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Riders of Black Mountain (1940)
A Gussied-up Tim McCoy Leads the Way to Black Mountain
There has always been something majestic and regal about Tim McCoy's presence in film, and his presence in "Riders of Black Mountain" carries this even a notch or two higher than normal, what with him always being cloaked in a long black gambler's coat and sporting a sharply-cut black hat, less grandiose than his normally-worn super-sized white one; yes, he dons this attire even when riding at breakneck speed on horseback, and he looks sharp for sure!
This picture was produced toward the end of the Colonel's leading-man days (1940) at the lower-budgeted PRC studios, and they didn't throw too many extra morsels into this one. Still, the cast come across as earnest and involved, even if the story is somewhat threadbare and could have used an extra peek by the story editor. Most of the action in this one is on horseback, with variously-sized groups of men riding here and there and everywhere all the time. I was impressed to see the stagecoach riders actually rocking back and forth during the interior on-board scenes. The outdoor scenery , of which there is plenty, is beautiful, too.
In summary, "Riders of Black Mountain" would be dull and uneventful if it were not for Tim McCoy being at the helm; however, because he is leading the way the film is indeed watchable.
The Prescott Kid (1934)
Tim McCoy's Horse and Hat Figure Prominently
The previous review pretty much tells it well, but I just want to add a couple of observations. The director is David Selman and his page indicates a rather modest career, mostly in the B-movie world. But he tried nicely in this film to make this picture just a tad tighter in direction than one expects in B pictures and he extracted a goodly amount of footage of faces looking at one another in well thought-out camera angles, some up close and others from a distance. Additionally, Selman made good use of McCoy's sharp and evaluative eyes. The brief and subdued musical interlude that lasted about a minute during a poignant scene in the barn between McCoy and Sheila Manners (Bromley) was notable and welcome for its inclusion. That scene was well-played by all concerned; even the lighting was effective.
Turning to the more trivial, I wish they could have included a scene about how and where Tim replaced his hat! I couldn't help but also think of how the saloon piano player sounded like he had been influenced by the stride playing of Fats Waller, who in 1934 was a strong presence in America's developing and changing musical tastes. Lastly, look out for appearances by the venerable players Tom London and Charles King. This is a good and almost sophisticated cowboy film, as many were when they included Tim McCoy.
A Veteran Cast in a Thoughtful "Cornered"
I appreciate this Columbia Tim McCoy western film quite a lot, perhaps most of all because of the good-sized cast that includes several notable players who showed up unannounced, among them Walter Brennan, Charles King, Lloyd Ingraham, and Tom London.
Yes, Tim McCoy leads the cast and he always provides an authentic aura to a film. The story is intriguing (even though its progress requires several key coinciding happenstances) and has ample and thoughtful dialogue... therefore this is not just a shoot-em-up action pot-boiler.
Raymond Hatton plays a role a little out of norm for what he would become known-for a few years down the road, and the sweetly-appointed Shirley Grey effectively emotes in one of her earlier screen roles.
The menacing presence of Walter Long (having been around in pictures since 1910) was much enjoyed, but it is Noah Beery's diabolical portrayal of an off-kilter psycho-bad guy that steals the show. What a juicy part for the old pro! I imagine the crew on set very much had fun witnessing his acting antics!
For me "Cornered" was just an all-around enjoyment and hopefully will be satisfying to other lovers of the B-western genre as well.
Heroes of the Range (1936)
A Cowboy and His Horse are Heroes of the Range
Although "Heroes of the Range" is really standard B-western fare, it is captivating and a smooth ride for fans of the genre. Ken Maynard had such a nice flair for performing earnestly, in a kind of unobtrusively heroic way, even though he was indeed somewhat stiff in style. But I always like how he filled his screen portrayals with natural fidgetiness and politeness. And of all things, Sally Eilers somehow found her way into this Columbia stage 9 minor western; she has really little to do here. Interestingly, she was still to have a few good roles later in her film career.
The well-done musical interludes were atmospheric and just unpolished enough to be apt for the film, and thankfully the program didn't have an irritating score to assist the viewers to know when to get excited or concerned. The cast roster is brimming with familiar and fun ranch hands and villains, including a perfect job by villain-in-chief Harry Woods. The makeup and costuming are excellent. And finally, don't dare miss the powerful and unusual contribution of Tarzan in helping to win the day! A fast and fun film feast for sure!
Men Without Names (1935)
"Men Without Names" is a Good 1935 Paramount Gangster Movie!
"Men Without Names" is a serious and at times grim and brutal film depicting gangsters on the run and hiding out in an small town America. In it, the contrast between the idyllic and tranquil rural town and the ruthless and no-good antagonists making camp there clearly and deftly are juxtaposed. Glimpses of disappearing small-town life include curbside Greyhound bus service on a still dirt-surfaced Main Street, and friendly folks gathered around the evening meal at the old boarding house (do these places still exist?).
The story is subtle and logical and builds to some joltingly graphic depictions as the story resolves. One tends to think of Paramount pictures being light and airy, but this one resembles WB in its dedication to showing the gritty side of life's battle between good and evil. Police work seems technologically primitive as we look at the methodologies in our rear view mirror of today. All in all, the film is fast-moving and totally satisfying. The supporting cast includes Leslie Fenton, who made a good living in gangster films, many across town at WB , while Fred MacMurray in only his second year of film stardom seems as comfortable in his work as he would be twenty years down the road. He has a luminous and easy-going presence in the film, sporting as he does his jet-black haircut.
Notwithstanding all the positivity enunciated above, this film has somewhat the sheen of a B-western--and not in a bad way, what with the film's premise and set-up, the buildup, and the climax. Just replace the cars with horses and there you go! Even the lack of incorporating serious romantic exploration, but a romance that nonetheless exists and seemingly ends well, has "B-western" stamped all over it.
One thing that caught my ear early on was an exchange of money, where, in making change, the innkeeper declared: "twelve and three is fifteen, and five is twenty," which reminded me that when I was a kid in the 1950's and 1960's I heard clerks count out change in a voiced meter like that all the time; however, I haven't heard this done, or even thought of it, in decades. Old movies can make for good reminders of history!
One Way to Love (1946)
All Aboard for a Fun Train Ride!
"One Way to Love" turns out to be a meaningful title for this film which is primarily a cross-country ride onboard a train just after the Second World War had concluded. The film focuses on an assorted collection of people who entertain one another, and especially us the viewers, with a host of mishaps, revised agendas, and misinterpreted and misplayed intentions. I have seen a lot of movies in my day, but I don't remember one like this, where 75%of the film's running time is spent on board a train where no evil skullduggery happens or no onboard murders are committed that need to be solved.
The movie is so well written, all scenes seemingly logical, complete, and orderly. And thanks to the spirited cast, who obviously enjoy working with one another, the dialog between the characters just flows naturally. Chester Morris, of course, is the delightfully breezy and energetic engine that keeps the entire cast on the track. The first few minutes of the picture are a little slow to get going, but soon the show really takes off and we are in for a fun ride!
The Crowd Roars (1932)
"The Crowd Roars" Showcases Cagney in a Less Than Perfect Light
As a child in the 1950's and 1960's, I avidly awaited all James Cagney films to be televised and loved most of them. The two I did not enjoy during those formative years were "Boy Meets Girl" and this one, "The Crowd Roars." "Boy Meets Girl" was just too sophisticated for me at the time, and "Crowd Roars" just plain contained too much racing and noise, including with JC all goggled up, as well as too much Cagney disappointing and harming people who care for him. Happy to say I appreciate both of these films now.
JC was admirable in his portrayal of a guy who is not at his core a likeable person. And that he did it so convincingly in only his second year in film stardom is also noteworthy. I have a feeling that WB wanted to get this picture out in a super hurry, once they decided to go with it. A racing-centered picture, with sound no less, was probably novel at the time and maybe there was a race of sorts among the studios to get one out to the public. Someone might know the facts about this? It is definitely a shame that the film was done on such a cheap scale, but WB perhaps figured it would do just as well without it, anyway, so why bother? JC may have preferred another assignment, too, but it is hard to imagine any of his mainline cohorts at WB getting the job (E. G. Robinson, George Brent, Pat O'Brien. Paul Muni, and others). JC was still early in his contract in 1932, happy to work, and probably not yet lamenting A and wishing for B, etc.
I would also like to thank IMDb contributor "rajah524-3" for providing fascinating background about the racing cars and personalities of the era, as well as background on the film locations. I remember going to Ascot Field as a child, too.
All this information from "rajah" makes the film itself all the more worthwhile to view.
Jimmy the Gent (1934)
Maturing Enough to Really Appreciate "Jimmy the Gent"
With 27 user reviews up at the time of this writing about "Jimmy the Gent" (1934), the board doesn't necessarily need one more. However, I thought I would just relate a few thoughts about how I have come to enjoy the performance of James Cagney in this film. JC had come to be my favorite actor in the movies from when I was around eight years of age. Of course, back in the day, movies that appeared on TV were quite old to begin with. Just think, a movie seen in 1960 that had been produced in 1930, for example, was only 30 years old... but what a world of difference in filmmaking those 30 years made! (By the way, Cagney was just about to famously retire the next year, in 1961). Because in 1960 movies from the 1930's and 1940's was the norm for broadcast on TV, kids pretty much had no choice but to come to know and hopefully enjoy films from the golden age of Hollywood. Today, by contrast, a movie made in 1931 was made nearly 90 years ago!
Anyway, I loved James Cagney as a child and actually catalogued his films from what information about them was provided with announced showings in TV Guide magazine. After all, there were no easily seeable lists to be found. I remember the libraries' encyclopedia had incomplete information. So I compiled notecards with TV Guide info on around 50 actors and tried to develop filmographies on them. I kept at it until I was somewhere in high school, in the late 1960's. Then things changed for me in my endeavors, as I discovered Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood and all the great resources there, and then Steven Scheuer and Leonard Maltin began to widely issue their film ratings compendia, etc.
I had seen so many of Cagney's films as I entered by teen years and had long been fascinated by his moving and his appearance. Although I didn't appreciate his mustachioed films very much, I really hated his look in "Jimmy the Gent." The closely-shaven sides of his head really bothered me, as did the seemingly less luxurious waves of hair that normally abounded in his beautiful head of hair. And besides that, I didn't find the levity in the characters' comedic banter delivered very palatable, either. Obviously and unfortunately, I was too young to appreciate the writing and delivery of those lines. Beyond that, I didn't like Bette Davis' look and behavior, either! She just didn't look like herself and didn't speak like herself, at least from the point of view of a pre-teen who had seen so many of her films, too, all of them from later than 1934.
But then I happened to view "Gent" again about twenty-five years later, and I enjoyed it far more. Maturity had allowed me to evolve so that I understood the film and could appreciate JC's and Davis' performances. I detected moves (leaps, twists, and bounding) by Cagney's body that had not yet appeared in his previous three years of film but which did appear in later films, including "Yankee Doodle Dandy," for example.
Well, funny thing is, now I have seen it yet again, 35 years after the second viewing, and I have found "Gent" to be very worthy of appreciation and much admiration, especially the work that JC did in it. Someone said that the film falls short of Michael Curtiz' later work, including "Casablanca" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy," but "Jimmy the Gent" wasn't meant to be anything more than a fun 66-minute seat-filler, anyway.
Although I found Cagney's haircut to be unfortunate as a child, I have heard now how JC took this haircut to perturb the higher-ups in WB (especially Hal B. Wallis) to get back at them for putting JC in this film. But in actuality, I kind of think the haircut suited JC for the role he played here, the role of a conniving and manipulating snake oil salesman, and two-parts bully, to boot, who would do whatever he could, within the bounds of the limited worldliness he possessed, to propel his business forward and get the girl he wanted so badly. Remember, JC knew how to use his body for maximum benefit as an actor... and the controlled use of his body is on full display in this one!
One other thing I noticed, too, is that Cagney looked thick, somewhat squat, and boxy much of the time. Could this look be by design, as well? I think he actually held his body, clothed his body, and moved his body intentionally in "Jimmy the Gent" in ways to differentiate his persona in this film from those in his previous films. In summation, the film is fast, fun, funny, and full of delicious dialog, and James Cagney delivers yet another great character for us to enjoy!
Blondie Johnson (1933)
Joan Blondell Shines at Blondie!
"Blondie Johnson" is a marvelous piece of film fun, made just before the era of the speakeasy was to conclude. As recounted in other reviews, the story is engaging and is a so-called "gangster movie" with a difference. The fun dialog goes on relentlessly with generous helpings of stellar interactions. This movie contains, additionally, an eye-boggling march across the screen of sparkling Art-Deco interiors and Depression-era fashions. The cast is comfortably familiar to movie buffs, with Joan Blondell demonstrating that she could do plenty more than just look beckoningly doe-eyed with those expressive eyes of hers. In the early 1930's she was often merely just a bubbly presence, but in this film she skillfully hypnotizes the willing viewer with plenty of varied emotion and determination, demanding recognition as a fine actress. In sum, this film is a treat for us movie fans of early WB and First National pictures, just as the studio began to create films containing confident fluidity of exposition. Highly enjoyable!
Phantom Ranger (1938)
A Rarely Seen Side of Tim McCoy in the "Phantom Ranger"
The "Phantom Ranger" is fairly short, as B-westerns go, and with a taut, compact little story about counterfeiters in the late 1930's, being one of those curious films that takes place in the "modern" era, albeit in an enclave that stayed stuck in the 1880's, with horses, guns, and no cars . It is definitely worth viewing for fans of the genre and especially for fans of Tim McCoy, foremost because we get to see a side of Tim that doesn't get showcased often, that of the playful, tipsy, gregarious, teasing, confident, and advances-offering ladies man. But the treat doesn't last long enough, unfortunately.
We also get to hear and see some fun, contemporary (for 1938) Latin dancing and music in the venerable border saloon. Additionally, the culminating scene occurs on terrain that is a little more extreme and rugged than normal, too. The pretty leading lady is Suzanne Kaaren, who had a long career in film and stage, going on through to "The Cotton Club" in 1984. In sum, this is a fun film, and as might be expected, Tim McCoy's enjoyably authoritative presence keeps this "Phantom Ranger" moving along nicely.
Two-Fisted Law (1932)
"Two-Fisted Law" is a Multi-Faceted Western Treat!
Plenty of reviews of "Two-Fisted Law" show up here and they cover the film well. I normally don't submit reviews for run-of-the-mill, much reviewed B-westerns, but I herewith wish to recognize and emphasize the skilled directing and camera work performed by director D. Ross Lederman. The framing, angling, and camera racking is a marvel to witness, and I will be watching the film again merely to enjoy a return visit to this component. Right from the opening scene, where the film's skullduggery is established, the viewer is signalled that he or she can anticipate a well-composed and directed film.
The movie's second scene is truly remarkable for a B-Western, as it captures and portrays straightforwardly, and with unaffected poignancy, the predicament that Tim McCoy and his two friends find themselves in. This happens not only because of the well-delivered scripted words and the portrayals by McCoy, Wallace MacDonald, and John Wayne, but very much also because of the camera's measured, gentle, and involved recording of the action. The scene goes on for several minutes, with dramatic and reflective emotions on display. This scene then segues to a scene where McCoy further discusses his predicament with actress Alice Day's character. Although Miss Day is not the most polished of actresses, the weighty pathos portrayed by the four characters in scenes two and three is so deftly established that the viewer totally becomes eager for wanting to witness all the action to come, whatever it may be.
The film then moves into the anticipated action and resolution mode, and does it well, too, as might be expected. The cinematic treats are not over, however, as one more beautifully performed extended dramatic scene towards the end unspools, this one involving Wheeler Oakman and Walter Brennan. Retreating to a bench in front of the saloon, the two men have a weighty discussion bearing on their actual survival, acted well and captured magnificently.
Very much enjoyed, this little two-fisted western film has a lot to enjoy for the film buff. Please have a look!
Cipher Bureau (1938)
It is Easy to Understand Why "Cipher Bureau" is a Fun Film!
"Cipher Bureau" turns out to be a serious but a fun little film that must have held fascination for people interested in the technology of the day as the world hurtled toward the turmoil of and tragic need for the Second World War. The performances are just fine, with faces that were largely familiar to the movie-going fans of the day in 1938, but, unfortunately, are now fast fading from America's collective memory. But it is the code-breaking concerns and the pre-war espionage focus that make this movie as compelling and worth the while for lovers of old movies. Joan Woodbury adds a sparkling dash of future 1940's sophistication, as her presence becomes more and more anticipated and desired by the viewer as the film unfolds.
The other big thing for me was the classical motif and score, which really sets the film apart from most other efforts back in the day. One gets the idea that this film had aspirations to be much more grown up than it ever could be with the lower budget it had to work with. Additionally, it is curious how they found a Lenin look-alike to play the piano. I am so glad I got to see this interesting motion picture.
God's Country and the Man (1931)
Another Entertaining and Mature Early 1930's B-Western
I enjoyed this adventure very much, as it has the well-developed and -explored plot with unusual components and poignancy that go lacking in so many of the B-western films made in the late 1930's and thereafter. The film portrays a grim story and there are few laughs to be had, but, by golly, one can get engrossed in this creaky, fairly-early talkie. The mature in the audience will find the unfolding drama to be decidedly grown-up, if not disturbing, in appointment and plot complications. The story develops smoothly with our hero Tom Tyler really coming to represent just one of the cast doing their thing...the hero doesn't necessarily stand out strongly in this one. The set design, editing, and scene composition for the movie are all well done for the era and the genre, with gunfights and on-horseback chases kept to a minimum. This one is highly enjoyable!
Under Eighteen (1931)
"Under Eighteen" Takes Us to the Penthouse!
"Under Eighteen" was undoubtedly a lurid title for motion pictures in the early 1930's, but the subject matter and depicted activities were appropriately lurid,too. A film enjoyable to watch today, the subject matter, in general, was apparently old hat to many movie-goers of the era, including Variety magazine, which in its review (Dec. 29, 1931 p.167) gave the film a fairly cool shake, saying the tour of depression-era love was just one more monotonous presentation "of this much viewed tale... both silent and in sound."
But for those of us looking at the movie as a time of historical interest 90 years removed, this film is a splendid document. The desperate drudgery of life in view for a lower rung family is presented with distressing clarity, and stands in contrast to life for folks of the snappy, devil-may-care upper echelon. Costuming, street scenes, and interior decor from 1931 are all on wondrous parade here. The story's culminating opulent and debauchery-filled 40th-floor penthouse party is breathtaking and truly not to be missed. In such parties did young women really dance the fox trot to society orchestras in dripping-wet bathing suits right after having bobbed in the swimming pool on giant rubber ducks? And with random male partners, to boot? The Variety review kind of casts doubt on that.
I enjoyed the performance of Marian Marsh in what was heralded as her first starring role. Her eyes are sumptuous and for me helped her portray many an emotion, although Variety said she failed to impress and would not benefit from being in this film. But I enjoyed her portrayal of youthful innocence and optimism changing to suspicion and dismay as she realized the quality of relationships in the adult world around her portend a cloudy future.
Variety also felt that Warren William wouldn't benefit from his time in this film, but I thought he came on with a highly convincing turn as a potentially sinister presence (although his selectivity for victimization as evidenced by his miserly pouring of seducing drinks for Marian was a step leading to a muddled and apparently rushed wrap-up ending). Regis Toomey as Marian's love interest did a good enough job, but his role had limitations in that what he stood for was inconsistently presented. And wow! That big kiss between Marian and Regis is really something! Kisses between men and women in the 1930s was often just one tightly closed mouth on the other, but 18 year old Marian was romantically liberal with her offering here!
Distinct and interesting characters with great faces abound in this film, even though the story admittedly has some limitations in logic. But for fans of early 1930's films this is a valuable entry in the array and should be given a chance by all fans of older film.
Trail Dust (1936)
"Trail Dust" Makes for an Excellent Journey
I really enjoyed this "Trail Dust" installment of the Hoppy series, which is owing really to many factors, but in perhaps largest measure to the story derived from Clarence Mulford's "Trail Dust" novel. Few films take on a trail drive as their sole purpose for being. It is impressive that even though approximately 95% of the program takes place outdoors-- and most of that on the cattle trail-- the film really never lets the viewers' attention wane. Photography by Archie Stout is well planned, including beautifully highlighted western vistas abounding throughout. The natural beauty afforded by the countryside near California's Mother Lode district verges on magic (this setting is a welcome relief from the venerable Alabama Hills that viewers of lower-budgeted westerns have become all too familiar with). The evening gathering of hardworking trail hands gathered around the chuck wagon, all illuminated by the campfire's illuminating glow, are gorgeously captured. Sound is very important in the movie, too...the sound of horses and cattle and the cowboys' communicating voices stay with the viewer long after the film has concluded. The unforced and simple banter between Windy (George Hayes) and Hoppy (William Boyd) showcase two of western film's more distinctive and entertaining voices. Listen to Windy walk in his boots across the wooden floor of the Waggoner's Outfitting Store...it is so appropriately atmospheric!
All the players in "Trail Dust" do the acting profession proud, for this is a serious film and one senses the performers are committed to doing it right. But one really has to hand it to good ol' William Boyd... he carries such a reassuring, honest, and pervasive presence that his Hoppy persona hangs over every frame of the film, whether he is present or not. However, there was one moment that was a bit worrisome for me, and that concerned some gun play in which Hoppy was involved... see if you notice anything that might make you wonder just a tad.
In summary, then, direction, dialog, lighting, location, and camera placement for "Trail Dust" were all done so well. This is a solidly-funded Paramount western film and one that western fans will very likely find worth their while.
Wide Open Town (1941)
This "Wide Open Town" Holds Good Viewing Fun
"Wide Open Town" is a basic but descriptive title for a remaking of the earlier-done "Hopalong Cassidy Returns" (1936). The original is often considered a more substantial work, but on its own it is still highly entertaining and is around fifteen minutes longer than a typical B-western. But this is not just a B-western, as its production values really place it a tick higher, maybe at a B+. It very much puts the Alabama Hills around Lone Pine, CA. on display, with many vistas of the snow-clad Sierra Nevada Range and king hill Mt. Whitney to be had. The snow level looks to be down to the 6,000-foot level in some of the scenes so filming must have been done in the winter or spring. The many action scenes take full advantage of the local outdoor beauty.
The cast is deep with many western veterans doing their thing. William Boyd shows himself once again to be a good actor with a strong, handsome presence. He even gets to have the love interest (such as it is) in this one. One of America's true acting legends, Evelyn Brent, has a strong female role in this one, a bad girl at that, and the esteemed Victor Jory gives this film an A-level acting presence. The town sets, including the complex saloon and hotel, are strong and used effectively. The musical score gets a little exuberant in this one, but overall this is a well put-together film with a good story that western film fans will appreciate. The only things really that differentiate this one from an A-level film are the less developed romantic story line and the lack of self-reflection moments. I would suggest viewing "Wide Open Town" first and then look at how the story was filmed five years earlier in Hopalong Cassidy Returns."
The Man from Hell (1934)
"The Man From Hell" (1934) isn't All Bad
"The Man From Hell" (1934) starring Reb Russell is a good enough film to be worth viewing if one is a B-western fan, if only to appreciate how much more our more well-known western heroes can actually put across a reasonably good performance. For most other viewers this film may seem amateurish at times in its acting, even though the cast is populated by many solid actors. Maybe it is because Russell brings everyone down a notch or two with his lifeless delivery (it occurred to me that both Yakima Canutt, who has a small role in this film, and Russell may have gone to the same elocution school?). Reb Russell just doesn't look like a purpose-driven, high-confidence western hero, carrying a largely blank facial expression most of the time and a voice that can get lost in the wind.
However, the film itself has a good story line and plenty of action, including a prolonged street fight between Russell and Mayor Fred Kohler Sr. This fight results in both men showing battle scars and being physically spent from their efforts, which is not often depicted in these films. And the final shoot-out is really something, too. The outdoor scenes are well-appointed in topography and vegetation, and the camera work captures the action in exciting and sweeping style. I especially appreciated the town's siting, nestled at the base of some hills, and its' layout, with T-intersections, vacant lots, and wildflowers between the wooden buildings. Best of all were the plank sidewalks. I would like to live in a town like that... at least for a few days.
Fred Kohler had some good moments in his portrayal as the mayor, but our beloved George E. Hayes was pretty much lost in the proceedings... he had little to do as the girl's father, despite his high billing in the credits; but he did look surprisingly dapper and clean.
One final point is to validate Russell's reference to Yuma Penitentiary as a "hell hole." For those viewers that may not be aware, Yuma Territorial Prison's nickname was indeed the "hell hole" in the days when it was in operation and even today. If one has a chance to visit the rebuilt and maintained ruins of the attraction on and overlooking the Colorado River in Yuma, AZ, one should indeed do so.
Thunder in the Desert (1938)
"Thunder in the Desert" is Charged with Good Acting and a Fun Story
"Thunder in the Desert' is another Sam Newfield directed film, and indeed shows once again how a fairly familiar story can be gussied up and reworked a bit and made highly enjoyable when a competent and veteran cast does their work from within a thought-out framework. One just feels comfortable with Bob Steele leading the cast with his earnest and expressive acting. There is no fat or filler in this film, where every scene means something. Just don't expect the title to mean anything.
The unusual opening segment sets the tone well, breaking as it does from the majority of B-western films which often open with a furious chase on horseback, or else a rider (maybe with a partner) horsing it along the trail. I really appreciated the unusual opening scene. There was also a much appreciated and unique, and subtle, too, dream scene for Steele's sidekick Don Barclay. Now if one is a Louise Stanley fan, and there may be some, don't come to this movie with great expectations. She has in this program one of the least important leading lady roles one could imagine.
This is very much an outdoor picture, with relatively little happening in interesting interior settings, and although it was made in 1938, when music in westerns was becoming standard, this film thankfully doesn't have any annoying and manipulative musical score. In sum, "Thunder in the Desert" is a nifty, well-paced adventure and will likely be satisfying for Bob Steele and B-western fans.
The Hole in the Wall (1929)
"The Hole in the Wall" (1929) Provides a View into Film History
There are several reviews posted here on the page which cover well "The Hole in the Wall," but I just want to with this comment encourage younger viewers who may be considering embarking on a look at this one to definitely do so. This film was released in April of 1929, so it was probably shot over the winter of 1928-29 or in Jan or Feb at the latest. I would conjecture that most films produced before the summer of 1929 do not hold up well for viewing today, in 2020. But this one does... it looks and feels good in its acting work, its direction, the sets, and the compelling story. Oh sure, the dialog may not be sparkling, but that's just the writing... we're not looking for something great when we are peering into history. We are looking for the joy of seeing what came before, to learn how things developed... to see what things were like back in the day. And "The Hole..." gives us that. Many films in 1928 were still being shot as silents, particularly before summer began, so here in these early days of talkies we have the actors placed around microphones that often dictated where the actors were placed on set. Much of the dialog was delivered deliberately and enunciation was important. The voices may be a bit louder than what would really be appropriate for the situation. For some actors the dialog offered could sound "stagey," and getting physicality to jibe with speech was tricky. Some actors coming in from silent pictures had exaggerated eye and hand movements, but that wasn't the case in this film. Just think how really exciting it must have been to be a part of this change from silents to talkies in the film industry.
It was fun to here see the apparent difficulty of trying to present the characters in conversation while in the nightclub with the band's music playing. For the most part they didn't even try. There was one short sequence where they did try and it worked out just so-so. And furthermore, no attempt was seemingly made to soundtrack the words of the cops who were gathering for the stakeout at the gangsters' den... we only see the mouths moving in apparent conversation while the soundtrack is dull static. This shouldn't be negatively criticized by us today; rather it should be enjoyed. The little girl in peril under the dock is shown in silence in her peril... we the viewers must supply our own sound for the situation she is in, including the splashing of the water by Donald Meek (I for one think silences such as this can add to the gathering concern felt by the viewer if one accepts some of the terms of watching a sound film from early 1929).
This film is a real treat for all the reasons listed above and also because, on good authority, it was Edward G. Robinson's first sound picture and was also his first gangster role, and additionally for it being Claudette Colbert's very first movie role. Youngsters and anyone interested in film history should indeed enjoy this very valuable motion picture. It is a worthy experience.
The Range Feud (1931)
"Range Feud" is a Good Buck Jones B-Western from 1931
"Range Feud" comes to us from 1931, when Buck Jones was perhaps the strongest of the B-western heroes and when John Wayne was trying to gain a consistent presence in Hollywood. It is as if Wayne was cast here to test his appeal to B-western audiences as one more top-billed hero, of which at the time there were many. Although John Wayne's character is central to why we are all watching this film, Wayne doesn't actually have a lot to do in this film (he spends considerable time in the jailhouse or laying low), but he does a credible job when asked to contribute to the strong dramatics and pathos in this serious film.
But this is a Buck Jones show and Buck turns in another powerful performance as a determined and stoic lawman faced with choices that are not always merely either good or bad. The story of two camps of good people needing to take a stand on life-impacting issues that clearly are seen differently by them is well developed and told in such a way that the viewer also takes a stand; however, the viewer comes to realize before long that further evaluation may be demanded as the movie's expository process unfolds.
Director Sam Newfield pries some effective performances from the cast in a production that seems to have given him the luxury of time to do so. In the coming decades Newfield would grind out countless more westerns, but time and budget constraints usually limited his movies to lots of action but weak to so-so story development. But here, in this one, story is paramount and action is used to illustrate or even punctuate the story. This is one reason why Buck Jones has such an aura of mythic hero about him to this day... he looks like the perfect Western hero, acts like it, too, and seems to always find himself in powerful situations and stories that befit his persona. It is a shame that more Buck movies from the 1930's are not more readily available.
Billy the Kid Wanted (1941)
Buster Crabbe's "Billy the Kid Wanted" is a Good First Go in the Series
This was the first in the Buster Crabbe series of Billy the Kid interpretations, this from 1941. I must say I am always surprised how I enjoy the PRC westerns, as they hold up just as well as the era's B-westerns from more lustrous studios, such as Republic. I have also noted how the PRC 8-day westerns don't jump out as being notably creaky and stilted like the studio's 8-day contemporary dramas and comedies. Nonetheless, this maiden voyage for Crabbe's BTK flicks has a focused and involving story that is developed well through the dialog, and which interestingly features three assemblages of men who take turns either being the group chasing on horseback the other two or being the group chased by the other two. Lots of horseback riding with manes a-flying in this picture!
Both Buster Crabbe and Al St.John are seen here before they evolve into what we will later in the series consider signature in their personal characteristics: Crabbe seems more blonde, evaluative, and gentle in this film; while St. John has a much less "Fuzzy" countenance about him here than he will show in subsequent installments... less comic appeal, less eccentricity, and a less overt old-timer "look." And finally Dave O'Brien, as the third amigo of the heroic 3-man team featured in many of these films, has a more integral role in the action here, more so than he often did in later BTK efforts.
The cast is fairly large and features the charismatic Glenn Strange, whose appearance here is made more delicious for the audience by his frequent sparring and matching wits with the wonderful Charles King. One just can not get enough of Mr. CK! The Billy the Kid series (Steele or Crabbe) was total baloney historically speaking, but the films were consistently enjoyable to witness, this first one with Crabbe included.
Outlaws of Boulder Pass (1942)
Don't Give Up on "Outlaws of Boulder Pass"
"Outlaws of Boulder Pass" hails from 1942 and was by definition saddled with the low budget provisions of the PRC studios. It was also one of the last pictures made by the strong and handsome actor George Houston. Many scenes were staged outside and they used several locales and sets often (such as the toll booth where cattle ranchers were charged for moving stock through a pass). Although Houston plays the role of the "Lone Rider" here, he is really part of a three man team (also actors Dennis Moore and Al "Fuzzy" St. John) who work together to bring the bad guys to justice.
Be aware of some illogical if not ridiculous story development moments as the actors approach their jobs in an obviously relaxed way. The grave body-checking scene is very curious, as Dennis Moore bravely and messily tempts the repeated thrustings of a stabbing shovel as he assists in the pursuit of identifying the film's crime-committing culprits. The funnest part of watching this film is to see venerable mean guy Charles King playing up the ineptitude of his character in charming and comedic fashion. King very likely will bring more smiles and chuckles to the viewer than the comic relief of Fuzzy St. John.
There is, for most film fans, little in this film that would warrant higher than average marks, except for the overall "enjoyment quotient," which is high. Why it all comes together for a fun little hour may never be determined, but B-western fans, for whatever reason, will probably enjoy this show. GIB~
Lawless Land (1936)
This "Lawless Land" Needs Johnny Mack Brown
"Lawless Land" is a fully satisfying, although simple, B-western from Johnny Mack Brown's flurry of westerns made from 1936 and 1937. His appearance nearly always guarantees a pleasant experience no matter what else goes on, but in this case the film has a really nice aura in and of itself. The sets are always important to me, and this film has some good ones, including an expansive hacienda; an oft-visited combination post office/general store; and a remote cabin nestled in the wood. And, of course, there a few outdoor locales but these are routine. Hair-raising action is not bountiful in this film, but when it does occur it is brief and effective. I really enjoyed the opening and closing music and the musical entertainment within the film, which is melodious and pleasingly gorgeous.
As for the acting in this one, JMB's lines are delivered in an oddly stilted way, as it often is, but his work is so earnest and affable that one happily goes along for the ride. No other cowboy star showed as much confidence and swagger as JMB, with the exception of John Wayne and possibly Buck Jones, but JMB's swagger is somehow always appealing. The familiar Ted Adams gets an unusually substantial role as the mustachioed villain in this one, and does a nice job. By contrast, although leading lady Louise Stanley is a pretty woman, she doesn't really bring much oomph to the proceedings. All in all, the cast is good enough to get the job done, but it really is the unfolding story the makes this simple B-western show worth one's while.
Repent at Leisure (1941)
"Repent at Leisure" Provides Some Fun, Up to a Point
"Repent at Leisure" (1941) is about as logical a title for this little 66-minute B-grade film as the sequence of events depicted in it flow from plausible logic. However, that's not to say the film isn't enjoyable, because it actually is, up to a point. And that point is the drawn-out final scene, which to me was as much without merit as it was without defensible premise. It just isn't good when the final scene leaves one heading for the exit in a disagreeable state of mind.
But the movie is light and airy and pretty much a feel-good flick in general, with the department store owner (George Barbier) and his daughter (Wendy Barrie) involved in a series of comical concealed and mistaken identity concerns. How things came to this compounding familial difficulty requires the viewer to take a few leaps of faith along the way, which is acceptable because there is some fun to be had here. Kent Taylor as the leading man chosen by Wendy really has nothing going for him in the way of charisma, and it is hard to see why we should find him appealing, let alone Wendy. It is obvious this film was very cheaply done but does pass along some enjoyable moments, but please... just don't expect too much from it.
Heritage of the Desert (1932)
"Heritage of the Desert" Is an Excellent Daydream of a Movie
Watching the higher than grade B-western "Heritage of the Desert" from 1932 is rather like experiencing a dream that one is not really sure they are a part of. The settings seem so very vivid and ethereal, but yet one feels it is being looked at from on-high. Everything in view seems busy and lush, from the vegetation-rich outdoor gang-gathering spots to the fully appointed and so seemingly authentic interiors. The ranch complex's buildings and grounds are wonderfully detailed and oh-so dusty, and the spectacularly rustic White Sage Saloon, with its many ceiling-supporting timbers, is truly a marvel to behold. The saloon even has an imaginatively-situated office, perched just a few stairs above the main floor with a view to the bar's action when the office door is open. Such detail-rich sets just are not normally found in an average B-western.
This is noted director Henry Hathaway breakout picture and he offers up some nice panoramas and carefully composed shots, which serve to give this movie its poetic or even dreamlike atmosphere. But, for the realist, the jumping from Joshua Tree-studded desert to oak woodlands to pine-studded ridge tops and back again in the confines of a local story is a bit hard to accept, unless one accepts being in a dream.
The story is involving, as one might expect, being that it is sourced from Zane Grey. It struck me that the delivery of the dialog was powerfully effective and engaging, so much so that it was disappointing to see the program come to a close. Why the story unfolded so satisfyingly was in large measure owing to the faces delivering it, which are diverse and fascinating, and to the voicing, which although admittedly delivered a little stiffly at times, is strong and consistently appropriate for each character.
The men in this story exist in a harsh and dangerous world, but this is contrasted with softness with the appearances of the very feminine Sally Blane. Sally's very non-1890 look is just one more example of the film's dreamlike demeanor. She of course photographs beautifully, including in the warm glow of a campfire's light. Deeper into the film Sally walks along a windswept rocky ridge studded with pine trees looking for Randolph in the softest of summer dresses, fluffing her hair as she anticipates seeing him. Obviously this scene couldn't be from real life! The soft-focus scene where the two "bed down" in the moonlight in close proximity to one another after having had a romantic day together, he in a bed of pine needles on the ground and she perched above him on a platform in a pine tree, is perhaps one of the most romantic of moments in cinematic history.
The film has plenty of great dialog. One fun passage occurs out of doors in a tree grotto when the villain Judd Holderness (actor Daniel Landau) tells one of the men under his thumb, in his ominously-toned voice, "I staked you to plenty, savvy? Maybe your old man would like to know what happened to his horse money!" The character Snap Naab replies nervously, "You wouldn't do a thing like that, would you?" Holderness kicks at the ground like a horse and replies sternly, "I do things like that every ten minutes." This is really great stuff, as they say!
For 1932, "Heritage of the Desert" is a slice above a standard B-western in budget and appointment, and even has some appreciated music, including a beautiful medley as backdrop in the bar scenes as well as non-intrusive scoring in well-up moments when romance or tension develop. In summary, "Heritage of the Desert" has a fine story; a strong romance story line; the requisite horse, gun play, and fistfight action; considered cinematography; and riveting dialog delivery. It is an excellent hour's worth of lush and dreamy western movie entertainment.