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Dare Rudd and Dinkey Hooley, roaming cowhands, drift into Montana, where they meet Dare's cousin, Tom Fillmore, cattleman and banker. Tom offers them jobs but they pass, until Dare sees Tom's sweetheart, Judy Worstall and decides to take the job. He is put in charge of a cattle drive, replacing ranch-foreman Lynn Hardy, who is in cahoots with Bart Hammond, rustler. Dare delivers the cattle to the railhead and is about to return when he is persuaded into a poker game by Buck Brady, a crooked gambler. Dare is almost cleaned out when Tom appears and takes a hand and discovers the dealer is switching decks. Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I am giving this film ten stars, not because it is a great film (although it is one of the best of its type), but because it is a remarkably important transitional film for one of the real originals of American cinema, John Wayne.
This is one of the last of the many 'Saturday matinée' potboilers Wayne acted in for a half-dozen marginal studios during the 1930s; two years later, Ford would give him the big break of his career in "Stagecoach".
Unlike the other potboilers he appeared in, "Hell Town" (aka "Born to the West", although I have never seen a print with that title on it) is well-written, well-directed, nicely photographed, and well-acted by all involved (but especially Johnny 'Mack' Brown) - surprising quality for a cheapie, but I suppose the fact the story it derived from had been written by Zane Grey - already a legendary Western writer - probably impressed cast and crew to make a best-effort presentation here. At any rate, the film, under 55 minutes long, has the look and feel of a feature-length Western of the time, and it survives far better than any other of the Western shorts of the period.
The story is solid, with relatively serious overtones concerning the possibility of redemption. Wayne's character, a gambling addict, is rightly transformed when he discovers that his cousin is a better gambler than he is, but just prefers not to gamble.
Wayne himself is in top-form for the period. All the little gimmicks and gestures we associate with him are here in a way never seen in any film of his before this - his cautious smile, his frown, his ability to strike a pose leaning his weight on one leg, his soft but firm voice of warning, his ability to face a tough situation with grace and even, one must admit, an oddly noble humility. This is no longer the "Singing Mesquiteer" of the earlier potboilders, this is finally the Duke, who would star in "Stagecoach" and lead an army of fans (including myself) through film after film for four more decades.
This is where the filmography of John 'Duke' Wayne rightfully begins - a film that has survived well, and may yet survive a few decades more.
(Note: in another film made the previous year, Winds of the Wasteland, Wayne can also be seen coming into his own as an actor; but this is the better film.)
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