I tried hard to look for silver linings in this group of films…and it wasn’t easy.
Paroledâ€”To Die!, 1938, b&w. Sam Newfield (dir.), Bob Steele, Kathleen Eliot, Karl Hackett, Horace Murphy, Steve Clark. 0:55.
The title covers the last five or ten minutes of a short oater that could have been shorter, in a timeless West with telephones but without cars, in an unnamed state where a small-town banker would be the wealthiest man in the state if he managed to finish drilling an oil well. (I did say â€œwithout cars,â€ didnâ€™t I?)
Seems like thereâ€™s a lot of footage of one man or another man or three men on horses galloping full tilt; much of itâ€™s close-up, so itâ€™s not clear whether theyâ€™re simply using five seconds of footage over and over. And, of course, it follows typical one-hour-oater habits: Lots of badly-staged fistfights, the villain is also the most respected man in town (and runs the town), even though he bears a striking resemblance to Snidely Whiplash, the hero gets framedâ€”except this time he gets sent off to prison (framed because the bankerâ€™s looting his own bank to pay for the oil well, and the banker and hero are after the same girl) for 21 years, but immediately paroled by the governor becauseâ€¦well, if I include that, Iâ€™d be giving you pretty much the whole screenplay.
Not terrible but not very good. Bob Steele isnâ€™t much of an actor (and neither is anyone else), but makes up for it by not doing trick shooting or trick riding either. Generously (itâ€™s a decent print), $0.75
The Oklahoma Cyclone, 1930, b&w. John P. McCarthy (dir.), Bob Steele, Rita Rey, Al St. John, Charles King, Slim Whitaker, N. E. Hendrix, Hector Sarno. 1:06 [1:03].
This time, Bob Steele does sing (a lot)â€”and preens, and makes much of himself, and generally behaves in such a manner that he seems like a pretty good villain. Thatâ€™s not how things turn out, but for most of the movie heâ€™s playing a thief on the run (the Oklahoma Cyclone), holing up with a gang of thieves who also play ranchers at Santa Maria.
If anyone plans to see this (and I surely don’t recommend it), I wonâ€™t give the plot away; itâ€™s no sillier than most other early Westerns. The big problem here, other than sheer implausibility and the likelihood that anyone whoâ€™s as much of a jerk as Steele plays would have been gotten rid of somehow long before the end of the flick, is that the first portion of the printâ€™s dark and difficult to watch. It improves, but itâ€™s never very good and there are enough bad cuts to be annoying. Generously (again), $0.75.
Daniel Boone, Trail Blazer, 1956, color. Albert C. Gannaway and Ismael Rodriguez (dirs.), Bruce Bennett, Lon Chaney, Faron Young, Kem Dibbs, Jaqueline Evans. 1:16 [1:14].
Color! (Well, sort ofâ€”sometimes the scenery fades to grayscale, but people and foreground items are always in color.) Singing! (Four songs, odd for a movie thatâ€™s definitely not a cheery musical.) Notably, the Shawnee protagonist Chief Blackfish (played by Lon Chaney!) sees Boone and his ilk as â€œwhite men,â€ but doesnâ€™t seem to treat the villainous French renegade or a whole bunch of uniformed British Redcoats as white men, particularly when heâ€™s declaring war on the white men. (Although Daniel Boone really did have dealings with Chief Blackfish, there’s not much in common between the real history and what’s portrayed in this flick.)
Naturally, Daniel Boone tries to convince the Shawnee that the French villain is lying to them when he says the settlers are out to run them off their land. That may not have been true in 1775, when the movieâ€™s set, but down the road a bitâ€¦ Anyway, lots of action and, of course, the hero eventually saves the day. One remarkable scene near the end…but I won’t give it away, as it’s almost plausible that you might watch this one if there’s nothing better to do. $1.00.
Kentucky Rifle, 1956, color. Carl K. Hittleman (dir.), Chill Wills, Lance Fuller, Cathy Downs, Sterling Holloway, Henry Hull, Jeanne Cagney. 1:24.
So thereâ€™s a Conestoga wagon train headed westâ€”with a hundred Kentucky rifles in one wagon, along with their owner (and would-be gunsmith/gun shop owner), whoâ€™s hitched a ride with a wealthy settler who distrusts him. With good reason: The wealthy guyâ€™s fiancÃ©e decides she prefers the handsome young gunsmith to the annoying “money settles everything” not-much-older businessman. This particular wagon keeps breaking spokes on one wheel and finally breaks the rear axleâ€”in Comanche territory. The rest of the wagon train proceeds; the group left behind (including one very pregnant settler) tries to find a tree for a replacement axle while coping with Comanches who demand tribute. The wealthy guy wants to give them everythingâ€”specifically including the riflesâ€”in return for safe passage. The gunsmith (and his crusty old sidekick) donâ€™t trust the deal.
Various stuff ensues (based on this movie, it was nigh impossible to miss with a Kentucky rifle). You wonâ€™t be surprised to learn that the rifles finally stay on the wagon, which eventually gets moving. You probably also wonâ€™t be surprised that the Comanches are portrayed as double-dealers, whereas the settlerâ€™s attitude (â€œthis is public land, no matter how long youâ€™ve been here or what you might say about itâ€) is of course honorable. Lance Fuller makes an interesting hero/gunsmith, given that he was part Cherokee. Sterling Holloway does a cute job as a nervous young settler (who keeps a still on the side).
Iâ€™ve always thought â€œyour money or your lifeâ€â€”the deal offered here, although this time it’s “all your goods including those rifles, or your lives”â€”was a stupid offer. Choose â€œmy moneyâ€ and the enemy winds up with both; choose â€œmy lifeâ€ and youâ€™re trusting that someone willing to kill you will choose not to. In this case, it eventually becomes clear that “your guns” is the wrong choice–and according to the “good guys” it’s apparently OK to shoot Comanches in the back as they’re fleeing.
The pictureâ€™s sort of in color, fading to gray in some (not all) nature shots. It has a problem with nighttime action, in that it sometimes suddenly turns to full daylight when we need to see whatâ€™s going on. Ah well. Chill Wills makes an amusing crusty old coot, going a little (well, a lot) overboard about the virtues of Kentucky rifles and singing a mean â€œSweet Betsy from Pike,â€ accompanying himself on a zither. Itâ€™s a mess, but Iâ€™ve seen worse. Iâ€™ll give it $0.75, mostly as a (pseudo)historical document.