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Robert F. McGowan
"Badlands of Dakota" is one of those compact little westerns, running about an hour and a quarter, that Universal churned out in the forties. As was the case with most of them, it is filled with lots of recognizable faces. Usually the leads were up and comers or second leads from the studio's bigger budgeted features.
The story briefly, starts out with rough and tough saloon owner (Broderick Crawford) sending his seemingly meek brother (a very young Robert Stack) back east to fetch his intended bride (Ann Rutherford). On the return journey they meet Wild Bill Hickock (Richard Dix) and fall in love and marry much to Crawford's chagrin. Crawford becomes bitter and joins up with Jack McCall (Lon Chaney Jr.) and his gang after arranging to have Stack appointed town marshal. You can probably figure out the inevitable ending.
The beautiful and troubled Frances Farmer appears as "Jane" (for some reason they dropped the rather obvious "Calamity"), and gives an excellent performance as the frontier gal Crawford tries to leave behind. Along for comic relief are Hugh Herbert as the Fire Chief/bartender, Andy Devine as the mayor and Fuzzy Knight as the stagecoach driver. Riding with Chaney are the likes of Glenn Strange, Carleton Young and Richard Alexander. Addison Richards appears as Colonel Custer. Poor old Charlie King is around just long enough to be gunned down by Dix. Also,look for Kermit Maynard as a card player.
Stack does OK as the hero and Ann Rutherford fresh from the Andy Hardy series, makes an appealing heroine. Dix does what he can with a limited role, Crawford growls as usual and Chaney is good as the chief bad guy, but it is Farmer who virtually steals the picture. One can only wonder how really great she could have been.
There is plenty of action including chases, stage holdups, fights, comedy and a slam bang Indian attack of the town at the film's climax. A really entertaining little western.
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