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Joseph Kane called "Action!" and never said "Cut!"
2 August 2015
All you need to know: If you have to pick a single movie to introduce someone to B westerns, Bad Man of Deadwood is a good choice.

Bad Man of Deadwood starts off with Roy, Gabby, and the always likable Sally Payne putting on a show with Roy singing a song. They meet the bad guys soon into the story and Roy is shooting it out with the bad guys for the rest of the movie in one gun fight after another. Each shootout fits into the story. Nothing is wasted.

Roy Rogers was a big star, and his movies got extra attention. Bad Man of Deadwood has the look of the perfect cowboy movie in the way scenes are set up and edited together. This one never slows down, hits a lull, or has any filler.
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Quick Comedy Drill
31 October 2011
Dental Follies is short on plot as it really is more of a showcase of contemporary singing, dancing, and comedy talent than an actual story. As competing dentists advertise different attractions to get customers, Pinky Lee wins the customers with the promise of a floor show so great that patients will feel no pain because of their fascination with the show. What we see are quick performances by talented singers and dancers typical of the 1930's. No performer is shown for too long, thus providing a succinct segment of entertainment that does not wear out its welcome. Pinky Lee himself is never truly dominant once his character is introduced, but his antics move the scenes forward. This short was well edited because it never drags or leaves the viewer waiting. Instead we are moved through the dentist's office quickly and laughing the entire time.
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Average B Western With Above Average Music
17 August 2011
Immediately noticeable in the opening credits was the name Spencer Williams, Jr. This should have been a guarantee of good quality, but Mr. Williams' acting skill was not matched by much of the cast nor was his screenplay as good as it could have been. The premise of the story was standard, and the dialog was at times too simple as if it had been written quickly with intent to fix it later. Some scenes had clever or natural spoken parts along with attempted humor that was consistent with other B westerns. Too often the actors spoke far too simple lines with far too long pauses between lines. Too bad.

Talent as a singer, rodeo champion, or athlete does not always qualify one to attempt acting as many movie cowboys had done. Often it was acceptable as a matter of authentication for the real cowboy to make it as a western movie actor. The same leniency is afforded to singers who make the leap into acting. Herb Jeffries and the Four Tones were definitely capable singers. Acting was not their forte. Sadly, the same is true for much of the cast. Herb Jeffries looked good as he filled the cowboy suit, and his acting was no worse than early Gene Autry entries into motion pictures. Maybe it was a little worse, but it worked for a cowboy movie. As the faithful sidekick, Dusty, Lucius Brooks had a likable presence that paralleled many sidekick performers. Perhaps if there had been more acting opportunities he could have become a better actor.

Musically, this movie had three song performances including the opening credits. It fit the feel of western music while the Four Tones added an Ink Spots style. Mr. Jeffries singing voice put him among the better cowboy singers. Had he wanted to continue to build a larger repertoire in the western music field he would be admired for that work today. We are all lucky that he left movies to work with Duke Ellington.

As Bob Blake, Jeffries is the hero of Harlem Rides The Range while the actual heroism is shared between Blake and Cactus (John Thomas). Blake is the singing cowboy dressed better than everyone else as he investigates a possible crime and pursues the only girl in the movie. Cactus is the vigilant ranch hand who ultimately delivers justice with a gun. While Blake plays the happy cowboy, Cactus plays the determined man of righteous pursuit. Had the two characters been combined the viewer would have seen a character closer to Hopalong Cassidy or Buck Jones.

As a B western, Harlem Rides The Range is an average movie. It is enjoyable, just not outstanding.
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Rodeo Racketeers Run Out of Luck!
19 November 2007
Even if The Man From Utah looks like a cheap production with its spliced in scenes from a rodeo, it still is a lot of fun to watch. Having been to a rodeo the night before viewing this John Wayne western, the movie was all the more interesting for me. Those old rodeo scenes are exciting because they are real! It is also interesting to compare the calf roping techniques of seventy plus years ago to the way rodeo competitors do it today.

Looking too deep into the story shows its flaws. Flowing with the scenes as they are presented makes viewing easier. What is really missing most is the background of the character, John Weston. We know nothing about him, and for that reason it is odd that the marshal immediately hires him to go undercover at what is suspected to be a fixed rodeo. We know John Wayne is playing a good guy, but when the marshal just says he knew that John Weston is a good guy after having met him minutes before a robbery... that is a bit of a stretch. It is possible that the original story had more depth, but a little more revealing dialog about the character of John Weston would have helped the final product of this movie. At least The Man From Utah was not haphazardly edited together like The Lawless Frontier, leaving some continuity holes to ponder.

If you want to see an outstanding performance by George Hayes before he was to become known as "Windy Halliday" or "Gabby Whitaker" this is a great example. Even if Hayes did not have any more screen time than normal, he had perfected what it took to look good on screen by 1934.

In contrast, John Wayne looked good on screen, but in The Man From Utah he sometimes tripped through some of his lines. Usually this is attributed to Wayne's "delivery." Not this time. That in itself is not a bad thing. The more the an actor looked like a genuine cowboy trying to play one in a movie, the better he was liked. Wayne was working through another quickly made low budget production, and he was always improving. The Man From Utah was another stepping stone in John Wayne's path to greatness.
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Taxi Tangle (1931)
Ten Minutes of Fun
11 September 2007
Taxi Tangle was made about a year before Jack Benny would begin his historic run as one of radio's biggest stars. Of the six or so characters in this short, every one of them is played to perfection. Jack's lead as an arrogant smooth talker makes one wonder why his film career did not go farther than it did. Instead, fate put Jack Benny in radio where he became its biggest star.

The jokes begin with Bill, the driver of Jack's cab, arguing with a police officer at a traffic light. There is a great turnaround in the dialog that makes the interchange pay off. From there we see Jack seduce the young lady in the cab next to his while traffic is stuck. An entire romance with a beginning, middle, and end is played out for the audience. The absurdity of the story and irony at the end are what makes this short sketch memorable.
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John Wayne was just about there...
6 September 2007
The Dawn Rider has all the right elements for a great movie: a love triangle, loyalties between friends and relatives, revenge, right versus wrong, and a strong-willed hero. Packaged into an hour long cowboy package, everything was right for a great movie. As with nearly all B westerns the time and money required to make a great movie were not there.

As John Mason, Wayne never loses focus in his pursuit of his father's killer. At the same time he is oblivious to the yearnings of his best friend's girl, Alice Gordon. Alice is unaware of her brother's criminal doings. Ben McClure is suspicious of Mason when he is around Alice. Rudd Gordon needs to stop Mason before being revealed as a murderer. All the while Yakima Canutt oversees everything as the evil saloon owner.

While the story is very straight forward with no plot twists, every scene works toward the climax. While it may have been the intention of Robert Bradbury to do this, too often a cheap western got bogged down with mindless action scenes. The Dawn Rider holds up very well as a movie that clearly tells its story and gets to the point without losing the viewer.

John Wayne was a strong figure on screen by 1935. His trademark swagger and delivery was still in the making, but he was genuinely the John Wayne of legend by that time. It took another four or five years for Hollywood to notice, though.
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Roy Rogers and Rocket Scientists
8 April 2007
Even if western fans never tire of recycled western plots, it is always good to see a fresh idea. Roy and his pals are working for an oil company in Spoilers of the Plains with not a single head of cattle in sight for the whole movie. Instead of a fight over oil being the focus, this time the story is about rockets and an experimental guidance system. Of course, Roy finds himself battling thieves who want to steal the experimental parts for unnamed interests. That may not be an entirely new concept for movies, or even westerns, but it made a good change of direction in the Roy Rogers series.

Some things were very different in Spoilers of the Plains from other Roy Rogers movies. Penny Edwards character, Frankie Manning, garners sympathy more than she acts as a romantic interest. It seems that Roy was beaten up more times than in other movies. A story device that is usually irritating is having supporting characters win the hero's battles for him. In this case Bullet comes to Roy's rescue as does Trigger. One time would be good. More than once brings doubt to the hero's ability to defend himself. In the end Roy ends up winning his fight, but even then it is due to a mistake made by the villain, Camwell.

Gordon Jones may not be Roy's best known sidekick, but he was great in every scene. Again, Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage take a backseat in the story, but they provide some excellent music.

William Witney made Spoilers of the Plains an excellent action filled western from beginning to end. Starting with a dangerous fire fighting scene and never letting the momentum of the action die down, there is no shortage of excitement. During the wagon chase at the end several cowboys are jumping from one wagon to the other. Look closely and you will see that one of them missed his jump and fell very close to a wheel. Real men! Real action! This was not a movie made by sissies!
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Susanna Pass (1949)
Cattle? Sheep? Nope! This time Roy saves a bunch of fish!
1 April 2007
The later Roy Rogers movies tended to have a conservation and education message. In the case of Susanna Pass the plot is built around a feud between two brothers with differing ideas on how a piece of land should be used. One brother wants to use the land for a fish hatchery while the other wants to drain the lake and drill for oil. Roy's movies were strong in their message to carefully manage wildlife for hunting and fishing, and some of what is said in Susanna Pass would easily fit into a short film on raising fish for recreational and commercial fishing.

Russell Masters (Lucien Littlefield) who seeks to make life better for everyone with a fish hatchery. He is joined by Doc Parker (Dale Evans) in his venture. Dale Evans was always feisty toward any villain and usually kept Roy in check whenever he became mischievous. This time around she pulls no punches, literally speaking, because she plays the part of a marine! As far fetched as it may sound for tiny Dale, she is dead serious and no-nonsense in her role.

Newspaperman Martin Masters (Robert Emmett Keane) has to find a way to ruin the fish hatchery and eliminate his brother so that he may take the oil from underneath the lake. He and his hired thugs nearly succeed, but when facing Roy Rogers and a marine the task becomes difficult.

Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage were doing their own western adventures on their radio program, so they certainly were no strangers to acting. While they do get to partake of the action in Susanna Pass, they just do not have the flair of the Sons of the Pioneers. Perhaps it is because they were not as comfortable on screen, or it may be a nostalgia for seeing Roy with his original group.

There is a different feel to the polished production of Roy's last years of B westerns. In some ways it takes away from the "shoot 'em up" aspect that was so much fun, but it establishes a strong sense of right and wrong. Roy was no longer the cowboy who did good deeds; he had a purpose that was made clear to everyone.
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Southward Ho (1939)
1 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Roy Rogers' career as a leading man had been going for less than two years when he teamed with his soon-to-be friend and mentor George "Gabby" Hayes. The pairing was perfect. Roy summed up all that had come before him in the way of cowboy stars. Gabby would set the high mark for what a sidekick should be, mostly because of his superb abilities as an actor.

The story begins with Roy and Gabby serving in the Confederate army as they encounter a small group of Union troops under the leadership of Colonel Denbigh, played by Wade Boteler. Gabby and Colonel Denbigh exchange words before Gabby and Roy return to their own camp. Back at camp Gabby tells Roy about his inheritance of half a cattle ranch in Texas, and the two make plans for their new life as ranchers after the war. Upon arriving in Texas Gabby soon finds out that the person who owns the other half of his ranch is none other than the Union colonel with whom he had eluded during the war is his partner. The colonel also happens to have a beautiful daughter named Ellen, played by Mary Hart. As Gabby tangles with the colonel, Roy pursues Ellen.

The bad guys are Yankees! Or, at least they appear to be Yankees. Colonel Denbigh has been put in charge of restoring order during the era known as Reconstruction. Having been instructed that a detail of soldiers would arrive to help enforce laws and aid in tax collection, he does not suspect that the soldiers that arrive are all crooked men who were thrown out of the Army. As the outlaw gang operates under the guise of enforcing the law, Roy must find a way to help the ranchers that are being robbed and defeat the crooks. Of course he does it with great charm and lots of excitement.

Southward Ho is an excellent movie from the Roy Rogers series of western movies. The movie does not rely on too much singing and romance. Instead it moves along nicely with the plot getting thicker and the action getting better. This one is definitely a must-see!
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Fighting hero of the west on a motorcycle!
10 January 2007
There is a simple irony that the lead character travels everywhere on a motorcycle, yet the story revolves around horses. The Vigilante: Fighting Hero of the West is based on one of DC Comics' lesser known, but interesting characters. In the comics and the serial Greg Sanders was a singing cowboy, but there is only one real singing cowboy song when Ralph Byrd performs "Saturday Night In San Antone" during the first chapter. There is much more music in the night club that shows up many times, and Ramsay Ames' singing is by far one of the highlights of this serial. Later chapters do present more western action, but there is no more western music.

I wish this had been a Republic serial because at times it seems to drag a little. The mandatory fights scenes take place often enough, but they lack the "oomph" that Republic was able to add to every serial. A mistake that cannot be missed is the two visits to the blacksmith's shop. It is trashed the first time, but totally rebuilt the second time. The clue for which everyone searches cannot be found in the first visit, but is totally visible and accessible in the second visit. This is too obvious to be forgivable. Experienced viewers may guess the identity of X-1 early on, but the build up to the villain's unmasking is part of the fun.

Although I have a problem with the continuity there are a lot of positives for The Vigilante. The plot was a combination of the best Gene Autry westerns and the many secret agent serials of its time. Mystery surrounds the stolen horses and the meaning of "100 tears of blood." Arabs, gangsters, cowboys, and secret agents are enough to hold my attention. Anything with Lyle Talbot is worth watching, too.
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Karen and Ella, Two Giant Singers!
10 January 2007
This ABC television special is what its title claims: "Music, Music, Music." There was very little conversation, so a maximum amount of music was performed in the limited amount of time available. Guests were Ella Fitzgerald, John Davidson, and the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. John Davidson's musical talent may be overlooked, but he was able to sing quite well. He was upstaged, of course, by two of the best singers of the Twentieth Century. Ella Fitzgerald fans will appreciate seeing her perform an equal amount of time as Karen Carpenter, and she sang a wonderful duet of old standards with Karen as well. Richard and Karen did not rely on the early hits for this musical outing, but they did briefly touch on them toward the end. Some newer songs chosen for this presentation may not be familiar to those people looking for The Carpenters' best known hits, but this performance is still captivating.
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A Different Gabby Hayes
11 November 2006
By 1941 the formula for low budget series westerns had long been perfected, but results varied. Sheriff of Tombstone is an excellent choice for an introduction to the genre of B westerns.

The best actor of the bunch, as usual, was George "Gabby" Hayes. His character may have had the same name from one movie to the next, but not the same purpose in the story. He could be a wise old cow puncher, an old ranch foreman, aloof sidekick, or even an outlaw. For a pleasant change he was made into a lawyer, "Judge Whitaker" for this picture. Add to that a wife and daughter, which is unusual for not only Gabby, but sidekicks in general. Not bumbling around as a helpless sidekick in this one, he was instead a strong backup gun for Roy's character, Brett Starr.

A fine touch on a well made movie comes during an interchange between Gabby and Granny Carson when she answers Gabby with a snappy, "You're dern tootin'!" The reaction on Gabby's face is one of surprise at being the recipient of one of his own signature lines.
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Was the crew doing peyote?
25 September 2006
The motion picture industry has trained viewers to expect certain types of music for certain types of movies and individual scenes. Occasionally a film score breaks with tradition and is recognized for its brilliance. The opening music of White Comanche should be judged with an open mind because it is within reason to allow experimentation at times. It did not turn into a classic western theme, but it is not too far out of place. As the movie continues there are some musical passages that definitely should not have been used. One sequence uses music that invokes the image of a chase scene in an old comedy, and another would have been appropriate for late 60's crime drama set in a big city. The music itself was good, but its placement does not enhance the movie. Instead it is noticeable and distracting.

William Shatner gives two acting performances that are totally opposite. As Johnny Moon, Shatner really does give a good performance. The sophistication of Johnny's character comes through, and if this were Shatner's only role in White Comanche it would be regarded more highly. As Notah Moon, Shatner cannot be taken seriously. When acting as the domineering Notah, he does not convey an image of a leader. Instead, he looks like he is rehearsing his lines for the first time. In addition, Notah is the only "comanche" with short, perfectly combed hair at all times while the rest of the Indians all have long hair.

Joseph Cotten is flawless in his performance as Sheriff Logan, but it is sad to see him in a movie that did not capitalize on his talent. Cotten must have been hired to add a "name" to the cast, but there was little for him to work with in his role.

The remainder of the cast varied in their acting qualities. Kelly, The General, and the Mayor appear to give good performances, but the dubbed voices in the soundtrack are lifeless. All of the fight scenes look like the weekend performances from a cowboy theme park-- fun in the moment but not good on film.

The greatest problem that plagued White Comanche was probably the cheapest to fix, the script. Only one scene gives some history between Johnny and Notah, and it has little depth. There is no account of how the rift between Grimes and General Garcia began or escalated. Neither Sheriff Logan or the saloon girl, Kelly, have any history. A little more explanatory dialog could have made the characters more dynamic.

White Comanche is not well made, but do not avoid it if you have the time and desire to view it.
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The Marauders (1947)
A one room play, cowboy style!
15 August 2006
Hoppy, California, and Lucky pass through the abandoned town of Coltsville and enter a church building for shelter before a storm sets in. A tinge of horror movie elements are added for a few laughs at California's expense. During the night the church organ starts playing music. The team finds Susan Crowell and her mother in a vigil to keep the church alive. When a team of men arrive to destroy the church for its salvageable lumber, Hoppy and his pals defend the church until its rightful ownership can be established. During this time the history of the church and town, a mysterious deacon, and Susan's mother unfold as the standoff between those inside and outside continues.

Very few scenes take place outside of the church. As with most westerns there is gun play and fighting. A unique feature of The Marauders is the focus on the tense situation. In a way it is a pleasant break from the routine B western formula. Success can be attributed to a fine cast of actors, strong characters, and a director who was up to the task of doing such a presentation. At least one review of this movie mentioned the fact that the limited scene changes made this production cheap.

The Marauders would be a poor choice as an example of a Hopalong Cassidy movie or the B western genre because it is almost entirely a long story about a standoff. It is, however, a successful experiment within the Hopalong Cassidy series.
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Not a single canyon in the whole movie!
15 August 2006
Grand Canyon Trail is another of the Trucolor Roy Rogers films that has shown up on DVD from a black and white print. That does not take away from the movie since black and white was so common at the time anyway.

Roy appeared kind of dumb in this one, and so did everyone else. It was customary for the lead cowboy to be able to figure out the crooks' plan and identify the leader. Roy took forever to suspect Regan, and it was only after other characters helped him that he ever learned anything. Instead of standing on guard duty and being prodded by Cookie, Foy, and the Riders of the Purple Sage, he should have already scouted around looking for clues. As much interaction as there was between the cowboys and Regan's crew someone should have suspected something sooner. There was no battle of wits. Carol Martin never figured out who wanted to hurt her and who wanted to save her until almost the end of the movie despite how obvious it was.

Roy got in a lot of fist fights in this one. More than once he got clobbered over the head and knocked out. Andy Devine bounced people around with his stomach. The sound effect of a kettle drum would have been perfect if not for the fact that the movie was not a vehicle for slapstick comedy.

The Hangman Hotel was an abandoned old building that provided an opportunity for plenty of haunted house stick comedy. There were scenes of characters chasing from one room to the other with fights throughout the building and crossed paths between the good guys and bad guys. Seeing Andy Devine scream once is funny, but there can be too much of a good thing. The hotel was critical to the story as it was the site where a murder victim was discovered, but the hotel was over-used.

Seeing Robert Livingston go from the leader of the Three Mesquiteers to playing a villain is disheartening. Above all he was an actor who played the part of Regan perfectly. Watching past heroes playing villains or small roles always comes across as sad because few of them ever went back to the glory of their previous films.

Overall the story was good, but it I think the characters could have been developed a little better. Not a bad movie, Grand Canyon Trail is a lull in the Roy Rogers series despite having a great cast and, for some, Trucolor.
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Standard Bob Steele Quality
19 July 2006
In the context of early 30's Bob Steele movies Law of the West is neither Steele's best nor worst. Capable as an actor and excellent as an action hero, Bob Steele was able to give a solid performance in any role he was given.

In Law of the West Steele portrays a young man who believes he is the son of a cattle rustler named Morgan. In retaliation for being caught rustling by Dan Carruthers, Lee Morgan had kidnapped Carruthers' son, Bob, and raised Bob to believe he was his own son. Believing this, young Bob never hit his father out of respect despite the beatings he received. Bob's real father, Dan Carruthers, became a marshal with the intention of one day finding his son and the man who kidnapped him. Both Carruthers and Bob are known for being fast with a gun, and Morgan's plan is to make Bob kill Carruthers as an evil, ironic method of revenge.

This movie is more story driven than a gratuitous showcase of chase scenes and gunfights. While it may have many common elements of B westerns, Law of the West is able to stand up on its own. Even if this were not a western, the plot would work in other contexts.
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Strange Hopalong Cassidy Adventure
7 July 2006
Just who is the villain in Secret of the Wastelands? Is it Salters the lawyer? Are those Chinese store owners evil or just mysterious? What secrets will be uncovered by the archaeologists digging around abandoned Indian dwellings built on a mountainside? Secret of the Wastelands starts off like a good Hopalong Cassidy adventure, but it gets stranger as it goes.

Hoppy, California and Johnny are hired to escort a team of archaeologists into the desert. A knife attack from a Chinese man is a warning to cancel the trip, but Hoppy is not so easily dissuaded. The cook hired for the trip happens to be Chinese, and is a strong suspect for attempts at sabotaging the expedition. Concern by the Chinese merchants is apparent, but there is no obvious reason for a connection between them and the Indian ruins. Slade Salters observes the situation and suspects that the archaeologist may find a source of gold connected that connects the Chinese with the abandoned Indian ruins. Salters has his men follow the team so he can take over if and when the time is right. The story keeps the viewer slightly off guard until the end when all questions are answered with an ending that I found to be unrealistic.

The scenery goes between normal western surroundings like the town and the open range. The site of the archaeological dig looks more appropriate for an Egyptian or South American setting. The Chinese characters seem a bit unrealistic, too. Any time cowboys are taken out of a traditional western settings a movie takes a chance. Usually the outcome is disappointing. Viewing with an open mind helps sometimes.

As in every adventure, Hoppy's younger sidekick chases after the girl. This time it is Jennifer Kendall, the young female archaeologist. Sadly for Johnny, the girl just is not interested in him. Brad King played Johnny Neslon in this movie, and even had a singing part. I have seen better acting and singing by King in other Hopalong Cassidy movies.

Secret of the Wastelands is an odd entry into the Hopalong Cassidy series. While Hopalong Cassidy movies were often better than other westerns, this one is not my favorite Hoppy movie.
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Perfect example of a singing cowboy movie
7 July 2006
What would it take to get prominent businessmen to come to an old mine? The adventure of a trail ride with the Vaqueros, that's what!

Gabby Whitaker is the mayor of... Whitakerville! The town is dying off, but if Carol Stevens (Linda Hayes) can get someone to look at her isolated gold mine she knows it will bring prosperity back to the town. This is a tough proposition, but Roy Rogers and The Sons of the Pioneers just go (instruments and all) into the offices of a few businessmen to make them want to join the annual ride of the Vaqueros. A little western harmony can work like magic. It's just like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney putting on a show to save the day, and it could only work in the movies! So, once the industry leaders show up in their dude outfits they soon learn the mine has a value. Those men also have a value to a crook named Harmon (Paul Fix). He kidnaps them and frames Roy and the Pioneers for the crime. It's no big deal because Roy Rogers always wins.

What makes this Roy Rogers adventure stand out is the Sons of the Pioneers. The classic lineup is there: Hugh and Karl Farr, Bob Nolan, Tim Spencer, Pat Brady, and Lloyd Perryman. They play several songs throughout the movie by themselves and also backing Roy. The group had been well established before South of Sante Fe was made, and by this time their personalities were known. Tim and Lloyd had less screen time, but everyone was well represented. More singing is provided by Judy Clark and Bobby Beers. Music works its way into several scenes perfectly.
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The Future of Texas
3 July 2006
There really is not much of a "conquest" in Conquest of Cheyenne. The title character, Cheyenne Jackson, is a feisty young woman who owns a cattle ranch, but has gone missing. Tom Dean (Jay Kirby) happens to find her horse stuck in some brush and frees it. For this he is mistaken for being responsible for Cheyenne's disappearance. She rolls into town with her new automobile that upsets the town as a nuisance the sheriff wants to ban. Tom makes the case that automobiles cause great demand for Texas oil as electricity diminishes the need for lamp oil. As it turns out, he is a geologist who suspects there may be oil in West Texas. His speech about the meaning of oil in Texas' future is met by skepticism that probably matches the way some Texans felt at the turn of the century.

Of course, the local banker, Tuttle, knows there is oil in the ground on the Jackson ranch, but he does not want anyone to know until he can appropriate the property for himself with a false due date for a bank loan payment. An oil well is built with local investors' money. In order for Tuttle to grab the land he must eliminate the oil well and Tom Dean. Red Ryder does very little more than act as a referee between Tom and the mob that has turned against him as a result of Tuttle's manipulation.

Rather than being a Red Ryder adventure for Red and Little Beaver, Conquest of Cheyenne is an interesting story that takes place around them. With a few shoot-outs and chases thrown in for western flair, this movie is more of a drama about a young man with a vision. Jay Kirby is the center of attention for most of this film. While not having Red as the focal point, Conquest of Cheyenne is still a good entry in the Red Ryder series.
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Sunset battles bad production and triumphs!
13 June 2006
Sunset Carson is a Texas Ranger reassigned to investigate suspicious activity around the town of Quartzville. Fear of a supposed small pox epidemic has scared off most of residents, but a defiant old rancher intends to stay put despite the advice of his doctor and lawyer. Sunset and his sidekick, Lucky, stick around as they uncover the bad guys and save the day.

If a B movie starts off with narration, look out. That usually is a sign of a poorly made movie. Surpringly, Battling Marshal has a good script within the context of B westerns. The hero, Sunset Carson, is smart and the characters around him are interesting. Like most cowboy stars, Sunset's appearance was more important than his acting. By the time this movie was made he had learned enough about acting to make himself a good leading man. With a good story to follow, Sunset could do no wrong.

At a time when there was no budget for more than one take everything had to be perfect the first time. Sometimes sets suffered from a lack of detail or they were obviously faked. Westerns had the luxury of using outdoors scenery and cheap, old shacks and houses for sets. Bad production values are worse than bad acting. While the sets are appropriate, many of the camera angles and film edits look bad. There are no bad actors in Battling Marshal, but everything works against them. Oliver Drake should have done better.

The fight scenes were quite different from the standard set in the Republic westerns. Someone made the effort to make them more lively and possibly more realistic. Seeing knee-to-chest hits and some high kicks gives the impression that the choreography was influenced by professional wrestling or martial arts training. What killed the effect of the fight scenes was the fact that in most scenes it was absolutely visible that punches did not connect with faces. The illusion of a real fight was lost. Not only that, the sound effects that accompanied most screen fights was missing. There was no "SPLAP!" every time someone got hit.

There were very few interior scenes in Battling Marshall, but there were a few inside the ranch house. The view showed far too much height of the walls, making it obvious there was no ceiling on that set, but that was typical of all the camera shots.

Despite how cheap Battling Marshal appears, it is a good movie. Sunset Carson's biggest victory is not in defeating the crooks, but in defying the low quality film making.
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An interesting follow-up to Cheaper By The Dozen.
29 May 2006
I personally thought that Belles on Their Toes held up well as a sequel to Cheaper By The Dozen. Sequels rarely have the same magic of the movies they follow, so it is wise to not make too strong a comparison. Once the characters are accepted on their new terms, Belles on Their Toes is much easier to watch.

The entire movie is a flashback sequence to the events that took place after the prior movie ended. The focus is not on the eccentric Mr. Gilbreth and the humorous view of life in a large family. This time it is placed on the characters themselves. Their situations are less of a focus than their personalities. Myrna Loy is allowed to continue as a strong character, and she gets to show much more depth as Ann Gilbreth than she did in the first movie. The same is true for the oldest Gilbreth daughters, too. Jeanne Crain takes center stage for much of the movie. Debra Paget and Barbara Bates tilt the story toward the girls in the family.

What makes the biggest difference in the feel of the movie is the presence of Hoagy Carmichael and the talented Debra Paget. With Carmichael in the cast it was obligatory that he perform his music. Debra Paget performed a dance routine that would never have been allowed by the conservative Frank Gilbreth. The feel of the 50's replaced the 1920's charm of Cheaper By The Dozen.

Movies are geared toward target audiences. Sequels are created to capitalize on previous successes. Belles on Their Toes is fun to watch, but it cannot be held to the same standard as Cheaper By The Dozen. Accept it on its own and you will have an enjoyable hour and a half while you watch it.
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Old friends, new beginning.
29 May 2006
If someone has never seen a Three Mesquiteers adventure then Under Texas Skies would be as good a place to start as any. It is in no way the best of the run, but it is the starting point of a new cast of characters. The characters themselves are not new, but the group of actors playing the trio is new. In this film Robert Livingston returns as Stony Brooke after John Wayne played the role in eight movies. Livingston is joined by Bob Steele as Tuscon Smith and Rufe Davis as Lullaby Joslin. The return of Tuscon and Lullaby, previously played by Crash Corrigan and Max Terhune, is shown as a fresh start for the characters. Stony and Tuscon know each other from childhood. Lullaby is new to town, and only recognizes Stony. While the bond between Stony and Tuscon is very well established, Lullaby serves little purpose other than comedy and one important plot twist. There is no real team shown, but the foundation is built for future adventures.

When Tuscon is framed for the murder of Stony's father, Stony turns against his old friend. For much of the movie Tuscon remains on the lam, a situation common to many Bob Steele roles. The person who framed Tuscon is Blackton, the deputy who uses his position as a law man to cover for his evil plans. Local ranchers are aware that something must be done, but rallying them for help is hard to do. The suspense in this movie is upheld by the necessity of Tuscon clearing his name and being able to expose Blackton and his gang. Lullaby is put to work to help Stony get a message to the ranchers, but of course Lullaby unwittingly lets the bad guys know what is going on. This leads to a climax that is worthy of the Three Mesquiteers series.

Blackton is played by Henry Brandon who did not look like a typical western villain. He would have been much better as well dressed lawyer. Having made his mark as Fu Manchu in the serial Drums of Fu Manchu, anything he did afterward would be pale by comparison anyway.
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Perfect Ken Maynard movie!
29 May 2006
Within the context of a B western, Tombstone Canyon is close to perfect. Yes, it looks a lot like every other cheap western of its time, but the early 1930's were a great time for westerns. Ken Maynard never falters for the entire run time of this movie.

As the movie starts we are introduced to the place known as Tombstone Canyon. Ken rides in to find himself unwelcome and the desired target of many ill-intended shots. Between the gang of bad guys and the mysterious phantom Ken has his hands full, but fortunately Jenny Lee happens to be riding through and fires a few helpful shots of her own. It is then that Ken learns more about Tombstone Canyon and the mysterious screaming phantom who kills as many of the Lazy S cowboys as possible. The phantom is not Ken's worry, however. He has traveled to meet a friend who has a secret to reveal, but by the time Ken arrives he finds out that his friend is murdered. Alf Sykes, owner of the Lazy S does not want Ken to learn anything, so he does everything he can to destroy Ken. The phantom also confronts Ken and threatens him. It is only at the end that Ken learns the secret someone wanted him to know, and the phantom's identity is revealed.

Even if the plot was done hundreds of times over the years, it was done right in this 1932 movie. Most of the credit must go to Ken Maynard for making Tombstone Canyon so much fun to watch. His on screen personality was at its most captivating. Few western heroes looked as good and had the ability to act as well as Ken Maynard.
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A breath of fresh air in the Ma and Pa Kettle series.
23 May 2006
After seeing the Kettles traveling to big cities and living in their ultra-modern house, it was a nice to see them in their natural setting. Although they never totally abandoned their old farm, the family lived in the new house. This time all the kids and pets are back in the old farmhouse again.

Oldest son Elwin has written an essay about how wonderful the Kettle farm is. The essay is entered in a contest that potentially sets him up for a college scholarship, but there is a catch. The contest judges must see the farm. Not to worry, Pa takes care of fixing up the old farm-- with Crowbar and Geoduck's help. Using cardboard and borrowed equipment and livestock, Pa and the Indians make the old farm look almost believable. One sympathetic judge is smart enough to know what is going on while the other is so out of place on a farm that Pa's ruse is almost a success. In the opening scene a calendar shows the date as December 1, and the movie ends up as a wonderful Christmas story with a message.

A stunt double fills in for Marjorie Main as Ma goes through pratfalls more than once. There is a little bit of joke recycling. As with the other movies, almost all the kids are young except for the one that is about to go to college. Elwin appears in enough scenes, but he is hardly the center of attention.
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Go to Town-- in Paris
23 May 2006
Ma and Pa Kettle on Vaction is not a remake of Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town, but there are similarities. In this outing the Parkers return to the series as they offer Ma and Pa a trip to Paris. The situation of country folk in the big city sets up the jokes. Pa being tricked into smuggling stolen documents sets up the plot.

While maintaining a a level of comedy on par with the previous movie, the Ma and Pa characters are being stretched a bit. Once again, Pa is chased by crooks through a big city. In this case, Pa is given stolen documents for safekeeping while he is on the plane to Paris. The leader of the spy ring in need of the documents is played by Sig Ruman. Ruman was capable of playing a character as outlandish as Ma and Pa, but he held back just enough to not overshadow them. It is his performance that makes me like this movie a little more than Go to Town.
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