50 Movie Western Classics, Disc 10

White Comanche, 1968, color (original title Comanche blanco). José Briz Méndez (dir.), Joseph Cotton, William Shatner (dual role), Rosanna Yanni. 1:33.

Twin brothers, half-Comanche, half-white, shunned by both—except that one of them has convinced a bunch of Comanche that he’s their savior, takes too much peyote, and goes around slaughtering white devils. His twin (Johnny Moon), trying to live as a white, keeps getting in trouble (e.g., nearly hanged) because you can only distinguish him from White Comanche (Notah) by the color of their eyes. Not that Johnny’s not pretty good at killing people also—he’s a crack shot, and this isn’t one of those westerns where everything’s settled with fistfights—but he always seems to have a reason.

Johnny tells Notah that this must be settled and to come to Rio Honda within four days. During that period, there’s a range war in Rio Honda between two factions, with Johnny helping the sheriff maintain some semblance of order. Eventually, of course, the showdown happens; in the meantime, there’s much thoughtful standing around and an odd love subplot (involving a woman who first thinks Johnny is the evil half-Comanche who raped her, but eventually sees the eye-color difference and falls for him).

Good color, acceptable production values, a good job by Joseph Cotton as the sheriff—but, of course, the real selling point here is William Shatner playing an arrogant sexist tinhorn ruler who doesn’t happen to be on a starship (and is always half-dressed, and has the body for it). And, for good measure, his twin brother. It’s not exactly a spaghetti western (made in Spain, not Italy). It’s a curiosity, but a watchable curiosity thanks to Shatner. $1.25.

Mohawk, 1956, color. Kurt Neumann (dir.), Scott Brady, Rita Gam, Neville Brand, Lori Nelson, Allison Hayes, John Hoyt, Rhys Williams. 1:20 [1:18].

There’s nothing wrong with cross-genre flicks, but this one seems a bit loopier than most. It’s definitely a Western, with something about “A legend of the Iroquois” coming just before or after the main title. It’s got the ingredients: A fort with settlers moving in, surrounded by reasonably-friendly natives (Iroquois, with a Mohawk chief heading a confederation of tribes) with some unfriendly factions (Tuscarora)—and a good-for-nothing white who wants to stir up warfare between the settlers and the natives because his family wants the whole valley for itself.

But it’s also a romantic comedy of sorts. The lead character (not the title character) is an artist who’s come out from Boston to paint landscapes to send back, who gets a surprise visit from his fiancée/girlfriend—but he also seems to have a local girlfriend, and it doesn’t take long before he’s romancing an Iroquois, daughter of the chief. Oh, and there’s an astonishing song, “Love played the strings of my banjo,” and maybe the title tells you enough. The plot is a mess.

The print’s pretty good (although some of the scenic vistas have suspiciously painted-backdrop looks) but the sound is sometimes distorted. The supposed Iroquois include Rita Gam, Neville Brand, Mae Clarke, Tommy Cook and Ted de Corsia. As far as I can tell, there were no actual Native American actors employed in this particular epic. All told, I’m being generous with $1.

Sheriff of Tombstone, 1941, b&w. Joseph Kane (dir.), Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes, Elyse Knox, Addison Richards, Sally Payne, Harry Woods, Jay Novello. 0:54.

If you look ahead at my dollar rating, be aware that $1.25 is normally the most I’d give to one of these one-hour wonders, flicks filmed as the B side of a double feature—and that the print isn’t wonderful. That being said, this movie has lots’o’plot without getting distracted—I found it engrossing and unusually well-written and well-directed for its genre. Roy Rogers, as Brett Starr, a would-be peace officer, runs lowlife gunslinger Shotgun Cassidy out of Dodge City (and takes his sawed-off shotgun), then goes along with friends who are moving to Tombstone. Gets there, finds general lawlessness, acts to deal with a situation—and, because of the gun, is assumed to be Cassidy. Who, as it happens, is supposed to become the sheriff so that he can support the mayor’s evil attempt to take away a little old lady’s silver mine. (She’s 77: That’s old, at least in the Old West.)

See, her mine is the head of an extensive silver vein that runs under many other claims—but given the law at the time, that gives her control over all of them. If the mayor can buy her claim at a forced auction, that gives him control, and he can twirl his mustache and do his evil deeds. Anyway, Rogers goes along with the mistaken identity, figures out what’s happening (the miner’s attempts to ship bullion always result in Wells Fargo holdups by some strange coincidence, so she owes a huge tax debt to the territory), goes to unmask the villains—and the real gunslinger shows up.

And that’s just some of the plot. There’s a great little twist involving the Wells Fargo agent John Anderson and Joe Martinez, an apparently-Hispanic mine owner who’s part of the bad-guy group. You know how it’s going to come out: It’s a one-hour oater with one of the great singing cowboys as a star. (Yes, he sings—three numbers—and there are a couple of big musical numbers that don’t involve him but do involve a saloon singer and a quartet of bartenders.) As always, Roy Rogers is a handsome devil and a pretty good actor—and Gabby Hayes, this time as a judge/lawyer, is always an interesting—and, in this case—capable, not blundering—sidekick. One of the best one-hour western flicks I’ve seen, all in all. I’ll give it the full $1.25, even with the flawed print.

Judge Priest, 1934, b&w. John Ford (dir.), Will Rogers, Tom Brown, Anita Louise, Henry B. Walthall, David Landau, Berton Churchill, Hattie McDaniel, Stepin Fetchit. 1:20 [1:15].

This one’s difficult to review. I nearly gave up on the movie in the first ten minutes, thanks to an appallingly stereotypic performance by Stepin Fetchit. And, despite Will Rogers presence, I’m not all that fond of pictures that so lovingly depict the post-Civil War South from the perspective applied here (all misty-eyed Gray courage and sentimentality).

But I persisted. The story’s simple enough: Judge Priest (Will Rogers), the folksy widowed 25-year judge in an 1890 Kentucky town (this is a western how?), upholds the spirit (if not always the letter) of the law while humiliating “the Senator,” a blowhard lawyer who’s running against him. Meanwhile, Priest’s nephew has just graduated from law and wants to resume romancing Priest’s next door neighbor, a lovely young orphan—but she’s also being romanced by the jackass town barber, and Priest’s sister wants her son to marry Proper Folk. A stranger in town who keeps to himself punches out the barber after he makes an appalling comment about the young woman; later, when the barber and two friends lay in wait to beat up on the stranger (with pool cues, in a bar/pool hall), he comes out on top. Naturally, the barber claims he was attacked without provocation… Well, the case goes on (with Priest stepping down from the bench because he stood up for the stranger earlier); eventually, we learn that the stranger is a hero in whatever euphemistic version of the Civil War they’re using (War of Northern Aggression, I think) and the young woman’s father, and all’s right with the world.

If you can stomach the stereotypes and the “the wrong side won the war” attitude, you might find Rogers’ portrayal interesting. The print’s generally OK. In the end, I just can’t assign any value to this one.

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