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This film was a pretty entertaining film and being a B-film, it was over in under one hour. In other words, it accomplished its modest goals just fine. While this means that compared to other, A-films, the movie might seem awfully simplistic, it was simply meant as a second film on a double-bill. These second features were often made by lesser-name studios and featured lower budgets and actors/directors/writers who hadn't yet established themselves in Hollywood or couldn't make the jump to the higher-level films--hence, the name "B-Movie". For years, John Wayne did many Bs and this one is certainly better than most (such as his "Singing Sandy" and "Three Mesquiteers" films). It gets the job done and the acting, for Bs, is very good. By the way, the role of the Major was played by George Hayes--that's "Gabby" Hayes and wow does he look and sound different playing a more serious role!
The year is 1890 and Wyoming would like to be a state, but certain
lawless elements want to keep it a territory. There will be a
plebiscite to decide the issue and the outlaws are going to win this
thing by hook or crook. There's redundancy if I've ever written one.
The Lawless Nineties has John Wayne as a 'government man' one of several sent in to the territory to see the elections are run fair and square. With maybe more than a little leaning on the side of the homesteaders and small ranchers and merchants who want statehood.
There actually is some historical basis for this. In this year, the president of the United States is Republican Benjamin Harrison and he's got a Congress with his party controlling both houses. Because of that six states get admitted in his four years as president, Wyoming being one of them the others being Idaho, Montana, Washington, and North and South Dakota. The idea was very simple, the territories were Republican leaning for the most part and would furnish representation in Congress to keep his party in power.
I'm assuming that the Duke as a 'government man' was working for the Department of Justice and oddly enough the film anticipates by about thirty years the Justice Department performing just such an electoral function that they did in the South after the Voting Rights Act was passed.
It's a novel and interesting premise for a western and another thing I thought was unique was the outlaw's use of early electronic surveillance to find out what the federal government's plans were and take steps to foil them. Of course there is no radio and the use of the telephone was not common yet in the west. We're talking here about the telegraph and Wayne does figure it out.
But sad to say that The Lawless Nineties is spoiled by the use of Etta McDaniel and Fred Toone as some black stereotypes, really, really bad ones. Sadder still because there was no need to bring them in, the racial issue just wasn't germane to the plot.
It's been twenty five years since the end of the Civil War and Toone and McDaniel act like Gabby Hayes and Ann Rutherford as a father and daughter resettled from Virginia still own them. Gabby is far from the grizzled, hairy old cuss we love. He's got a handlebar mustache and a clipped goatee and speaks in cultured upper class Southern tones. Not what we normally get from Gabby.
The action is good in The Lawless Nineties and I only wish that Republic hadn't seen the need to include McDaniel and Toone in the film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
. . . as John Wayne shows us that American Law and the U.S. Constitution are not worth the paper on which they're written if one or two Rich People decide to thwart Democracy. In the LAWLESS NINETIES, fabulously wealthy crime-lord Charles K. Plummer is almost as Rich as Donald J. Trump. Plummer can hire scads of gunmen to blockade all of Wyoming's polling places, just as Trump was able to buy all the American media to spread his bizarre "Birther" nonsense, as well as to sound out all of Obama's Electoral College Enrollees to see how much it would take to switch their vote. Now Trump has bribed hundreds of FBI agents to knock off the Democratic nominee, just as Plummer has John Wayne kidnapped and marked for assassination in LAWLESS. Like the citizens of Crockett City, WY, I've heard some of my neighbors recently wondering, "If we cannot trust Rich People, on whom can we rely?" This, of course, paraphrases one of the last entries in Anne Frank's Diary (though she referred to either Germans or Christians, but may as well have written "Rich Nazis"). As young John Wayne could tell you, do NOT expect a Plummer to unclog your Trump Pump.
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