In Old Caliente, 1939, b&w. Joseph Kane (dir.), Roy Rogers, Trigger, Lynne Roberts/Mary Hart, Gabby Hayes, Jack La Rue, Katherine DeMille, Frank Puglia. 0:57/0:54.
This time, Roy Rogers is the prime cowboy at a huge Alta California rancheroâ€”and the foreman, Sujarto, is betraying the owner, Don Jose, to a band of outlaws stealing the gold received for shipments of cattle to California miners. Meanwhile, settlers are arrivingâ€”this group of wagons with Gabby Hayes in his full Gabbitude. Sujarto tries to blame Roy Rogers for the gringos holding up his people; Roy Rogers track Sujarto to a meet with the rest of the banditsâ€”but Sujarto manages to place the blame on Rogers and Hayes, who are taken off to be hung in the morning.
It all works outâ€”well, not for Don Jose, but for the rest of them. The plot is pretty solid for a one-hour B western, including a remarkably clever way to trap the outlaws. Rogers contributes several songs, some with a group backing, one with Hayes. Thereâ€™s also a fine dance number at a fandango. The print is in very good shape except for a little dirt near the end; the soundtrackâ€™s so-so. Those flaws reduce this to $1.
Rough Riders Round-Up, 1939, b&w. Joseph Kane (dir.), Lynne Roberts/Mary Hart, Raymond Hatton, Eddie Acuff, William Pawley. 0:58/0:54.
Roy and friends come from Teddy Rooseveltâ€™s Rough Riders to join the border guard, firmly instructed not to cross over into Mexico without permission. Roy and old codger friend wind up on probation because the third rough rider gets shot in a barroom brawl. Add in Arizona Jack and his band of thieves, hiding out in Mexico and raiding across the borderâ€”and robberies of an American-owned gold mine in Mexico.
Naturally, a couple of songs, including one under dire circumstances. Nothing terribly wrong here, but nothing terribly right either. Even as short Bs go, this is a little disappointing. Maybe we need Dale Evans. $0.75.
Hell Town, 1937, b&w (originally Born to the West). Charles Barton (dir.), John Wayne, Marsha Hunt, John Mack Brown, John Patterson, Monte Blue, Syd Saylor. 0:59 [0:55].
The first five or ten minutes get off to a truly rotten start. The printâ€™s dark enough that you canâ€™t quite figure out whatâ€™s going on, thereâ€™s a song that seems out of placeâ€”and then thereâ€™s some kind of riding gun battle involving a herd of cattle, but itâ€™s hard to tell whatâ€™s going on. Enter a young John Wayne and old-coot friend (Syd Saylor)â€”who seem totally amoral, ready to join whichever side of the battle appears to be winning. Did I mention that the soundâ€™s distorted? At this point, I was about to give upâ€”but didnâ€™t. (IMDB may help on the confusion: Apparently, when the flick was reissued as Hell Town, the production company â€œadded random stock footage of cattle drives, chases and stampedes to bring the running time to over an hour.â€ Some of it certainly looks random!)
It gets better, sort of. Wayneâ€™s a cowboy on his way to Montana, who has a wholly undeserved belief that heâ€™s the best poker player west of the Mississippiâ€”and is broke as a result. The sidekick tries to sell lightning rods, apparently as a straightforward low-buck con. The battle was apparently an attempt to rustle most of a herd of cattle (from a ranch owned by Wayneâ€™s characterâ€™s cousin) on its way to marketâ€”and of course one of the higher-ups in the cattle company is involved. Also of course, thereâ€™s potential romance. Somehow, Wayne turns semi-heroic (although still a compulsive gambler and really bad at it). All ends well, I guess. Given the confused plot (not helped by four missing minutes), poor print and distorted sound, Iâ€™m being generous at $0.75.
The Kansan, 1943, b&w. George Archainbaud (dir.), Richard Dix, Jane Wyatt, Albert Dekker, Eugene Pallette, Victor Jory, Willie Best. 1:19.
John Bonniwell, on his way to Oregon, encounters the James Gang as itâ€™s planning to rob the bank in Broken Lance. He drives them away but gets shot in the process. As heâ€™s recuperating, he finds that heâ€™s been elected marshallâ€”mostly because of the Steve Barat, the banker and town boss, whoâ€™s counting on him to keep the town in line as he (Barat) milks it for all its worth. Things donâ€™t work out that way, as Bonniwell proves to be a man of integrity and honor, not just the law. It doesnâ€™t help that the bigshotâ€™s brother Jeff, a gambling man, has a lot more honor than anyone expects. Oh, and the hotel keeper (Jane Wyatt) is involved in all thisâ€”starting with Jeff and ending with John.
Itâ€™s a strong movie, with a solid plot, some fine acting and some remarkable action scenes. A barroom brawl is about as extensive and wild as Iâ€™ve seen, even though I do believe the same chair crashed through the same huge mirror twice during the sequence. There are two negatives, one related to the print and one, I suspect, a sign of the times. The printâ€™s damaged in spots with missing chunks, some dirt and occasional soundtrack problems. And much of the humor in the film has to do with â€œBones,â€ a black valet at the hotel, whoâ€™s portrayed stereotypically. Even with those drawbacks, itâ€™s worth $1.25.