Three more second features, albeit none with singing cowboysâ€”and a fine full-length movie.
Phantom Rancher, 1940, b&w, Harry L. Fraser (dir.), Ken Maynard, Dorothy Short, Harry Harvey, Ted Adams. 1:01.
Apparently this flick was late in Maynardâ€™s career of trick riding and solid acting. The actingâ€™s solidâ€”but the filmâ€™s gimmick doesnâ€™t make a lot of sense. Maynardâ€™s uncle is gunned down, and he arrives to take over, finding that his uncle was universally loathed and he now holds mortgages on most of the farms. Naturally, an evil gang is behind this; naturally, the most respected man in town is the villain. Maynard plays an odd game: Telling the sheriff to foreclose on Ranch X the next day if the moneyâ€™s not there, then showing up in a mask and cloak at Ranch X that night, dropping off enough money to pay off the mortgageâ€”while Maynardâ€™s character is also joining the gang. Of course it all works out: Itâ€™s an old-time one-hour Western. Good enough for $1.00.
Broadway to Cheyenne, 1932, b&w, Harry L Fraser (dir.), Rex Bell, Marceline Day, Matthew Betz, Huntley Gordon, George â€˜Gabbyâ€™ Hayes. 1:00 [0:51].
Truly strange: Rex Bell plays a New York cop who gets injured in a gang shootout and sent home to recuperateâ€”â€œhomeâ€ being a ranch near Cheyenne. One of the gangs has high-tailed it to Wyoming and is setting up a ranchersâ€™ protection racketâ€”and in the process, riding around in a car with a gunsel using a machine gun to kill off cattle. Naturally, the honorable cowboy/cop on his horse (and several other outraged actual cowboys/ranchers) manages to defeat the gang and their machine gun. The printâ€™s very choppy and missing nine minutes of dialogue. George Hayes wasnâ€™t really â€œGabbyâ€ yet, just another rancher. At best $0.75.
Stagecoach to Denver, 1946, b&w, R.G. Springsteen (dir.), Allan Lane, Martha Wentworth, Roy Barcroft, Peggy Stewart, Robert Blake. 0:56 [0:53].
Allan Lane is Red Ryder in this odd story of character doubles and corrupt sheriffs and land commissioners. The sleeve says â€œStar: Robert Blake,â€ but thatâ€™s nonsense: 13-year-old Bobby Blake plays a minor (if pivotal) role as a sick child. Itâ€™s decent entertainment if you donâ€™t look too closely. $1.00
Angel and the Badman, 1947, b&w, James Edward Grant (dir.), John Wayne, Gail Russell, Harry Carey, Bruce Cabot, Irene Rich, Lee Dixon, Tom Powers, John Halloran. 1:40.
The first full-length film in this setâ€”and itâ€™s a beauty. Itâ€™s also the first film John Wayne produced, and has been called Wayneâ€™s most romantic Western, and I can believe that. I almost didnâ€™t watch this because Iâ€™d already reviewed it in another setâ€”but then realized that set wasnâ€™t one of the 50-Movie Packs (it was the â€œDoubleDouble Feature Packâ€ given away with subscriptions to the doomed InsideDVD). When I reviewed that disc (C&I 4:12, October 2004), I complained about the print quality but found the movie good enough to get past the problems. Fortunately, this pack uses a much better print, with no apparent noise, scratches, or missing framesâ€”one of the best prints Iâ€™ve seen in these megapacks.
So what about the movie? John Wayne is a fast-shooting bad man, Quirt Evans, who winds up injured and in a Quaker household. The girl of the household (Russell) cares for him and falls for himâ€”and the way Wayne looked at age 40, itâ€™s not hard to see why. (In one or two scenes he smiles an open smile instead of his usual hard-ass half-smile: Itâ€™s a revelation.) After a series of situations and tribulations, some of them involving other bad men out to get Wayne, all ends well. The movieâ€™s generally well acted (although the cynical old Doctor does do a bit of scenery-chewing), with a particularly good job by Harry Carey as the sheriff who waits patiently for Quirt to screw up so he can hang.
What makes the movie remarkable, other than good plot, good acting (Iâ€™ve never been a big Wayne fan, but maybe thatâ€™s my mistake, and Russellâ€™s excellent as wellâ€”as are Cabot, Rich, and the rest), and good filmmaking, is the gimmick. This isnâ€™t exactly a plot spoilerâ€”the movieâ€™s 60 years oldâ€”but skip this sentence if you feel it will lessen your enjoyment: Wayne never once fires a gun during the picture (except maybe under the title). A fine picture and a good printâ€”I enjoyed watching it again. $2.