OK, so it’s been a while since my last old movie post. In fact, when I went to add the fourth movie to this part of the six-disc Word document, I noticed that the last time the document had been edited was May 10, 2015—so it’s been, lessee, four months and two days since I’ve watched an old movie. You can blame open access journals for that, I suppose: I found the research process more interesting than the old movies. (Then it took me a little while to figure out what Word 2013 did with the post-to-blog process. Still there, but now it’s a template rather than a separate File tab.)
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
The Man from Utah, 1934, b&w. Robert Bradbury (dir.), John Wayne, Polly Ann Young, George Hayes, Yakima Canutt, George Cleveland. 0:52.
This flick—which embeds maybe 15 minutes of plot into a 51-minute movie largely through lots of rodeo “action” and really embarrassing “Indians from thousands of reservations in full regalia” stuff—begins by giving us young John Wayne as a singing cowboy. That’s truly odd: it sounds like somebody else strumming a ukulele and singing, after which Wayne is holding a guitar up in one hand as if to say “what the heck am I doing holding a guitar while I’m riding?”
That’s it for the singing cowboy, and probably a good thing. Otherwise, Wayne’s a broke drifter who, in short order, prevents a bank robbery in the town he’s just ridden into (where a pre-“Gabby” George Hayes is a U.S. Marshal looking out for a rodeo gang), rows a boat to get to the rodeo, gets involved with the gang, double-crosses them, figures out their methods, wins the rodeo, prevents another bank holdup…and, of course, gets the girl. (One IMDB review says there’s no gunplay. The reviewer must have seen a different picture.)
As B programmers go, this is pretty mediocre. If you love rodeo action and some trick riding (thanks to Yakimah Canutt, I imagine), you might find it OK. And for that, I’ll give it, charitably, $0.50.
Utah, 1945, b&w. John English (dir.), Roy Rogers, Trigger, Gabby Hayes, Dale Evans, Peggy Stewart. 1:17 [0:53[
I’m a sucker for Roy Rogers movies—I think he’s the best singer and actor of the singing cowboys, and Trigger is, well, Trigger. Dale Evans doesn’t hurt. But I was less enchanted by this flick than I expected to be, maybe because it’s either too clever for its own good or too dumb.
The basic plot: Dale Evans is a lead showgirl in Chicago and, along with her friends, trying to deal with a promising new musical that’s run out of funds—so she decides to go to Utah to sell the ranch her grandfather willed to her, which she’s never seen. She wires ahead to Roy Rogers, foreman at the Bar X, who conspires with Gabby (who owns a wretched little farm next to the fine Bar X) to figure out how to keep her from selling, which would presumably result in sheep taking over the cattle range. His method (after some byplay involving an attempt to shoot Rogers and some trick riding) is to pretend that Gabby’s ranch is really the Bar X, so she’ll figure it’s not worth selling…but it backfires, because the crooks who wanted to pay her $20-$25,000 so they can sell the Bar X for $100,000, convince her to sell what she believes to be the Bar X for $5,000 (with a worthless $1,000 check as a downpayment).
There’s more, and it all ends well, with the musical now called Utah! and starring…well, you can guess. Except that, along the way, Rogers’ attempt to be clever set up a situation where everybody was worse off, and he does a jailbreak as part of his attempt to sour the deal. One IMDB review says Rogers acted like “a bit of a jerk” in this flick, and that’s about right: the plot’s mostly about his trying to undo the harm he caused in the first place. For that matter, George ‘Gabby’ Hayes is considerably more misogynistic than usual, and it gets a little wearing. As usual, Rogers uses fists rather than guns, always looks great, and sings up a storm—but it was more than a little disappointing. Chances are, cutting it down from a feature-length 1:17 to a second-feature-length 0:53 didn’t help—24 minutes is a lot to lose. Still, probably worth $0.50.
Lights of Old Santa Fe, 1944, b&w. Frank McDonald (dir.), Roy Rogers, Trigger, George ‘Gabby’ Hayes, Dale Evans, Lloyd Corrigan. 1:18 [0:56]
Easy complaint: This movie doesn’t belong in a “Gunslingers” set—which is true for some of the others as well, but even more so here. One gun gets drawn briefly at one point, but it’s just as quickly taken out of action—and what this is, basically, is a musical. There’s a ballet number and another dance number, there’s a number by the Sons of the Pioneers without Roy Rogers, Dale Evans does a song or two (and at least two with Rogers), and Gabby Hayes shows that he can sing straight if he so chooses.
The plot? There’s not much of it. Evans is the owner of a struggling rodeo (with Gabby as the manager), inherited from her father, just out of college, being courted by a rival rodeo owner. Rogers and the Sons are first signed by the rival, then let go—apparently because they want to be riders, not just singers—and try to Save the Day for Evans’ rodeo. But one of the rival’s hands sabotages them on the way to Albuquerque, setting horses loose, setting one wagon on fire thus panicking the other horses and destroying other wagons. Rogers tries to trick Evans into believing the rodeo actually happened, using a radio broadcast, but the trick is discovered shortly thereafter. Evans is about to sign over her rodeo and herself (as a bride) to the rival when…ah, but of course it all works out in the end. Hmm: Turns out the original was 22 minutes longer, a full-length feature, with—probably—more plot and even more music.
In any case, lots of good music, Dale Evans, Roy Rogers, Trigger, Gabby Hayes. Seen for what it is, it’s an entertaining not-quite hour. If you’re looking for a shoot-em-up or a traditional western, you’ll hate this; if you like Rogers, Evans, Trigger and cowboy music, you’ll like it just fine. $1.00.
The Star Packer, 1934, b&w. Robert N. Bradbury (dir. & screenplay), John Wayne, Verna Hillie, George Hayes, Yakima Canutt. 0:53.
Another “B” programmer with lots of horse riding and, this time, lots of shooting as the town’s cattlemen take on the surprisingly large gang, but it’s not all that good a movie. It’s interesting on at least two counts: George Hayes is most definitely not “Gabby” in this flick, as he’s the serious upstanding Matt Mattlock (who’s also, to be sure, “The Shadow” and gangleader)—and Yakima Canutt, certainly the greatest stuntman in the first few decades of moviemaking (with 253 screen credits!) actually plays a character, not just doubling for stunt riding. The character’s named “Yak” and is a Native American—which Canutt wasn’t—and he’s John Wayne’s sidekick.
The basic plot: A gang is raiding all the cattle and stagecoaches in this town, and three sheriffs have been shot down in the main street mysteriously; “The Shadow” is in charge. Wayne and Yak show up and, in short order, solve the mystery, save the girl (she shows up as half-owner of Mattlock’s ranch—well, he’s not really Mattlock either—and shows spunk, and of course winds up married to Wayne), and save the town. Eh. Some fancy horse riding. Not a lot else. Maybe $0.75