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Born in 1933, I began watching B westerns frequently in 1941, and therefore missed most of the Hoppy westerns when they were at their best. Because Rustlers' Valley (1937) is not as long and complex as several that preceded it, connoisseurs should not be blamed for giving it middling reviews, but compared to most mass-produced westerns of the 1930s it is still quite good, if not among the very best. It is a pleasure to correct an otherwise fine review in this list: the name of the tree-lined town may be inferred from two signs: Griggs Valley General Store and Griggs Valley State Bank. Trees also abound in the scenery through which the good guys and bad guys gallop and the cattle, so prominent in these early Hoppy movies, move along. Lucky, a fugitive from the law through most of this story, has no opportunity to flirt with the only pretty girl in the cast, but, as in some of these early flicks, Hoppy does. She is unusually cheerful, even when it appears someone is trying to kill her.
"Rustler's Valley" is a routine entry in the long running Hopalong Cassidy
series produced by Harry "Pop" Sherman. There's little action save for the
finale and no fights to speak of.
It does have a couple of interesting footnotes though. First Stephen Morris (aka Morris Ankrum), a regular villain in the early entries in the series, plays a good guy for a change...the heroine's father. Second, Lee Colt who plays the chief villain, became better known as Lee J. Cobb and enjoyed a long and distinguished career.
The story has crooked lawyer Cal Howard (Cobb) and his cronies trying to force rancher Randall (Morris) and daughter Agnes (Muriel Evans) off their ranch. Hoppy (William Boyd), Lucky (Russell Hayden) and Windy (George "Gabby" Hayes) come to their aid.
Curiously enough, Hoppy hires on as Randall's foreman. There is no mention of the Bar 20 (Hoppy's home base)whatsoever in the picture. Hayes had now developed his "Gabby" character although he is called Windy in this series. He continued to be billed as George Hayes until he moved over to Republic to co-star with Roy Rogers.
Rustler's Valley finds Hopalong Cassidy trying to help his young friend
Lucky Jenkins out of a real jackpot. The young man has been accused of
a bank robbery and evidence planted at the bank against him.
The villains are the usual, a banker, a crooked ranch foreman, and a shyster lawyer all conspiring to get a hold of Morris Ankrum's ranch. The lawyer has his own plans, he's going to marry Ankrum's daughter Muriel Evens.
Ankrum this early in his career is billed as Stephen Morris. But our lawyer is played by none other than Lee J. Cobb, billed here with the traditional western sounding name of Lee Colt. Under any name Cobb is a nasty and crafty villain who has a real mean on for Hoppy.
There's a real nice shootout between the outlaws and Ankrum's men. And Russell Hayden and Gabby Hayes find a really unique way to bring a sudden halt to the shootout.
Hoppy's fans should be pleased like I was.
Pleasant Hopalong Cassidy outing. The basic story is about Cal Howard
(played by Lee J Cobb), who has learned that Congress has approved an
irrigation project in the area, a key part of which is the Randall
ranch. To acquire the ranch, first he gets engaged to the owner's
daughter, then when that falls through he convinces the local banker to
call in a Randall note on some prize cattle, and finally he has his men
rustle the cattle further trying to ruin Randall. In between all this,
Howard also has the local bank robbed.
What I liked about the movie is it's mysterious leisurely start. The first thing we see in the movie is about a dozen horsemen chasing someone through nice usual Hoppy movie scenery. We don't know who or why. Then we see that the horseman being chased is Lucky Jenkins, Hoppy's sidekick, who is forced to leap off a cliff into the river below, perhaps to his death. Back in town Hoppy learns that Lucky is accused of robbing the bank. Then we meet the other characters at a square dance party. Finally the plot develops bit by bit.
Things I noticed:
I was satisfied with the action, mainly the chase at the start and a wonderful shootout at the end at the outlaws' hideout, highlighted by Lucky and Windy dislodging huge boulders to roll down on the bad guys' cabin.
I am always annoyed by this staple of Hoppy movies: some weird, persistent, obnoxious woman is always romantically pursuing Hoppy's old comic sidekick.
It seemed so unlikely that the heroine (Randall's daughter) would ever become engaged to rude Lee J Cobb.
A minor complaint: it seemed silly and unrealistic to me that the posse on horseback chasing Lucky would be holding onto their pistols as they were riding, when they were so far from Lucky they could never successfully fire a shot.
There's an exciting opening sequence where Lucky is chased by a posse & jumps off a steep cliff with his horse into a river. The heroine ("Agnes," played by Muriel Evans) looks like a cross between Claudette Colbert & Loretta Young (I guess this was a popular look in 1937), but isn't as pretty as either. Agnes & Hoppy have a conversation about his horse (oddly, Hoppy says "I don't know much about his past"), whose name is not mentioned (& later, "I shouldn't have let you ride that white horse"). Which makes me wonder, what was the first time Topper was called by name? I'll bet that other horse owners would be able to say more about their horses, like Tarzan, Duke, Trigger, Buttercup, Champion, etc. Often in Hoppy films, the name of the town is made known, but not in this case, & that's a shame also, because this film's set in one of the more unusual western towns, a town with a tree lined dirt main street, where there are no hitching posts, but the horses are tied to metal rings set in the trees. Question for old west historians: is this detail realistic or complete fantasy? A good film & mildly interesting, but a little slow. I rate it 6/10.
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