Jim frees California
Reader Jerry Entract and I were agreeing the other day that we were fans of Jim Davis Westerns. So I thought I’d review another one today.
Many 70s viewers will think of Jim (left) as Jock Ewing but of course he had a distinguished Western career long before that. The IMDb bio tells us that “Tall, rangy Jim Davis spent much of his early career in westerns, mainly at Republic Pictures. The Missouri-born and -raised Davis' relaxed, easygoing manner and Southern drawl easily fit most moviegoers' image of the cowboy, and Republic put him in a ton of them over the years (the fact that, unlike a lot of movie cowboys, he looked right at home on a horse didn't hurt, either).” Westernistas will think of him as railroad detective Matt Clark, tracking down every famed outlaw in Western history in Stories of the Century on NBC in 1954 and ’55 but he started in big-screen Westerns as far back as 1942 in Northwest Rangers (as ‘Mountie with warrant – uncredited’). He first led in Westerns in 1957 when he topped the billing in four: The Badge of Marshal Brennan, Raiders of Old California, Apache Warrior and The Last Stagecoach West. In fact he quite liked California stories because as well as Raiders of Old California he also appeared in California Passage (1950), Three Desperate Men (1951), Jubilee Trail (1954) and Frontier Uprising (1961), all stories about California. In this one he is rather grandly credited in the titles as ‘James Davis’, which does sound rather posh.
As I watched Frontier Uprising I found it very familiar. Then I realized why. It is basically an uncredited remake of Kit Carson, an Edward Small production of 1940 also released by United Artists. That one had Dana Andrews as the Army lieutenant and Jon Hall as Kit, with Lynn Bari as the Californian beauty they both fall for. George Bruce wrote the screenplay of the 1940 one, based on a story by Evelyn Wells. Orville H Hampton, who wrote Frontier Uprising, must have been a fan. Don Kelly’s Lt. Kilpatrick in Frontier Uprising is a straight copy of Dana Andrews and Jim Davis’s character of buckskin-clad scout Jim Stockton is uncannily like Jon Hall’s Kit Carson.
We open with a dastardly Mexican officer (John Marshall, about as Mexican as I am) offering rifles to the ‘Shoshonies’ to attack Yanqui wagon trains of settlers coming into Mexican California. As you know, those who provide Indians with guns in Westerns are on a naughtiness par with Benedict Arnold, John Wilkes Booth and Dr. Crippen.
Then we are introduced to some fur trappers led by Jim Stockton (Davis) with his sidekicks Beaver (Ken Mayer, pretty well an unknown, to me at least) and Lopez (David Renard, ditto). They are taking their rich haul of skins to Fort Bridger to sell them, but are nervous. “It’s quiet,” says Beaver. “Too quiet,” Jim replies, in that timeless fashion of the Western cliché. Then they are attacked by the Shoshone with those long guns and they lose all their furs. Curses. Luckily “Indians don’t attack at night” so the trio are able to escape after dark. I’m afraid the writing isn’t too original.
The three pards
At Fort Bridger, dead broke, the three pards agree to the suggestion of Charley Bridger (Tudor Owens) to guide a wagon train into California. There they may find the origin of those Shoshone rifles. I’m not sure who Charley Bridger was. It’s the early 1840s and Jim Bridger founded Fort Bridger in 1843. Maybe the producers thought it would be confusing to have another Jim.
There’s an ‘amusing’ scene in a bath house when Jim accidentally strays over to the ladies’ section.
Naturally, there’s a glamorous beauty on the wagon train. It was compulsory in them days. She is Consuela (Nancy Hadley - not, I fear, the greatest of actresses), off to rejoin her father, Don Montalvo (good old Nestor Paiva) down near Monterey. She is accompanied by her chaperone, her aunt Agostina (Renata Vanni). And equally naturally, the dashing Army lieutenant accompanying the party, Kilpatrick (Don Kelly, a TV Western veteran, rather miscast) falls for her. At first she responds graciously to the courtly officer and gentleman, and despises and spurns the rough backwoodsman Jim. But we all know right away how that’s going to pan out.
Will Jim win the Californian beauty? Yes.
Well, they set off. They must have taken the southern route because they pass through Monument Valley. The vast majority of the scenes, both interiors and ‘exteriors’, are shot on studio sound stages but every now and again we get some location shooting, and, if I am not mistaken, intercut stock footage from other movies. I’m afraid it all does look rather cheap.
The Mexican liaison officer with the Shoshone, Lt. Ruiz (Eugene Iglesias) urges the Indians to attack but Chief Taztay (Herman Rudin) declines. It’s one thing to slaughter a few innocent settlers, where’s the harm in that? But this train has an Army escort. No thanks, Ruiz. Ruiz replies with the Spanish for “Grrr.”
The Shoshone are in league with the dastardly Mexicans
But then the by-the-book Kilpatrick says he cannot enter California, a foreign territory, as that would cause a diplomatic incident, and so he and his men set off north for Oregon. Now the Indians are free to attack…
Well, there follows a good deal of action in which Jim obviously acts with boldness, courage and daring. Ruiz’s puny sword is no match for Jim’s fists. Unfortunately, though, sidekick Lopez is fatally wounded in the fight and is buried in the studio.
Before succumbing to Jim’s blows, Ruiz informs the scout that Mexico has declared war on the USA, so Jim gallops off after Kilpatrick and persuades him to come back and defend the wagon trainers. It’s OK now, you see, because he can fight those pesky Mexicans with impunity.
For the final reel the story shifts to Monterey where the new California Republic (so we must be in 1846) has a fort. If this fort is taken, we are told, all California will fall to Mexico. Don Montalvo, Consuela’s patrician dad, is pro-Republic and despises the corrupt government in far-off Mexico City, so he helps Jim and Co. to save the fort. All this bit is telescoped into the last ten minutes or so.
The don, the scout and the soldier plan how to save California
Will California be saved for the gringos? And who will get the gal, the smooth officer or the rough scout? Well, you may guess (and I fear the photo above may have given you a slight clue) but my own lips are sealed, dear e-pards. You will have to watch this epic to know for sure.
It's all pretty second-rate, I am sorry to tell you, but Jim is good. It was directed by old hand Edward L Cahn, who had been born in the previous century and started in movies in 1917. He directed the rather good 1932 version of Law and Order, but that was by far his best effort. Most of other Westerns were distinctly B. The year before Frontier Uprising he had directed Jim Davis in Noose for a Gunman.
Edward Cahn. He looks a bit sinister.
It was a Robert E Kent production. You know Kent. He began as a rapid screenwriter for Sam Katzman at Columbia. Then he became a producer for Edward Small, which is how he got his hands on this script. He was involved in different capacities with a lot of Westerns, often with such titles as When the Redskins Rode, Jesse James vs. the Daltons and The Toughest Gun in Tombstone. They weren’t of uniformly high quality… Utah Blaine with Rory Calhoun in 1957 was good, though.
Anyway, you could watch Frontier Uprising. I mean you could.