Ken Mitchell arrives to take possession of a ranch left to him by his Uncle Jim. He meets and falls in love with Ann Markham, whose father has been killed by gunmen of rancher Collins, who schemes to gain possession of all the surrounding ranches by foreclosing on their mortgages. Ken is distrusted as his Uncle was unpopular with the local ranchers. Knowing who killed Markham, Ken disguises himself as a masked rider and interrupts Collins' plots continually. As himself, he pretends to go along with the Collins plot to drive a herd of cattle over certain lands, ruining the pastures and, as the masked rider, he visits the ranchers to give them the money needed to pay of their mortgages Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
What are you doin' around here?
Tracin' a 32-20 rifle. I'd like to shake hands with the man who killed Markham. 32-20s do a nice neat job.
Oh, yeah? The Mitchells are awful smart.
Think I don't know the crack of a 32-20 when I hear it?
I'll say you don't. I use a 30-30!
[pulls out a 30-30 slug from his shirt pocket]
Thanks for admittin' it.
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Ken Maynard could still act, but his glory days were definitely over.
Ken Maynard was 44 when Phantom Rancher was released in March, 1940. (The copyright date in the film is 1939.) His physical appearance was still strong and that of a classic western movie hero, although older and slightly heavier. In Phantom Rancher we see Ken Maynard on screen almost the entire time. His acting was top notch as it should have been. Unfortunately, Maynard's career in films was coming to an end as he worked himself down from the bigger movie studios to Colony Pictures for this movie. The once great Ken Maynard was making poorly put together movies while Gene Autry and Roy Rogers were the kings of the western genre.
The problem with this movie is the "phantom rancher" idea itself. No one can recognize the phantom as Ken Mitchell. He wears a simple mask and a cape, speaks with the same voice, and rides the same horse. Collins, the villain, is face to face with the phantom and never gets it. If there is a first rule of B westerns, it has to be "don't count the shots coming out of a six-gun." The same thing applies to the plot of this movie. You really have to be willing to let the story unfold unquestioned because the whole mask thing does not work in this movie. It is a major part of the plot, so you have to take it or quit watching.
Ken Maynard was known for his riding skills, but we do not really see any trick riding in Phantom Rancher. There is a great scene that has Ken as the phantom riding back to his ranch to avoid being caught, and as Tarzan gallops at full speed he takes the bridle and saddle off. Ken jumps off with the saddle and Tarzan jumps into his corral. This looks like something Ken Maynard would have done years before, but the scene is carefully edited to give that appearance. I suspect it was a good stunt double. The scene is short, but it is the kind of thing that makes B western heroes larger than life.
Dave O'Brien played many different types of roles in his career, and I am used to thinking of him in the Texas Rangers series. In Phantom Rancher he plays the part of the lead henchman. His character is the only one to suspect that Ken Mitchell is really the phantom rancher.
The Republic Lone Ranger serials, The Lone Ranger and The Lone Ranger Rides Again, came out in 1938 and 1939. Equity's The Adventures of the Masked Phantom, starring Monte Rawlins, came out in 1939. I wonder if there was a rush by the smaller studios to cash in on the "masked hero" franchise of the Lone Ranger that Republic appeared to have locked up. Columbia would later do the Durango Kid series, with Charles Starrett using a bandanna for a mask.
Some of the later movies in that series were a bit hard to believe.
Phantom Rancher is good and not good. Ken Maynard is wonderful in this movie. The gimmicky plot is the weakness. I do not want to discourage anyone from seeing this movie, but it is better not to expect much and be pleasantly surprised rather than to expect a great movie and be disappointed.
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