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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie has long been thought lost. Recently WB Archives released a
pristine print on their DVD-R series. Lost films which turn up years
later are often disappointments. This little B oater is a welcome
Whip Wilson was one of the last of the series B stars, and, frankly, one of the more forgettable. He was wooden, and seems limited to one facial expression. He was also unathletic, pudgy, with a prominent overhanging belly. He is awkward in his fight scenes, has trouble running, and doesn't seem all that comfortable on a horse. His bull-whip affectation was an obvious copy of the more charismatic Lash LaRue. His lone acting asset was a strong voice and the ability to deliver a simple line here or there with conviction.
Despite Whip's limitations, his six movies on the WB Monogram Cowboy Collection, volume 2, are a good bunch, thanks to solid writing and supporting casts. MONTANA INCIDENT is the best of them.
Whip has a co-hero in this one, former Hoppy sidekick Rand Brooks. Brooks was not an imposing western hero type himself, but he was likable and a good actor. He props up Whip in several dialogue scenes, and handles the romantic subplot with Noel Neill easily, as one would expect from an actor who once had on-screen romantic entanglements with Vivien Leigh and Marilyn Monroe.
The unusual plot has Wilson and Brooks railroad surveyors mapping a spur line which would tie an isolated town to big city markets. Most of the citizens are ecstatic at the news a railroad will be built. In a plot twist with echoes of King Lear, the town and valley are owned and controlled by one very rich rancher. The old rancher has retired to his ranch and allows his older daughter to run his many businesses. This older daughter is described by another female character as "the meanest, grabbyist woman in shoe leather," and more than lives up to her billing. In cahoots with a crooked banker, she is bleeding the poor folks of the valley dry, siphoning off her father's money into her own account, and she will stop at nothing, including mass murder, to keep the gravy coming in for another couple of years. Her honest younger sister warns the old man about her, but he obtusely trusts his first born.
The writing shows good research. It is revealed that most of the land in the valley is owned by the government and the rancher only leases it. The railroad is coming through as a government policy and nothing or no one can stop it in the long run. The "meanest, grabbyist woman in shoe leather" can only delay it, first by bribing Wilson and Brooks to recommend the spur be built a hundred miles away, and when that fails, by plotting an ambush to slaughter the surveyors and their entire crew.
The supporting cast is excellent for a low-budget effort. The characters are well-drawn, some beyond the usual all-good or all-bad stereotypes. Hugh Prosser as the old rancher seems at times a nice fellow, if totally under the thumb of his oldest daughter, but at other times he seems willing to go along with killings, as long as they are done fairly, face to face, in the old west manner. It is not altogether clear until the end if banker Bruce Edwards is in it for the money or has genuine feelings for the older sister.
Best of all are the two sisters. Noel Neill is charming as the good Frances, frustrated by her father's obtuseness. Peggy Stewart plays the ruthless Clara to the hilt, relishing such lines as "there will be no one left alive to talk" when warned by Edwards that the government will investigate. And both women look great in their tight riding pants.
All in all, if you are a B western fan, check this one out.
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