In a remake of 1932's "Night Rider", which was later adapted into 1940's "The Range Busters", Arizona cowhand Billy Donovan comes to a Texas town and gives sharp-shooting exhibitions in his guise as an ammunition salesman for the Gigantic Shell Company, but is in reality searching for the killer of his brother-in-law who also caused the death of his sister. Bill meets Jean Halloran, who has received several notes signed by "The Phantom" ordering her to vacate the Double Bar-A ranch near an abandoned gold mine. The only other occupant on the ranch is Tom Jackson, her stepfather, who is a cripple, with both legs paralyzed. Billy also learns that Salazar, the town's most noted shot, is looking for him. Investigating the mine, Billy falls down the shaft, is knocked senseless but recovers and follows a figure through the mine who climbs up through a trap door. The trap door leads to Jackson's bedroom. He learns that Jackson is a sleep-walker who can walk when sleeping but is crippled when ... Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
Most B-westerns of the 1930's to the 1950's followed well worn plot lines. There is a reason that they were called programmers since they often seemed to have been made by a program. They tended to be popular since they gave the audiences exactly what they wanted with out too much effort. As a rule I'm not a big fan of them simply because they are so cookie cutter like.
Cookie cutter or no they did allow for the rise of many heroes, Roy Rogers, Gene Autrey,John Wayne, Johnny Mack Brown rose to star status because through force or personality they could take a run of the mill plot and make it seem fresh. Here we have Johnny Mack Brown doing what he did best, giving us a better than average western tale for our hours enjoyment.
In Desert Phantom we have the story of a gun and ammo salesman, a seeming city slicker, getting hired by the pretty owner of a ranch to help uncover the reason that someone is trying to kill or drive off anyone who comes near the place. Its your standard issue plot but through Johnny Mack Brown's personality and better than average direction the film actual is an enjoyable western. While you may be able to put a group of suspects together its not instantly apparent who the headman is. Sure there are clues but there are enough red herrings to raise doubts.
Run of the mill or no I liked it and I stayed put all the way through to the end which isn't always the case with westerns from the period. (though admittedly I do prefer the films of Mack Brown who turned out consistently better films)
I give it 8 out of 10 on the program western scale. Your results may vary based upon your tolerance for these sort of things.
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