The Marshal of Mesa City (1939) Poster

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Good cast + literate script + creative direction = six gun enjoyment
King_man18 June 2003
A low budget movie about a corrupt sheriff, a pretty school marm, and a drafted marshal is a likely recipe for the routine. MOMC not only avoids the routine but also raises itself above many "A" westerns of the 40's and 50's. The four principals are all excellent and bring life to their characters. Ames is convincingly detestable as the scheming suitor who can't understand "no", all the while maintaining his private gang of hoods. Vale, the co-star of a number of O'Brien westerns, has an appealing vivacity and makes one understand why Ames is infatuated. Henry Brandon has an interesting role as Duke Allison, a gunfighter brought in to handle O'Brien. His entrance in a saloon is a standout. Another nice moment is when he "turns in" his gun to O'Brien. If you look closely, you'll see he isn't completely comfortable handling his six-shooters but this is a minor quibble and doesn't detract from his performance. George O'Brien brings an easy going confidence to his role as an ex-marshal just trying to get on with his life. He's not non-violent in the Destry mold but he doesn't seek confrontation as many "B" western marshals would. I don't know how real western marshals acted but I would expect some would act with the quiet, low key manner of O'Brien's. Much of the credit for the standout moments in this movie go to the writers including the uncredited Academy Award winning writer Dudley Nichols. The script clearly is a cut or two above most movies of this ilk. A good cast and script can only go so far, however, without a director equal to them. As Howard proves, one doesn't need a big budget when provided good ingredients and recipe. He gets the most out of the characters and makes them real people, people with personalities you believe. The climactic showdown in the smoke is an inspired scene that brings a close to this worthy movie.

This isn't the greatest western ever or even a great western. It won't replace Josey Wales in my video library and people won't be comparing it to High Noon. What it is is an excellent example of how much can be accomplished on a low budget with second tier, but not second rate, actors. It is a fine little western, better than many Randolph Scott oaters, and well worth a look.
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Excellent cast headed by the superlative George O'Brien
Michael Morrison25 September 2012
Turner Classic Movies made a recent Monday morning memorable by presenting this little-known (in fact, unknown to me) gem.

First, the cast was one of the most impressive ever found in a B western, including as a bad guy the excellent Leon Ames. Mr. Ames, suave and debonair and very citified in so many films, was just about perfect as a corrupt sheriff.

His henchmen, not necessarily big names, were all huge in talent and were absolutely delightful to watch. Hmmm, "delightful" might be misleading: I don't mean they were fun, because they were, after all, bad guys, but I do mean they were such great cowboy villains that it was a real treat to see them getting an opportunity to perform in a high-class western.

George O'Brien was actually not very tall, despite a reference to that effect by the leading lady, the more than lovely Virginia Vale. But he was very manly and had a great physique, looking like a weight-lifter, and he could move gracefully and handle his fight scenes well.

In scenes where he attempted to intimidate bad guys without using his weapons, he was, therefore, very believable.

One very surprising actor, one I didn't, I blush to admit, recognize (and I used to see him at Sons of the Desert meetings when I lived in Los Angeles), was the great Henry Brandon in an unusual role.

Naturally, being Henry Brandon, he was winning and likable, and also very believable.

Western fans will love this; classic movie fans will love this; movie history buffs will love this. I know I did.
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Systemic corruption in a western town
bkoganbing24 September 2012
George O'Brien stars in The Marshal Of Mesa City as a Wyatt Earp type figure who is drafted reluctantly to cleaning up said town by the good citizens. The Doc Holiday of the film is Henry Brandon who plays a notorious gunslinger who aligns himself with O'Brien.

The corruption is systemic in Mesa City, the actual leader of the outlaws is sheriff Leon Ames, he's the county sheriff and O'Brien is the town marshal, just like John Behan and Virgil Earp in real life. Ames is a pretty shrewd villain and he's got quite a few tricks up his sleeve. He's also got a Snidely Whiplash like interest in the town school teacher Virginia Vale. That alone puts him in direct conflict with O'Brien.

Playing a nice role is the screen's greatest mother figure of the time Mary Gordon who runs the boarding house where Vale lives and who does her best to get O'Brien and Vale together. It seemed like Gordon who is known mostly for being Mrs. Hudson in the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes mysteries was everyone's dear little Irish mother on screen though she came from Scotland. She's quite the little cupid here.

The Marshal Of Mesa City is a nice no frills B western from RKO that holds up a lot better than some of the singing cowboys of the day in terms of structure and plot.
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O'Brien Near the End of His Glory Days, But Still Kicking Back!
JohnHowardReid18 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
George O'Brien has put on a bit of weight since his glory days in "The Iron Horse" (1924) and "Lone Star Ranger" (1929), but he still makes an effective hero here -- even if he is forced to enlist the aid of smooth gunslinger Henry Brandon who almost steals the movie from him. Mind you, Leon Ames casts aside his usual father figure roles and he too has a fine time here as the villain, easily outwitting the good guys at every opportunity until... It's also good to see Harry Cording in an unusually meaty role. Virginia Vale makes a charming heroine, and all movie lovers will enjoy seeing Mary Gordon doing her usual stint as the garrulous landlady. Slim Whitaker is also hard to beat. Director David Howard has staged the movie at a nice, brisk pace, with his usual "A"-feature competence. All the action material is breathtakingly well staged, and the fiery climax is a real stunner! Available on an excellent Warner Archive DVD.
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Sheriff vs. Marshal
dougdoepke5 June 2013
It's a better 60-minutes than average horse opera. I like the way the plot involves dueling lawmen, one a county sheriff (Ames), the other a town marshal (O'Brien). Also, the judge and town mayor are on different sides. So it's not just good guys versus bad; it's one town faction versus another. Of course, O'Brien's faction are the good guys while Ames' are crooked as the proverbial dog's hind leg.

At first, I thought RKO might be trying to pair up Brandon (Duke) with O'Brien for a series like the Three Mesquiteers, but that's not the way things turn out. The oater's also notable for including Leon Ames who later went on to an A-movie stint with MGM and a lengthy TV career, usually as an amiable father. Though getting close to middle-age (40), O'Brien looks like one of the physically strongest of the cowboy heroes, with biceps like proverbial ham-hocks. Anyway, it's a generally well done little matinée special that manages to avoid many clichés of its type.
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