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The Pony Express days are coming to an end, with riders John Blair (John Wayne) and his friend Larry Adams (Lane Chandler), both about 75 pounds too heavy for the original job description, out of a job. They pay Cal Drake (Douglas Cosgrove) of Buchanan City a big price for the Crescent City line and equipment, and arrive there to find it is a ghost mining town and has only two residents: eccentric, self-proclaimed Mayor "Rocky" O'Brien (Lew Kelly) and Dr. William Forsythe (Sam Flint). With the arrival from back east of Barbara Forsythe (Phyllis Fraser), the doctor's daughter and Ginger Rogers lookalike, O'Brien happily changes the blackboard population sign from two to five. John determines to get even and operate the line anyway, after vacating a resident skunk from the stagecoach. On his first run into Buchanan City John learns of a coach race to be staged (fastest team to win a $25,000 government mail contract) and he signs up. A telegraph crew, drinking unknowingly of a poisoned ...Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In the final stage of the race, the long shots of the Crescent City coach show a driver with a light coloured vest wielding a whip in his right hand. The close shots show John Blair (John Wayne) wearing a dark coloured vest and with both hands holding reins. See more »
Also available in a computer colorized version. See more »
John Wayne B-movie path to stardom is clearly on the ascendant in this amiable, non-formulaic outing, thanks to fine support from Lane Chandler and the Republic Pictures team.
John Blair (Wayne) and fellow Pony Express veteran Larry Adams (Chandler) are sold a bum stage route to ghost town Crescent City by the conniving tycoon of neighboring Buchanan, Cal Drake (Douglas Cosgrove). Drake later admits the deal was "a lemon," yet Blair and Adams count on capitalist know-how and their handiness with fist and gun to turn the tables on the crooked Drake.
As reviewer John W Chance rightly notes, this is another of those B- movie Waynes where the title makes no sense. Later it was retitled "Stagecoach Run," which is more on the mark as well as suggestive of Wayne's big breakthrough in "Stagecoach" three years away. "Winds Of The Wasteland" is more concerned with the business of stage travel than that later western, and this focus provides "Winds" with much of its interest.
The light comedic tone of the film is established early on, when Blair and Adams ride into Crescent City for the first time, shooting their guns into the air and expecting a hearty welcome from the healthy population Drake informed them reside there.
"Thirty-five hundred people don't make much noise," Blair notes as the gunsmoke blows through an empty street.
"Maybe they're out on a picnic," Adams suggests.
"Or just out," Blair responds.
In fact, there are only two residents of Crescent City, a demoralized doctor (Sam Flint) and an eccentric coot (Lew Kelly) in the Gabby Hayes mold who styles himself mayor and pretty much everything else. In time, Blair and Adams set to making Crescent City a bustling hub of activity, which draws the deadly ire of Drake and his nefarious crew.
A dedication in the beginning of the film memorializes the telegraph-line builders "who gave their lives to bring the thin strands of communication across the trackless wastes of the great American Desert." In fact, a plot point involves Blair using his gun to help these telegraph men, though hardly in the way you might expect. Nothing plays out exactly how you expect it to. Gunplay is kept at a minimum as Blair outfoxes his adversaries more with banter and wit. Wayne is in terrific early form here, showcasing his amiable side but hard when he needs to be.
"I didn't know school let out so early," he jibes one of Drake's henchmen.
While entertaining, "Winds" has its share of story ellipses and contrivances. A medical crisis involving Adams is too speedily handled, as is a late-blooming romance between Blair and the doctor's daughter (Phyllis Fraser, Ginger Rogers' cousin). It definitely compresses a lot of story development to fit its hour- long frame.
But the film moves well, culminating in an exciting stagecoach race between Blair and Drake that emphasizes character over gunplay. Though only a step or two above the Poverty Row westerns Wayne did earlier in the 1930s in terms of production values, the acting and story are both markedly superior. So is the direction of Mack V. Wright, who worked with Wayne before and knew how to use his star's burgeoning reactive acting talents to fine effect. If not quite a sleeper, this is a solid charmer worth your time.
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