Rod on the Outlaw Trail
Republic’s The Plunderers is no relation to Allied Artists’ 1960 black & white picture of the same name, the last Western of Jeff Chandler. They just happen to have the same title. The 1948 one was quite a big effort: they shot it in their Trucolor process, quite unusual for a Western at that time, and studio boss Herb Yates threw some budget at it (equally unusual). Yates had Joseph Kane (right) direct it, the studio’s top Westernist, of whom Scott Eyman has rather unkindly and even inaccurately said that he was “a man who made more than one hundred movies without an interesting shot to be found in any of them.” Kane had done a lot of those John Wayne Westerns for Republic in the 40s and also churned out Roy Rogers and Gene Autry oaters. He was also often credited as associate producer, as in this case. He was a steady hand if not always inspired.
They lined up Rod Cameron (left) as lead. Not perhaps in the very front rank of Western stars, Cameron was nevertheless a solid, experienced and reliable choice. Canadian-born Rod had debuted in Hollywood in 1939 and been a stand-in for Fred MacMurray at Paramount and also stunt-doubled for Buck Jones. He was a corporal in North West Mounted Police in 1940 (he’d always wanted to be a Mountie). He had a small part as Jesse James in the non-Western but entertaining The Remarkable Andrew and led a Western for the first time in 1944, going on to do a series for Universal, three of the worst of them with Yvonne De Carlo. By 1948 he was well established in the saddle. His great height (he was 6’5” or nearly 2 meters) and strong build made him an imposing figure. In this one he’s an Army major in plain clothes going undercover to bust up a gang of outlaws. It doesn't take you long to realize he's a goody really.
To back Rod up they had Hungarian Ilona Massey as leading lady (Yates had a penchant for European dames). She had an operetta voice that sounds oddly refined in her two saloon songs (she’d played opposite Nelson Eddy, and the year before had done a musical Western with him). She had a slight Dietrich-y look to her (with a rectangular mouth) but this was her only proper Western and she wasn’t suited to the genre one bit. Rod is supposed to fall for her big time but though he gallantly does his best, you just don’t believe it at all.
The ‘other woman’ was better. She was Lorna Gray, ex-Columbia contract player, who changed her name in 1945 to the curiously masculine Adrian Booth. She started a long career with Republic in 1941, playing a whole variety of roles in B-pictures, including Westerns (she was a regular on Monte Hale oaters).
Forrest Tucker (left) is the chief baddy, one of those Robert Prestonish charming rogue types. I always like Forrest. Long before he was Sergeant O’Rourke in F Troop he’d been noticeable in Western feature films, debuting impressively as Wade Harper in The Westerner in 1940. That was starting at the top. Wyler wanted someone with oomph who could take on Gary Cooper in a fight. He was the thug Ernie in Coroner Creek with Randolph Scott the same year as The Plunderers. He was always entertaining in Westerns. He was back with Rod for Republic, again as ther bad guy, in the rather good San Antone in 1953. You always get full value in a Western from Forrest.
There are good parts (for once) for two great stalwarts of the genre, Paul Fix (right) and Francis Ford. They were both often relegated to ‘Barman (uncredited)’ or similar bit parts but just occasionally they got to have a fair speaking part, and they were always noticeably good when they did. Ford is the storekeeper; Fix is Forrest’s scurrilous henchman.
There were also small parts for Franklyn Farnum, Rex Lease and Kenneth MacDonald, so you can have fun spotting them, and this picture was unusual for having two Lone Rangers in it: both Clayton Moore and John Hart appear (briefly). History does not relate if they got on.
It’s a rather preposterous story about outlaws in Deadwood. There’s some idiocy about Rod having to marry Forrest’s gal in order to get her out of town, and also pretending to shoot dead the sheriff so he can be taken for a bad guy. But you view these ploys with amused tolerance. There’s loads of action – almost too much to keep up with. The Sioux are under Red Cloud and launch an attack. In fact it’s just as Forrest and Paul are about to be lynched. The chief lyncher hollers, One… Two… Thr – thwang!, a Sioux arrow thuds into the tree. Plausibility isn’t this movie’s strong point.
The print is a bit washed-out these days, as is often the case with Trucolor, but it’s attractive in its almost pastel shades. Shot in the usual Corriganville and Vasquez Rocks Californian locations, there’s a fair bit too round the Kanab, Utah movie fort and the red-earthed Utah locations are attractive, if not exactly Black Hills-ish. The movie has a lot of studio sets, with pretty corny painted backdrops, but there are a fair few location shots as well and the DP was reliable hand Jack Marta, who shot a large number of Republic B-Westerns, including the impressive Dark Command, and who would later work on (visually) superior pictures such as Cat Ballou.
The Dale Butts music is pleasant, often being orchestral variations on a theme of Streets of Laredo.
It’s all a bit of a farrago, to be honest, but since when has that stopped us enjoying a Western? You get pretty well non-stop action and stunts for your money with mucho shootin’ and gallopin’. Give it a go.