50 Movie Western Classics, Disc 8

Blue Steel, 1934, b&w. Robert N. Bradbury (dir.), John Wayne, Eleanor Hunt, George ‘Gabby’ Hayes, Edward Peil Sr., Yakima Canutt. 0:54.

As one-hour Westerns go, this is better than most. Sure, some elements of the plot are standard. The leader of the bad guys is the most prominent person in town: Check. The cute young woman winds up with the hero—even though, in this case, he really hasn’t talked to her except to rescue her once: Check. Despite the quick draw and sure aim of the hero, most fights are fistfights—and they’re incredibly phony: Check.

On the other hand, the plot makes more sense than most. A beleaguered town, Yucca City, is in trouble because shipments of supplies (and money) keep getting stolen, and the ranchers are about to give up and move out. At one key plot point, the Big Man offers to buy their homesteads for $100 each—and, of course, there’s a sinister reason. Naturally, John Wayne saves the day, with the help of a crusty old—not sidekick this time, but sheriff. Wayne is young, handsome, and quite effective. The long final chase sequence is effectively done; the long, largely silent opening sequence (a hotel in a really noisy rainstorm) is also surprisingly effective. Most of the acting is good. The sleeve description almost gets the plot right, but messes up one point big time: It has Wayne as “Sheriff Jake” hot on the trail of the man who appeared to rob a payroll. Actually, Wayne is the man who appeared to do the robbing (he’s a Marshal). The Sheriff is the crusty old coot (Gabby Hayes), “Old-timer” as Wayne consistently calls him. I’ll give it $1.00.

Santa Fe Trail, 1940, b&w. Michael Curtiz (dir.), Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Raymond Massey, Ronald Reagan, Alan Hale, William Lundigan, Van Heflin. 1:50.

Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, a young (29), devilishly handsome Ronald Reagan. Costars like Van Heflin (in a key role). Historic names including George Custer (Reagan), J.E.B. Stuart (Flynn), John Brown (Massey) and many more. This is a big movie—big stars, big historical names, good production values, a major motion picture.

Ostensibly, it’s about the Santa Fe trail, bloody Kansas and building the railroad through to Santa Fe. Really, it’s about John Brown and the prelude to the Civil War—where West Point graduates who would later fight each other fought together to bring down Brown’s uprising. As a historical film, it’s a mess—pro-Southern/slavery, riddled with wild inaccuracies, etc., etc. You may find it unwatchable for that reason.

It’s dramatic, generally well acted and well filmed, including the long battle sequence near the end at Harper’s Ferry. The print’s OK—but the sound is sometimes distorted, bringing this down to $1.25.

McLintock!, 1963, color. Andrew V. McLaglen (dir.), John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Patrick Wayne, Stefanie Powers, Jack Kruschen, Chill Wills, Yvonne De Carlo, Jerry Van Dyke, Edgar Buchanan, Bruce Cabot, Strother Martin. 2:07.

The older John Wayne at his most entertaining in a big, well-made movie that’s mostly a hoot. If you don’t already know the movie (I didn’t), I’m not sure how to describe it. G.W. McLintock is a cattle baron(and miner) in the Mesa Verde of turn-of-the-century Arizona, a territory hoping to become a state. He owns most of the nearby town (named McLintock), treats his employees fairly, drinks a lot, plays chess and has a good time. He’s friends with the local tribes (despite an old battle wound) and mostly dislikes the territorial government people he considers incompetent—and, to be sure, homesteaders he thinks are being sold a bill of goods, asked to make a living on 160 acres of 6,000-foot-high land not fit for farming.

That’s just the setup. His estranged wife (O’Hara) shows up, asking for a divorce but mostly wanting to take her daughter (Powers)—just coming back from college Back East—away with her. McLintock’s having none of that. Lots of action ensues, including a rodeo, various romances, and much, much more. Big fight scenes, more slapstick than anything else—I don’t believe there’s a single injury or death in the movie. A combination of comedy, light drama and a little romance, the movie has fine performances by Wayne, O’Hara, Powers, Van Dyke (as an up-to-the-minute college boy with a Letter—in Glee Club), and most everyone involved, all of whom seemed to be having a ball.

I can’t figure out how this wound up on a set with mostly public-domain movies, unless the studio figured DVD buyers would want the wide-screen version so they could give the pan-and-scan away. The print’s OK—if there’s damage, it never gets in the way of the movie. The colors are a little faded, but that may be the way it was shot. Great fun, and at the end of more than two hours I wanted more. I’m sure it would be better in widescreen and with richer colors—but even so, I can’t give this one less than $2.25.

Sagebrush Trail, 1933, b&w. Armand Schaefer (dir.), John Wayne, Nancy Shubert, Lane Chandler, Yakima Canutt. 0:54.

The plot’s a little different, although as usual shootings only happen from a distance—up close, it’s all badly-staged fistfights. A young John Wayne is a convicted killer who’s escaped and is on the run (hopping a freight train bound west from Baltimore). He’s innocent, of course. He winds up with a good-sized gang of outlaws, hoping to find the real killer, which he does…but decides the real killer’s not such a bad Joe. Meanwhile, he’s trying to be part of the gang while foiling their big robberies, in one case by pre-robbing the stagecoach. All turns out fairly well in the end.

The print’s not great. The acting’s not great, but no worse than the run of these things. Some excellent stunt work. John Wayne underwater breathing through a reed. What the heck: $1.00

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