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This western starring Beery and Taylor as rivals is one cackling western. It involves the kidnapping and reselling of free slaves. Set in 1812 in the North and a town of abolitionists, the crimes needs to be solved. Beery has a need to solve the crimes because it implicates. Taylor, a sympathetic Southerner has his reasons too. Together they bicker, fight and join forces to save the slaves and bring justice to the criminals. Written by
Cynical Southern gentleman Blake Cantrell (Robert Taylor) is forced to sell his plantation and seek employment with a stagecoach company run by Captain Starkey (Wallace Beery) and owned by lovely Susan (Florence Rice). But is the company actually illegally transporting slaves? And can a leopard, the cavalier Blake, actually change its spots?
I didn't expect much from this movie, and was thoroughly and positively surprised by the sharp writing and ebullient acting, and contrary to many A-movies of its day its aim is no way an aesthetic 'arty' one. Made in 1939, this movie addresses all sorts of controversial issues, and they have a way of taking you by surprise along the way. The movie is really about abolitionism and treats its subject with remarkable subtlety, although why and how the lynch-mob, the one that we encounter in the last third of the film, goes after white man Starkey is never made quite clear. Cantrell's gradual moral reform is well-explained and plausible, not least because of Taylor's warmth and humanity in the part. Yes, he is handsome, but here it is almost besides the point. Wallace Beery has a field day with the larger-than-life captain, very cleverly balancing on the edge of buffoonery but with plenty of edge and ambiguity.
See it, it makes a deep impression.
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