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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
THE LOST CANYON opens with Hoppy's young sidekick Johnny Travers being
pursued by a posse. Cornered, Johnny dismounts from his horse and takes
a dive from a high rock into the swirling rapids of the river. When the
sheriff and the posse return to town we learn that Johnny was a suspect
in a bank robbery that netted $20,000.
Hoppy and California don't believe Johnny is back of the robbery, a fact confirmed when their friend reappears to a joyous reunion and describes the frame-up. Hiding Johnny in a remote safe house, Hoppy and California set to work vindicating their friend by uncovering the real criminals. The plot involves land grabbing and the rustling of pedigree cattle master-minded by evil attorney Jeff Burton.
The supporting cast add a lot to the film's success. Doug Fowley revels in the loathsomeness of his character Jeff Burton. When we meet him, he's making a joking remark that Johnny's death will save the town the cost of a trial and length of rope, which earns him a sock in the puss from Hoppy. It will be Burton's simmering hatred for Cassidy that soon drives Laura Clark to call off their engagement, which begins the unraveling of Burton's scheme to acquire Clark's ranch legally (even if unethically) by marriage. Lola Lane as Laura Clark plays her part well. Lane had previous experience as a leading lady, such as playing the title role in TORCHY BLANE IN PANAMA a few years earlier. Lane is much more dynamic and commanding an actress than many of the series' starlets.
Other standouts among the cast include Herbert Rawlinson as Rancher Clark (Rawlinson would soon be back to play Bar 20 owner Buck Peters in a couple films). Hugh Prosser as the sheriff makes the most of his small role, torn between arresting his prime suspect Johnny or trusting Hoppy's compelling demonstration of Johnny's innocence. I especially enjoyed the scene where the sheriff, sitting on his rear in the dust with his men after the cinch-loosening gag (used again in Randolph Scott's RIDING SHOTGUN), experiences an epiphany that Hoppy is right after all and so joins the fracas.
I always enjoyed the musical numbers popular in early 1940's films, so a high point of the picture for me was the barn dance scene with the Sportsmen Quartet singing "Jingle Jangle Jingle," with Thurl Ravenscroft prominently featured. (Ravenscroft went on to do voice work in many cartoons and is perhaps best known as the original voice of Tony the Tiger and the singer of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" in the Christmas classic.)
California Carlson is an able partner here and much less the clown he once was, although he certainly does provide some welcome pratfalls and laughs along the way, such as baking a batch of plaster of Paris biscuits. Along with treating California more seriously, the producers also passed on the usual subplot of the young sidekick wooing the leading lady. Johnny is understandably less interested in necking than in keeping his own from being stretched in a noose.
The climactic gunfight has a nice twist. In addition to the usual drill of good guys and bad guys dutifully ducking behind their rocks and firing at each other, the producers place Hoppy in Burton's hideout holding an increasing number of henchman at gunpoint. Meanwhile, California and Johnny, not knowing their friend is inside, are dislodging boulders uphill to roll down and crash into the cabin.
The picture closes with Hoppy's distinctive laugh and THE LOST CANYON is thus added to the canon of classic Cassidy films.
Hoppy starts out dressed all in black (a good sign), but later switches to a sports jacket (but with his regular steer clasp necktie, a bad sign). There's some good action here, but unfortunately Hoppy misses a good portion of it. During the biggest gunfight of the film, Hoppy stays in a cabin holding three baddies at bay, thereby missing all the action of the gunfight. Can someone tell me why the Sportsmen Quartette has FIVE members?! The dance sequence was repeated in a later Hoppy film. Interestingly, Hoppy answers a question about Topper (his horse) by saying "I don't know much about his past." This film is slow moving, much of the comedy misses the mark, & the film ends up being rather dull for a Hoppy movie. By the way, the film runs 59 minutes, not 69 minutes as the box claims. I rate it only 4/10.
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