|Index||4 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a somewhat typical Bob Steele western made for low budget PRC
near the end of his career as a cowboy star. The plot is a recyclable
one about a man framed for robbery. He is released on parole to lead
the law to the missing money. This time around the sheriff arranges the
release because he half-way believes Jim Brandon (Bob Steele) innocent
so now he will have a chance to clear his name and find those guilty.
Brandon utilizes a new scientific method called ballistics to uncover
the real thieves. Since his alleged partner in crime supposedly
committed suicide, murder is also suspected by Brandon. It seems the
only true friend Brandon has with the possible exception of the sheriff
is Utah McGirk (Syd Saylor) who has been working as a cook for those
believed to be the real perpetrators to get money to keep the taxes
paid on Brandon's ranch to keep them from taking over the place. Bill
Rankin (Charles King) one of the leaders of the outlaws has to be
talked into letting Utah go because of his connections with Brandon
since Rankin contends "Good cooks are hard to find in these parts."
When the other outlaws explain the importance of getting Brandon's
ranch, Rankin reluctantly gives in, "I guess that is a little more
important than having a good cook." Other gang leaders include Bud
Osborne as Henry Carson. With baddies such as these Brandon has his
Bob Steele was noted as the finest pugilist in the B western. He was short and wiry but could take on successfully a room full of touch hombres and whip them single handedly. His fans get to see him in action more than once in "Thunder Town." No one could fight like Bob so don't miss it.
Syd Saylor made a good sidekick for Bob, but not necessarily a funny one. Bob was at times funnier than Saylor. When he and Utah (Saylor) are being held against their will some dude sings and yodels. Bob enjoins, "It's bad enough that we have to be tied up. Do we have to listen to that too?" Utah attempts a witticism, "I used to yodel till I swallowed my tobacco."
Bob sports a mustache in this outing. It doesn't help his appearance. Thankfully he abandoned the facial hair look. It was also poor timing. With Hitler defeated the public was leery of anyone with lip hair. Not cool for cowboys. I read that Bob grew the mustache for a picture he hoped to make for a Warner's film. Bob was also dressed in a drab funky outfit at the first of "Thunder Town." He dons his true duds later which greatly improves his visage.
Pretty Ellen Hall is around to add romance as Betty Morgan who inherits a ranch that borders Brandon's when she comes of age. Her guardian happens to be none other than Bill Rankin who is virtually holding her hostage and trying to force her to marry his brother, a tall ornery galoot named Dunc, the name alone indicates bad news. Thus the bad guys will have her ranch too. So a subplot has Bob rescuing a damsel in distress.
All in all this shoot-'em-up should be pleasing to Bob's fans and a good introduction for those wanting to see him in action.
Parolee Jim Brandon (Bob Steele) arrives back in town to acquit himself
of the robbery he was convicted of a year earlier. Steele with the aid
of "new-fangled" ballistics technology tries to prove he was framed by
town thugs Bill & Dunc Rankin, Chuck Wilson and Henry Carson (Charles
King, Edward Howard, Bud Geary, Bud Osborne). Unfortunately, Bob as a
convicted felon can't wear his six-gun and is forced to use his wits to
to out maneuver his opponents, along with the help of his old friend
Utah McGirk (Syd Saylor) and his girl Betty Morgan (Ellen Hall),.
This movie is Bob Steele's last leading role. Steele already looking a bit older in this one, sports a Boston Blackie Mustache which adds to the aging affect and makes him appear a bit too old to be the love interest of the youngish looking Ellen Hall. As with most PRC films (often referred to as an acronym for "Produced Really Cheap") the studio bean counters must have been pleased. Nobody expects Shakespeare but Steele, who actually was a pretty decent actor, couldn't do much to make this script sound good. As usual PRC tried to save a few bucks on sound and lighting. To be fair the soundtrack doesn't seem as tinny as a lot of the other PRC films I've watched. Even though the production standards aren't high, the action is. Since Steele, a parolee, can't wear a gun, he must use other means to deal with his enemies. In this case it's usually fists first, questions later, as Steele pummels every bad guy in sight.
Thunder Town was Bob Steele's last leading role as a Saddle Hero. While it wasn't a great send-off for Steele, he continued on in a variety of supporting and character parts for nearly thirty more years. Another generation would come to remember him as " Trooper Duffy" on the television series F troop.
Just an OK B-Western
Not among Steele's best. I agree with reviewer HenchmanSteele looks a
little old and haggard here. Maybe that's why we get so few close-ups.
And that's too bad, because the compact cowboy had one of the best
hard-eyed stares in the business. Those pale blue eyes under a bushy
brow could drill holes through walls. I expect that was one reason he
was cast in A-pictures like The Big Sleep (1945) and The Enforcer
(1951), where he made genuinely scary bad guys. Indeed, he could do
those as well as tough good guysquite a tribute to an actor who stood
Anyway, PRC was about the bottom of the barrel in production values and that's about what we get hereLA area scrublands, cheap sets, and a lot of standing around talking. There's some athletic fisticuffs (Steele's specialty), but not much hard riding or gunplay. What the movie does have are some of the best veterans in the businessrotund bad guy Charles King (Rankin), along with two of Hollywood's top stuntmen Bud Geary (Wilson) and Bud Osborne (Carson). Also, Ellen Hall makes a lively and attractive love interest. Too bad she left the business early. One oddity to watch fortwo sets of bad guys. Maybe PRC thought that would make up for some of the cost cutting. Anyhow, for this former Front Row kid, many of my best matinée days were spent with these oaters, cheap or not.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
On parole after serving a year in jail for robbery, Bob Steele returns
home only to get the cold shoulder from almost everyone around. He's
got a few backers, like Sheriff Matt Wagner (Steve Clark) who put in a
good word for his parole, and sidekick Utah McGirk (Syd Saylor), now a
cook for the outlaws that Jim Brandon (Steele) intends to investigate
for framing him in the first place.
The interesting hook in the story is Brandon's reliance on the new science of ballistics to prove that the gun used in the death of his former partner belonged to one of the bad guys. I found it unusual that the sheriff would simply turn over the murder bullet to Brandon; no chance that he would switch the slug or tamper with it in any way, right? But since he did, watch as Brandon places the bullet in his left shirt pocket before he leaves the sheriff's office. Shortly after he rides out of town and is stopped by three of the bad guys, the shirt he's wearing has no pockets! (No wonder they couldn't find the bullet!) The same thing happens later in the story at Rankin's place - first no pocket, then after the fist fight, Brandon's shirt has pockets again! And I thought these cheapo filming budgets didn't allow time for wardrobe changes!
That's just one of the fun things to keep an eye out for in "Thunder Town". Already close to forty years old, Steele looks like he's trying to maintain an athletic youthfulness with a running leap onto his horse following another tussle with the baddies. Then how about that brawl with Dunc Rankin near the end of the story. Rankin goes backwards over a table and off to the side, allowing Steele to make a somersault leap over the same table and onto the floor. He wasn't trying to nail Rankin at first because he had to get up again to continue the fight. There didn't seem to be any other reason for the maneuver than to go for the theatrics.
Here's one more - the newspaper that Bill Rankin (Charles King) reads early in the picture has the front page headline - "Texas Legislature Legalizes Banks". I wonder if they were illegal before then.
Besides Charles King, you've got a passel of era character actors in the lineup, including Bud Geary, Bud Osborne and Jimmy Aubrey. Funny, but it seemed to me that Steele's character looked more like a villain than any of the outlaw bunch - the mustache didn't help in that regard. At least pretty Betty Morgan (Ellen Hall) could see through the gruff exterior, as she provides the romantic interest for Jim Brandon in the story. I don't think I've ever seen a female lead in an oater actually wear a wedding dress before.
By the way, Bob Steele rode a variety of horses throughout his 'B' Western days. The one here is named Coco - distinctive for his blonde mane and tail. Coco was a mainstay during Steele's run at PRC, including this, his last starring feature film. Not to worry, Steele went on to appear in dozens of additional Western flicks, including a bunch of TV Westerns where you'll see him pop up from time to time on any number of great shows.
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