Promoted and advertised as "The Million Dollar Serial", most of which appears to have been spent on advertising and the most elaborate pressbook ever put out by Universal on a serial (or ... See full summary »
Promoted and advertised as "The Million Dollar Serial", most of which appears to have been spent on advertising and the most elaborate pressbook ever put out by Universal on a serial (or 95% of their feature films for that matter), Universal's 51st sound-era serial (following "Sky Raiders" and before "Sea Raiders" and, to quote the late Oliver Drake who wrote the original story,..."we were lucky they didn't call it 'Land Raiders'), "Riders of Death Valley" remains a favorite for the 7-12 year-old kids who saw in on original release in 1941, and a major disappointment for those who came later and never saw it in the 35mm version shown on a screen in a 350-seat grind-house theatre, and now question what all the excitement was about. Hey, you had to have been there. Actually, it is just one long prolonged chase after another for the most part and, even worse, it is usually the 5-6 good guys running from 2-3 of the bad guys (which even had eight-year-old kids of 1941 wondering what's up ... Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Universal reportedly budgeted one million dollars for "Riders of Death Valley" a sum unheard of in "B" movie circles. It has more of everything..a large cast, extensive location shots, lots of action, plenty of chases and shootouts etc. In spite of the grand scale, there are also plenty of the usual "B" movie cliches. There are obvious stock footage shots used, nobody can hit the broadside of a barn (on both sides of the law) and... well there's just too much overkill in trying to raise this serial above the norm.
The plot is simple. The "Riders" of the title are a group of riders protecting local miners from the bad guys. Heading up the riders are Jim Benton and his pal Tombstone (Dick Foran, Buck Jones). Opposing them are Wolf Reade (Charles Bickford) and his "wolf pack" backed up by "respectable town citizens" Kirby and Davis (James Blaine, Monte Blue). Benton acquires joint ownership in the "Lost Aztec Mine" with heroine Mary (Jeanne Kelly) and the rest of the story concerns their efforts to hold on to their property.
Dick Foran who appears to do most of his own action scenes, makes a likeable hero in the lead. The legendary Buck Jones, who had been around westerns since 1918, was about to re-start his career after this one in the "Rough Rider" series just prior to his tragic death in 1942. Jones, getting along in years, is visibly doubled (by Rod Cameron I'm told) in virtually all of his action and riding scenes.
Rounding out the "Riders" are Leo Carillo playing virtually the same character, Pancho that he would portray in the "Cisco Kid" series, Guinn "Big Boy" Williams as "Borax", Glenn Strange as "Tex" and Noah Berry Jr. as "Smokey", a character we hardly ever see. Veteran Edmund Cobb plays the mine foreman who can't seem to keep the baddies locked up.
On the wrong side of the law, this serial was elevated a notch by the casting of Bickford (in black hat and mustache) as the chief villain. As far as I know, this was his only "B" western. His "Wolf Pack" includes such luminaries as Lon Chaney Jr. (wasted again), Roy Barcroft and Dick Alexander.
All in all though, "Riders of Death Valley" is one of the better western serials of the period, although Republic Pictures probably could have done it better with less.
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