 1950s. It was one of their favorite genres. And they tried out various actors as lead. They were fond of Rock Hudson, whom they had used in Scarlet Angel, Seminole, The Lawless Breed and Taza, Son of Cochise, and Jeff Chandler, who had been Cochise for Fox in Broken Arrow in 1950 and became Universal’s tame Indian chief (or occasionally cavalryman) from The Battle at Apache Pass (1952) onwards. Their fallback was of course Audie Murphy, who made a lot of fairly formulaic but nevertheless solid oaters, and, like all Universal’s pictures, they were competently directed, had reasonable budgets, and were usually nicely photographed in attractive Western locations.

The studios were using Tony Curtis for their Arabian Nights series and it was logical to try him out in a Western or two. He’d had a bit part in Winchester ’73 in 1950, a bigger role as a Dalton in the Audie oater Kansas Raiders the same year, and also appeared with Audie in another early-50s Western, Sierra. So they gave him a go as lead in 1955, in The Rawhide Years. It didn’t take and he wasn’t really cut out for the genre but The Rawhide Years isn’t bad. The most amusing part is Tony’s hair but we’ll let that pass.
 
 
They got the posh Rudolph Maté to direct. Universal usually used second (but not third) ranked directors but Maté was rather top drawer. Polish born, he had studied in Budapest and worked under Alexander Korda and became one of Europe’s leading directors (and cinematographers). He came to Hollywood in 1935 and although he didn’t make any really great films (the 1950 noir D.O.A. was about his best) he certainly enjoyed great prestige. Westernwise, he worked under William Wyler as cinematographer on The Westerner in 1940, then directed Alan Ladd in Branded in 1950. The Mississippi Gambler with Tyrone Power in 1953 was followed by Siege at Red River in 1954 (the latter distinctly B) and so The Rawhide Years was his fifth sally out onto the range. Later he did The Far Horizons, The Violent Men (his best Western) and Three Violent People. None of these was what you would call a classic but they were all perfectly watchable.
 
 
Tony is young Ben Matthews, a cheating gambler on the Montana Queen. He finds a father figure in Matt Comfort, a rancher (Minor Watson) whom he has ruined at the tables, but the rancher is then murdered (there’s a piece of business with a wooden cigar-store Indian). Once docked in Galena, Ben’s cheating partner (Donald Randolph) is wrongly lynched by the townsfolk for the killing. So Ben leaves his fiancée, the saloon gal Zoe (Colleen Miller, Rory Calhoun’s squeeze in Four Guns to the Border) and goes on the run, to avoid a similar fate. He works his way West, cowboying, hence the title. That title is a bit odd though because the rawhide years take up very little of the movie. He is soon back in Galena, where he hopes to disculpate himself and get Zoe back.
 
 
During his travels (sorry, drifting) he has reluctantly teamed up with professional charming rogue Arthur Kennedy and got into scrapes. There’s a bit where they have to jump into the river from a cliff to evade pursuit and one can’t swim; probably the makers of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had seen that scene. The rest of the movie tells how, with Arthur’s aid, Tony uncovers the plot, proves his innocence and gets the girl, in traditional fashion.
 
 
Zoe has a couple of saloon songs, naturally, and there’s an intensely enjoyable bit with garter derringers. Peter van Eyck is the Frenchie saloon owner, a rather classic villain. Despite his Netherlandish name van Eyck was Pomeranian born and was good for any Nazi-ish bad guy you wanted in a movie, and if he is supposed to be the froggy André Boucher in this one, well, European is European, ain’t it? Anyway, director and Euroexile Maté perhaps liked the idea. Best of all, however, is the fact that André’s right hand henchman is Robert J Wilke, my hero.
 
 
The whole thing is even more improbable than the average Western and Curtis is not convincing as the naïve underdog who becomes a tough cowboy who beats the bad guys and wins the fair maid.

A lot of the blame must go to screenplay writer Earl Felton, though the great DD Beauchamp did also work on the script. Still, there are shoot-outs and explosions and fistfights, and a whodunit murder story (though you don't need to be Columbo to work out who is the guilty party). There are nice Technicolor shots of Lone Pine locations (Universal’s Western go-to Irving Glassberg behind the camera, of Bend of the River fame). It’s fun, really.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Man from Utah (Monogram, 1934)











Duke, Gabby, Yak, what more do you want?




 
 
In Westerns there was a man from everywhere. Everywhere in the West, that is. One thinks principally, of course, of The Man from Laramie, but let us not neglect those men from Arizona, Bitter Ridge, Button Willow, Colorado, Dakota, Del Rio, Galveston, Monterey, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Sundown, Texas, Wyoming, the Alamo and the Tumbleweeds, to name but a few. Yup, Hollywood sure liked the man from… titles. And firmly in the category is the 1930s Monogram programmer with John Wayne, The Man from Utah.
 
A classic of the genre. I guess.
 
John Wayne’s career was at the following point: as a prop boy he had been an uncredited extra in two Westerns (1926 and 1930), had then starred for Raoul Walsh in 1930 in The Big Trail, had then slipped back into obscurity, took lower billing on three appallingly bad Westerns for Harry Cohn at Columbia in 1931/32, swore he would never work for Cohn again, made six really quite nice little Westerns for Warners 1932/33 (one of them another Man from title), and then started on his career with Lone Star/Monogram which lasted till the demise of the studio in 1935; he then continued with the employers under their new guise of Republic, which lasted till 1949 when he made his last Republic Western, The Fighting Kentuckian. The Man from Utah was the sixth of nine Monogram oaters he made in 1934 alone.

All of the Monogram pictures were, it must be said, formulaic and very corny by today’s standards (and perhaps even by 30s standards too). We have already reviewed Paradise Canyon, The Dawn Rider, The Desert Trail, Texas Terror, 'Neath the Arizona Skies, The Star Packer, Randy Rides Alone and Blue Steel, and honestly, if you read all those reviews you are going to risk a bit of repetition. And if you actually see all the movies, you’re going to get even more repetition.

Still, it must also be said that they are a whole lot of fun and if you do watch them you’ll pass a pleasant few hours. They are all black & white, last roughly an hour and often had actors who were part of a ‘stock company’ and so become very recognizable as the series progresses. The Man from Utah is no exception.

It’s a rodeo picture and you can ask whether rodeo films are true Westerns. Some aren’t, really, because of their modern setting and/or because the themes they deal with aren’t very ‘Western’ in the true sense. Still, they are often highly enjoyable and some of them (The Lusty Men, Junior Bonner, others) are works of art. The Man from Utah could not, sadly, be put in this work-of-art category. But it is, nominally, set in the old West, with cowboys sporting shootin’ irons on their hips and classic Western skullduggery going on. I say ‘nominally’ because you occasionally glimpse an automobile or modern telegraph lines and so on (and on one occasion a sign announcing an event in 1932) but it doesn’t matter in the least. In any case old Westerns had no complexes about mixing the ancient and the modern and Tom Mix oaters, for example, are full of planes and cars. The leading ladies always wore 1930s dresses and frizzy hairdos.
 
Amusing poster
 
It’s set in Nevada (though shot in California and the rodeo footage comes from Calgary).

Anyway, we’ve got RN Bradbury in the director’s chair (‘Robert Bradbury’ he is billed as, which sounds grander somehow), his 72nd Western (he had directed his first in 1918!). Robert was Bob Steele’s dad and often starred the boy in his oaters, though not, sadly, in Utah.

Gabby Hayes is also there, of course, though no ‘Gabby’ is mentioned; he is grandly billed as ‘George Hayes’. He is the marshal, a rather hillbilly one, and Duke is his deputy (he’s ‘John Weston’ this time, geddit?).
 
John Weston with Marshal Gabby

And naturally Duke’s pal Yak Canutt is there as the bad guy Cheyenne Kent and supervising the stunts. Best of all, for me, is the fact that the rodeo announcer is Earl Dwire, my hero. He usually has an old Western megaphone to shout through but occasionally they forgot that and he has a modern microphone. Oops.

Yak is the bad guy Cheyenne
 
There’s mucho galloping (often with speeded-up film), and rootin', tootin' and, of course, shootin', and the ‘acting’ is, as usual, dire. They stand to attention, shout the lines they have learned (or read off cards) and then wait motionless for their next cue. The writing (Lindsley Parsons) is so pedestrian that actually even if the cast were Laurence Olivier and Meryl Streep they’d still be no good.

Actually, I'd rather like to see Olivier and Streep in a Western. Dream on. 

There’s some dynamite at the end and a river and a kiss. At one point Duke sits on a white horse and croons (or lip-syncs anyway) to the sound of his guitar.

Well, I enjoyed it anyway.

 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Rose of Cimarron (Fox, 1952)


A paleface (and redhead) Cherokee




 
 
Credit to early-1950s Hollywood for making a Western movie about a woman but of course the central character couldn’t receive top billing. She was only a female after all. So the wooden Jack Buetel was placed at the top of the cast list. He acts (if that’s the right word) the role of Marshal Hollister, destined, we know from the opening of the first reel, to woo and win the fair heroine. The top billing should have gone to Mala Powers, the eponymous Rose.
 
These 50s publicity stills are hilarious sometimes
 
The beautiful Ms. Powers is known as the queen of B sci-fi flicks but in fact she had a promising start to her career before illness intervened. She was a protégée of the great Ida Lupino who auditioned and approved her for the female lead role in The Outrage (a role which eventually went to Claire Bloom). Rose of Cimarron was Mala’s first Western and she’s really rather good in it, despite the rather clunky script and direction. Later, she was a regular of TV Western shows.

We start when some Indians attack a wagon train in a studio (though we only see one wagon, budget constraints being what they were). A mother hides a baby in a trunk and is then killed, along with all the other whites. An Indian finds the orphan and raises the infant as his own daughter. This noble Cherokee, Lone Eagle, is none other than good old Monte Blue, born in 1887 and veteran of Westerns ever since Martyrs of the Alamo in 1915. He is murdered though, along with Rose’s adopted mum, by some evil bad guys. Rose sure loses parents at a rate of knots.

At least they didn't make Belle Starr Rose's mother, as they did in Belle Starr's Daughter.

Rose grows up as a rather improbable Cherokee girl, riding astride in buckskin pants with a rifle and two-Colt gunbelt and huntin’ and shootin’ with her bro, Willie Whitewater, played by none other than Jim Davis, with enough Brylcreem on his head to keep the company afloat for years.
 
Must have had shares in Brylcreem
 
Rose also has rather coiffed 50s hair and make-up. Jim becomes a Tonto-esque sidekick to Rose. Rose speaks strangely good English for one who has been all her life with the Cherokee.
 
Tight buckskin pants for the Cherokee maid
 
After the murder of Rose’s Indian mum and dad, she and Willie go off to Dodge and the rest of the movie takes place there. Of course Rose wants to find the villains who shot down Mr. and Mrs. Lone Eagle, and Dodge is as likely a town as any to find them. Sadly, there’s no Masterson or Earp in Dodge, only Jack Buetel.

Bill Williams is George (not Bittercreek) Newcomb, a rather good baddy in black. Brooklyn-born ex-professional athlete Williams had been a stalwart of Westerns since the mid-1940s and was to become very well known on the small screen in pretty well every Western TV show you could name. You may also remember him as the sheriff in Rio Lobo.
 
 
Bill is backed up by other henchmen, notably Art Smith as the old rogue Deacon and the great Bob Steele doing his usual splendid badman act as Rio. An instantly recognizable John Doucette is another henchperson.

The main weakness is poor Jack Buetel, though, as the marshal who tries to do the right thing and imprisons Rose for shooting a villain or two (it’s the Cherokee way, she informs him)
 
The Cherokee way
 
but of course he loves her and eventually, together, they right the wrongs, you know how they do. Mr. Buetel (1915 – 1989) famously played Billy the Kid opposite Jane Russell in the dreadful The Outlaw (released 1943), he was third-billed in Best of the Badmen, and Rose was his first Western starring role. He was a lousy Frank James in Jesse James’ Women in ’54 and then became Edgar Buchanan’s sidekick Jeff in Judge Roy Bean on TV. In an acting competition between Jack and a block of wood, Jack, to be fair, would probably win.
 
Well, Rose of Cimarron is an undistinguished B-Western really but I have seen a lot worse. I've given it two revolvers (it probably only deserved one) for Bob Steele and Jim Davis's hair.


No relation to the 70s Rusty Young song.