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Trouble in Sundown (1939)
Where did you get that hat?
Chubby George O'Brien - he of the massive over-sized titfer - grins his way though this entertaining B western, clearing the name of the honest banker (was there one?), sorting out dodgy surveyors Bond and Montague and finally winning the hand of Rosalind Keith.
Ray Whitley and the Phelps Brothers are on hand to warble a couple of ditties about life on the prairie and Chill Wills, as sidekick Whopper, tells tall tales presumably intended as comic relief.
The sets are good and the photography is nice: there are even a few plot twists to keep the non-western enthusiast interested. Above average.
Bandits of the West (1953)
Headin' for the last roundup
Rocky's penultimate series western and, indeed, one of the very last B westerns to be released.
By 1953, television was looming large and even the injection of some quirky and original story lines into the Republic product was not enough to save the day.
The plot here revolves around the introduction of gas lighting into a typical western town and the different reactions of those most affected. To some, it is a thing of beauty to be cherished: to others, it is the work of the devil. Unsurprisingly, black-hearted Roy Barcroft is in neither camp: he sees it only as a means of destroying those seeking to inhibit his villainy. Lucky, indeed, that Marshal Rocky is on hand to put a stop to his nefarious schemes.
Otherwise, it's business as usual with the obligatory chases, punch-ups and shoot outs from a more than adequate cast. Lane, Waller and Barcroft, in particular, are always good value for money. But, having said that, there are moments when there is a distinct lack of urgency and even these stalwarts appear to be simply going through the motions.
Perhaps they knew that the end of the trail was just around the next corner.....
Rails Into Laramie (1954)
Get back to work you drunken bums!
Progress on the railroad has pretty much ground to a halt as the workers spend most of their time drinking rotgut in Dan Duryea's boozer.
The leading citizens of the town request military help and tough soldier, Payne, is appointed as a sort of temporary marshal. Trouble is, he's an old mate of Duryea so it looks as though there's going to be a conflict of interests.
This is an above average Universal western: the two main protagonists play off each other well and there is excellent support from a very large cast of familiar westerners (many uncredited). Special mentions must go to Lee Van Cleef as a menacing, trigger happy bad guy (was he ever anything else?), Mari Blanchard as a saloon girl with a heart of gold (was she ever anything else?) and James Griffith, cast against type in a humorous role, as a bumbling ineffectual lawman.
Action scenes are well staged - particularly those on the trains - the photography is first class and the Technicolor beautiful as always.
Oh, and as an added bonus for B western fans, there's a title song over the opening credits rumbled out by the ever popular Rex Allen....
Raiders of San Joaquin (1943)
Two heroes for the price of one
No need for a spoiler alert as the plot is largely incomprehensible. Suffice to say, it concerns signed and unsigned contracts, transfer of deeds and rights of way.
But, this is, of course a B western so no-one cares as long as all the other ingredients are in place and they are with a vengeance! We have two heroes for the price of one with Johnny Mack Brown and Tex Ritter slugging it out - although they are, of course, ultimately on the same side - Jennifer Holt, who just has to be (for a whole string of reasons) the best leading lady in the entire genre and Fuzzy Knight providing the necessary comic relief with aplomb. There are songs from Knight and the excellent Jimmy Wakely Trio and Tex, in his instantly recognisable style, warbles yet another ditty about a "carefree cowboy".
And despite all of these pleasant diversions, there is still plenty of room for fist fights, chases, holdups, shootouts and out of control stagecoaches before Johnny and Tex bring the bad guys to justice.
One minor quibble, I found George Eldredge (who?) a bit non-descript as the lead villain. But then, I suppose there must have been times when Roy Bancroft was unavailable....
Spare the Rod (1961)
I'm going to tell you a story
Max Bygraves was hugely popular in the UK as a singer and comedian - and subsequently as a game show host - but, it has to be said, his greatest attribute was his affability.
A number of his singles made the UK charts and his "singalong" albums appealed (particularly) to older listeners not, I think, simply because he was a passably good vocalist, but because his persona was so likable and non-threatening.
In Spare the Rod, he is cast as a supply teacher working in a tough secondary modern school in the East End of London, hoping to succeed by winning over the pupils rather than punishing them. Along the way, he shows the bad boys that he can mix it with the best whilst refusing to be seduced by the bad girls.
Donald Pleasance is excellent as the headmaster who has no illusions whatsoever about the youngsters in his charge or the system that he is required to follow and Geoffrey Keen, as the sadistic woodwork teacher, reminds us all of some of the bad, bad times in what used to be described as the best years of our lives! Amongst the kids, look out, especially, for Richard O'Sullivan and Jeremy Bulloch, both of whom excel.
As for Max, well, sadly he wasn't really much of an actor but, surrounded by professionals as he is, he doesn't do too badly.
And it is kind of hard to dislike or say bad things about someone who is just so affable.
The Gay Ranchero (1948)
And no bulls were harmed in the production of this motion picture....
Opinions differ on this one, perhaps due, in part, to different versions being made available.
The film was originally shot in Trucolor with a running time of 72 minutes and, for those watching the shorter (54 minutes) black and white version, opinions of the movie overall might be influenced by what was actually edited out. I say this having just watched the full length movie - albeit not in colour - as part of Passport Video's Ultimate Roy Rogers Collection: a very nice print it is too! I found this to be a superior series entry. All of the B western boxes are ticked in such a way that the Republic quality again shines through. They were simply the best in the action stakes and The Gay Ranchero is well up to their usual high standard.
There are fist fights, shoot outs, chases and stunts a-plenty and Trigger gets to kick a door down in helping Roy to round up the bad guys. Andy Devine provides the anticipated level of cornball humour, Rodriguez dances and there are songs a plenty. Roy sings with and without Jane Frazee, Guizar and Rodriguez warble in both English and Spanish and the ever reliable Sons of the Pioneers chip in with a couple of ditties of their own. I appreciate that this lot might be a bit much for some tastes but have to say I loved it! The plot, as some other users have said, is "loose" but it is unusual and somewhat dark and, therefore, more interesting than it otherwise would be.
One slightly sour note: attitudes to bullfighting were a whole lot different in 1948 and pretty Estelita's obvious delight in talking about bulls being killed makes somewhat uncomfortable listening in 2015. Having said that, I suppose that nearly everything in B Western Land reflects a wholly different way of life and, generally speaking, we fans wouldn't have it any other way.
Wild Country (1947)
Not so bad western
My co-reviewer is grumpy indeed! Admittedly, Wild Country is no classic but, if this is the worst western "seen to date", I must assume he hasn't watched too many.
What we have here is standard B western fare with roving marshal Eddie Dean rounding up the bad guys with the help of horse Flash - Dean had different "named" horses in other movies - and sidekick Soapy (Roscoe Ates). The flamboyant villain with the polka dot scarf round his hat is played with sinister gusto by the ever reliable and much under-rated I. Stanford Jolley.
Of course there are the "obligatory songs": why wouldn't there be when Eddie Dean was known as a singing cowboy and he did have an excellent voice. They are no more "out of place" than in other B westerns or, for that matter, major musicals. Sadly, there are only three, all good, but I particularly liked "The Saddle with the Golden Horn".
Leading lady Peggy Wynne is a bit feeble and funny man Ates is somewhat "limited" but there are more than enough chases, fist fights and shoot-outs to keep things bubbling nicely for the short running time.
The Cattle Thief (1936)
Were we watching the same movie?
I'm afraid my co-reviewer seems to have got himself into a bit of a muddle! As opposed to spending "so little time on the screen", doughty Ken Maynard appears throughout, either as himself or in his pedlar disguise - James A. Marcus plays a different character altogether! - as he tries to find out who is stirring up a range war between the local ranchers.
This is an above average Maynard entry: his performance as the apparently gormless pedlar is particularly good and serves as a reminder that he had a flair for comedy that was not always utilised.
There is a fair degree of action, a few scenes to justify Tarzan's billing as a "wonder horse" - he adroitly ties a villain to a tree! - and Ken gets to warble briefly, reminding us all that, pre-Gene Autry, he was sometimes classified as a "singing cowboy".
Geneva Mitchell is a bit stiff as Alice, Ken's love interest, but Ward Bond as the chief heavy is well above average for this kind of fare, his authoritative performance showing clear signs of greater days to come.
Rio Grande Ranger (1936)
This Smoke is a powerful bad hombre....
Ranger Bob Allen is sent to infiltrate the infamous Sayers gang, posing as a desperado known only as Smoke. In doing so, he falls foul of displaced lead henchman, Sneed, who discovers the hoax and tips off his boss.
Allen is adequate as the hero, Iris Meredith - looking lovely as always - is the obligatory rancher's daughter, Robert Henry is her supposedly cute and endearing little brother - how we all laughed! -and Hal Taliafero is the ranger's sidekick, providing what I believe is intended as comic relief, mostly about whether or not he needs a shave.
Strictly for B western completists this one as - unless you count the fact that Allen and Meredith warble a duet about Wyoming - there is absolutely nothing that distinguishes this from hundreds of other standard shoot 'em ups.
Perils of the Royal Mounted (1942)
Perils and yet more perils.....
Villainous Ransome (Kenneth MacDonald) doesn't want the railroad to be built - at least, not until he wins the contract - and employs a formidable army of B western baddies (Ingram, King, Jolley, Chesebro, Osborne etc.)to carry out his wicked wiles.
Standing in his way is resolute mountie, Sergeant Mack MacLane (Robert Stevens): he is shot, crushed, blown up (at least twice), set on fire, tipped over a cliff and subjected to just about every form of near death happening known to serialdom but, of course, emerges triumphant! This is not, it must be said, a classic serial but it is lively and fast moving. Stevens looks the part but is no great shakes as an actor - he tends to bellow his lines in a monotone - but there is a neat performance from pretty Nell O'Day as the factor's daughter and a wonderfully hammy one from Forrest Taylor as the whining Preacher Hinsdale.
There's also a nice visual effect with the off/on waterfall which covers the entrance to the bad guys' secret hideout!
Behave Yourself! (1951)
If everyone would please calm down........
Moderate comedy of what used to be described as the "screwball" variety.
There are so many user comments already that there is little point in my summarising the plot for the umpteenth time.
Suffice to say that, on the plus side, the movie is lively and, mostly, good natured. Against that is the somewhat incomprehensible plot - I never really worked out what the two gangs of criminals were trying to achieve - and the "frantic" performances of the majority of the cast. Someone obviously decided that "loud equals funny" and, consequently, everyone seems to be in a constant state of yelling hysteria which gets wearing long before the picture is over.
Farley Granger was, I thought, OK as the harassed husband: Shelley Winters - miscast as the young wife - was more irritating than amusing.
Dynamite Pass (1950)
One of the Good Ones
I always think it ironic that some of the very best B westerns come from the period when they were finally on the way out, i.e.1950 onwards.
This is a particularly good series entry, not because it is especially different or unusual, but because all of the necessary ingredients are neatly balanced. The plot is uncomplicated but wholly adequate, the cast (including stalwarts Toomey, Dehner, Harvey, Haggerty and Pyle) is well above average, the action sequences are well handled and evenly distributed throughout the film's short (61 minutes) running length and, this being an RKO picture, everything looks just as it should be. This may have been considered a "throwaway" item in the eyes of the studio but budget and facilities were still way ahead of those of the "poverty row" outfits responsible for the production of so many B westerns throughout the years.
Tim Holt always came across in his movies as competent and likable: his performances were pleasantly understated. Sidekick, Richard Martin, was, I thought, a little on the dull side or, perhaps it would be fairer to say, the character he played was dull. There is, after all, only so much humour that can be squeezed from a long list of Mexican forenames and a penchant for pretty girls.
But that is a minor quibble........
Zorro's Black Whip (1944)
Parting is such sweet Zorro
Bad guy, Hammond, (Francis McDonald) doesn't want Idaho to join the Union - there's a public vote coming up - because that might mean more law and order, perish the thought.
Standing in the way of the boss crook (and his familiar crew of B western heavies) are brave young government agent Vic Gordon (George J. Lewis) and a mysterious masked avenger, the Black Whip, in reality newspaper owner Barbara Meredith (Linda Sterling).
That's about the entire plot actually. Hammond spends much of his time on screen issuing generalised instructions to his snarling henchmen.
"So, there's a wagon train of settlers coming in, eh? Take some of the boys and make sure it never gets here!" "So, the newspaper office is expecting a new printing press to replace the one we smashed, eh? Take some of the boys and make sure it never gets here!" Etc. Etc.
These are not actual quotes but you get the picture, I'm sure.
So, no prizes for script, plot or acting but a big star rating nevertheless because Zorro's Black Whip is so brilliant in every other way. As soon as you see Yakima Canutt's name in the opening credits, you know you're in for a treat.
Tremendous, brilliantly choreographed fights in every episode with whole rooms full of furniture reduced to rubble and dust; chases on horseback with the horses galloping at around 200 miles per hour - the film may have been speeded up a little at times - shoot outs by the dozen with no time wasted in bothering to re-load and all the usual "impossible" episode endings. Our heroes are blown up, tipped over cliffs, set on fire and subjected to various other indignities, often escaping death only by the insertion of an added sequence in the next chapter. Republic were just so good at this kind of thing! Another reviewer suggested that this was aimed at an audience of 10 year olds. I agree, but that doesn't mean that it can't be hugely enjoyed by those of us who are just big kids at heart.
Two final thoughts: I love that recurring shot of the waterfall hiding the Black Whip's secret cave and, er, where did Zorro get to?
Wild Horse Valley (1940)
Who Let the Hosses Out?
Veteran bad guys, Ted Adams, Bud Osborne and George Chesebro, are stealing dufferish old Lafe McKee's mares and blaming handsome white stallion, Pirate, for leading them away. Are we really expected to believe that a rancher of his vast experience would not notice that the fence was cut using wire cutters?
Veteran good guy, Bob Steele,sets out to find the missing horses, expose the crooks and woo McKee's pretty daughter, Phyllis Adair. Comic Sidekick James Aubrey pulls faces and talks about his rheumatism.
Just about OK "B" western but nothing more. The Alpha print is a particularly nice one and the sound is crisp which probably makes it a lot more watchable than it otherwise would be. Bob Steele has done better!
Oklahoma Justice (1951)
Is that really you, Ma?
Marshal Johnny Mack is trying to track down a gang of bank and stage robbers - when is he not? - this time with the help of young(ish) Clancy, played with energy by Jimmy Ellison, veteran of many a Hoppy movie.
Kenne Duncan, for once on the side of righteousness, is the well meaning but naive sheriff, besotted by charming widow, Ma Mosey (Barbara Woodell)and blissfully unaware that she is the leader of the crooks.
Phyllis Coates as Goldie helps the good guys whilst romancing the bank teller.
This one starts off brightly but the thin plot is - unlike Johnny Mack - sorely in need of padding, hence lots of extended shots of assorted groups of riders galloping in different directions to fill up a few minutes here and there.
That's what happens when you cut out the comic sidekick.
Man from Sonora (1951)
From Johnny's "plump" period.....
The crooks are robbing the stagecoaches - they also steal Johnny Mack Brown's horse, Rebel.
As this one was made in 1951 - during Johnny's "plump" period - I suspect Rebel may not have minded too much! No comic sidekick this time out and, for once, Johnny doesn't play a roving marshal - just a retired roving marshal.
Leading lady Phyllis Coates has little to do but stand around smiling. The bad guys - including veteran villains House Peters Jr.,John Merton and Lee Roberts - are so obviously bad that one wonders how the good townsfolk couldn't see through them.
All good undemanding fun!
Cowboy Cavalier (1948)
A bad, bad man.....
Lance Regan (Douglas Evans) is a bad, bad man.
This is obvious from the outset: not only does he sport a thin moustache - a B western giveaway if ever there was one - but he refuses to be photographed by comic sidekick Cannonball Taylor and, horror of horrors, actually sneers a little as Jimmy Wakely sings his first number.
No surprise then that, later in the movie, he ill-treats a horse and gets a whopping from Jimmy for his trouble.
There are chases, fist fights and shoot-outs: Jimmy sings three songs and Cannonball falls into the horse trough.
As a bonus there's a good performance from Claire Whitney as wicked Regan's blackmail victim: she really acts! I liked it very much.
Cavalry Scout (1951)
Looks alright to me......
OK so this is a routine western but why is that, in itself, so bad? Studios such as Monogram and Republic were adept at turning out exactly what B western audiences wanted to see and understandably worked on the principle of "if it ain't broke don't fix it".
For those of us who still enjoy reliving those magical days of yesteryear, this is perfectly acceptable stuff. Rod Cameron is noble and heroic, the bad guys are very bad, the pretty girl is feisty but needs male support and the soldiers and Indians sort out their differences in the end. In other words, all is as it should be in B Western Land! And to the reviewer who commented that no one had shown any interest in "restoring" the pale and washed out colour, I would make the point that the Cinecolor process was notoriously bad and what you see now is exactly what cinema-goers saw half a century ago. So there's really nothing to restore......
Partners of the Sunset (1948)
So who were the partners of the sunset then???
Jimmy Wakely was pretty darned good as singing cowboys went, though, truth be told, he was always more believable as one of the hero's warbling chums than as the main man himself.
Not to worry though, this one has 4 songs, some fist fights, plenty of chases and some moderate comedy from sidekick Dub "Cannonball" Taylor. There's also a better than usual plot courtesy of J. Benton Cheney - who wrote loads of episodes of The Cisco Kid amongst other things - and a genuinely intriguing performance by Christine Larsen as the wicked new wife of Jimmy's boss.
No Oscar nominations but a better than average outing for B western fans made even more enjoyable by the crisp print on the Monogram Cowboy Collection Volume 1.
The Return of the Rangers (1943)
They're all in this one
Take a look at that cast list! It reads like a Who's Who of B western movies.
As well as the trio of stars (O'Brien, Newill and Wilkerson) we have Nell O'Day as the helpless heroine, Emmett Lynn as the comical sheriff, Henry Hall as the crusty judge and a hugely impressive array of bad guys including Glenn Strange, I. Stanford Jolley and Charles King.
Sadly, the plot has all but faded from my memory - nearly 12 hours have elapsed since I ejected the DVD from my player - but, roughly speaking,there's some rustling, some trying to drive people off their ranch and people pretending to be other people. More importantly, though, there are numerous free for alls with fixtures and fittings flying in all directions, countless chases on horseback - guns blazing with nary a reload - and some really nice songs from the ever tuneful Newill.
Rainbow Over the Range (1940)
"Let's plug that songbird!"
Someone has stolen all the horses that Jeff and Mary (Dennis Moore and Dorothy Fay) were going to sell to the cavalry.
The two young innocents believe that Mayor Rader (Jim Pierce) is trying to help them but, even allowing for a level of naivety, they should see that anyone with a mug like that can only be a rotter! Not only does he arrange for people to be murdered but he also wants to close the school where Mary teaches. How bad is that? Luckily Tex is on hand - along with comic sidekick "Arkansas Slim" Andrews - to sort the crooks out and sing the excellent title song. The bad guys must have liked it too: note how, when they decide to shoot him on the trail, they wait until he finishes the number before actually drawing their guns.
Good undemanding fun!
Rhythm of the Rio Grande (1940)
Is Pablo really so bad?
Someone is raiding and killing and trying to drive the ranchers out.
Those still around - along with gullible Texas Rangers captain, Forrest Taylor - believe it is the work of wicked Pablo, the well known Mexican bandit. We know better of course: didn't we see those shifty expressions flitting across Tris Coffin's face? (What do you mean, he always looks like that?).
Tex isn't fooled either. Pablo so enjoys Tex's singing that Tex wisely opines that any man who loves music and singing has a heart and can't be responsible for all the crimes he is accused of! Great songs in this one. I loved Rhythm of the Rio Grande and Pablo so enjoyed Mexicali Moon that he felt too mellow to shoot anyone. There is also a strikingly pretty heroine in Suzan Dale who, as far as I can see, only made one film. I wonder why.
Absolute nonsense but I really enjoyed it!
Thunder River Feud (1942)
Another wooden performance from Elmer
One of the better Range Busters movies. Unlike some entries in which action plays second fiddle to the comic banter, this successfully merges the two and would surely have pleased the Saturday matinée crowd at the Odeon, Isleworth.
Crash poses as a dude writer and is very funny - I have seen various comments to the effect that Corrigan's acting ability was limited but, to my mind, his performances do have a degree of subtlety, something rare in the genre - Dusty sings Old Macdonald while the old timers at a birthday party play Musical Chairs and, although Elmer has no more than a couple of lines of dialogue, watch his hair stand on end when pretty Jan Wilie gives him a smacker on his wooden cheek!
Take Me Back to Oklahoma (1940)
Good songs, shame about the plot
Tex , Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys all seem pretty matey. They spend large chunks of this movie roaring with laughter and back slapping for no obvious reason.
It doesn't matter though because their obvious enjoyment of everything that isn't happening is infectious! To supplement the (better than average) musical numbers, there is an assortment of standard B western ingredients, apparently chucked in at random with little regard for credibility.
In one scene, comic relief Slim Andrews is trapped inside a Tardis-type paybooth, lassooed and dragged across the prairie by bad guys after the concert takings. Incidentally, the character he plays is Slim Hunkapillar. What a great name! Can't be too many of those in West London: Hunkapillars I mean, not Slims.
Trail Dust (1936)
The best Hoppy?
Hoppy, Windy and Johnny get the herd through to the starving townsfolk despite the best efforts of the bad guys to thwart them! Based on a Mulford novel, this one has a more interesting and solid plot than most series entries. The photography is awesome and the trail drive convincing.
Gabby (Windy) gets a chunkier role than usual - he even gets shot - James Ellison displays the requisite amount of charm as he woos Gwynne Shipman and Hoppy was never more authoritative. The sinister Morris Ankrum is just one of a formidable array of baddies - how could he be anything else? - and there are a couple of good songs, apparently sung by Ellison although I stand to be corrected.
This is high quality entertainment, possibly the best of the 66.