This film finds Ken Baxter and his two pals, Pancho and Panhandle, finding Professor Wahl, injured and wandering on the range. They take him to Blue Mesa Trading Post, where two archaeologists, Dr. Floto and Baron Starkoff, foreign government representatives, are staying. Both want to secure control of a supply of helium gas found in an ancient Indian cave. Wahl, working for the Federal Government, is murder at the Blue Mesa. The land strip on which the cave is located is claimed by Letty and Jim Morgan, brother and sister owners of the Lazy Y Ranch. Tin Cup Ranch owner Joe Larkin hires Ken to take possession of a cabin on the Morgan land in order to gain title. Ken, an undercover G-Man, discovers a secret passageway from the cabin that leads to the cave and discovers the helium, and also that Larkin is working with Starkoff. Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"Death Rides the Range" is a routine Poverty Row quickie starring the aging Ken Maynard and his horse Tarzan. In an effort to prop up the story, Maynard is given two sidekicks, Panhandle (Ralph Peters) and Pancho (Julian Rivero) who provide some of the best moments in the film. It didn't hurt either to have veteran bad guy Charlie King cast as one of the villains.
The story has a thinly disguised WWII plot wherein unknown villains are trying to steal helium gas (for dirigibles) found in a secret cave on the Morgan Ranch. Along comes Ken Baxter (Maynard) and his two pals looking for work. They come across an injured archaeologist Dr. Wahl (Michael Vallon) and bring him to the ranch of cantankerous old Hiram Crabtree (John Elliott). There we meet Wahl's other two partners Baron Stakoff (Sven Hugo Borg) and Dr. Flotow (William Costello). Wahl mutters something about finding a lost cave but is murdered by an unknown assailant before he can reveal more.
Next we meet rancher Joe Larkin (King) who is engaged in a dispute over a strip of land upon which sits (you guessed it) the hidden cave is located. The other party in the dispute are the Morgans, Lettie (Fay McKenzie) and Jim (Julian Madison). Naturally Ken has an eye for the comely Lettie. It turns out that Larkin is in cahoots with the archaeologists. Soon Dr. Flotow is eliminated and Ken closes in on the bad guys.
Although the need for helium for dirigibles was a little dated by 1940 this film has an obvious ruthless "foreign" villain, a thinly disguised German, interesting for a "B" western since the U.S. had not yet entered WWII.
Ken Maynard had been a major star in the 1920's famous for his trick riding and daring subnetwork. Unfortunately he had a few too many personal demons and his career steadily declined during the 1930s. This film is from his final solo starring series. He would re-surface briefly over weight and as nasty as ever in the 40s in Monogram's "Trail Blazer" with Hoot Gibson and Bob Steele. After that he basically "retired" from the screen.
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