50 Movie Western Classics, Disc 3

Three more second features, albeit none with singing cowboys—and a fine full-length movie.

Phantom Rancher, 1940, b&w, Harry L. Fraser (dir.), Ken Maynard, Dorothy Short, Harry Harvey, Ted Adams. 1:01.

Apparently this flick was late in Maynard’s career of trick riding and solid acting. The acting’s solid—but the film’s gimmick doesn’t make a lot of sense. Maynard’s uncle is gunned down, and he arrives to take over, finding that his uncle was universally loathed and he now holds mortgages on most of the farms. Naturally, an evil gang is behind this; naturally, the most respected man in town is the villain. Maynard plays an odd game: Telling the sheriff to foreclose on Ranch X the next day if the money’s not there, then showing up in a mask and cloak at Ranch X that night, dropping off enough money to pay off the mortgage—while Maynard’s character is also joining the gang. Of course it all works out: It’s an old-time one-hour Western. Good enough for $1.00.

Broadway to Cheyenne, 1932, b&w, Harry L Fraser (dir.), Rex Bell, Marceline Day, Matthew Betz, Huntley Gordon, George ‘Gabby’ Hayes. 1:00 [0:51].

Truly strange: Rex Bell plays a New York cop who gets injured in a gang shootout and sent home to recuperate—“home” being a ranch near Cheyenne. One of the gangs has high-tailed it to Wyoming and is setting up a ranchers’ protection racket—and in the process, riding around in a car with a gunsel using a machine gun to kill off cattle. Naturally, the honorable cowboy/cop on his horse (and several other outraged actual cowboys/ranchers) manages to defeat the gang and their machine gun. The print’s very choppy and missing nine minutes of dialogue. George Hayes wasn’t really “Gabby” yet, just another rancher. At best $0.75.

Stagecoach to Denver, 1946, b&w, R.G. Springsteen (dir.), Allan Lane, Martha Wentworth, Roy Barcroft, Peggy Stewart, Robert Blake. 0:56 [0:53].

Allan Lane is Red Ryder in this odd story of character doubles and corrupt sheriffs and land commissioners. The sleeve says “Star: Robert Blake,” but that’s nonsense: 13-year-old Bobby Blake plays a minor (if pivotal) role as a sick child. It’s decent entertainment if you don’t look too closely. $1.00

Angel and the Badman, 1947, b&w, James Edward Grant (dir.), John Wayne, Gail Russell, Harry Carey, Bruce Cabot, Irene Rich, Lee Dixon, Tom Powers, John Halloran. 1:40.

The first full-length film in this set—and it’s a beauty. It’s also the first film John Wayne produced, and has been called Wayne’s most romantic Western, and I can believe that. I almost didn’t watch this because I’d already reviewed it in another set—but then realized that set wasn’t one of the 50-Movie Packs (it was the “DoubleDouble Feature Pack” given away with subscriptions to the doomed InsideDVD). When I reviewed that disc (C&I 4:12, October 2004), I complained about the print quality but found the movie good enough to get past the problems. Fortunately, this pack uses a much better print, with no apparent noise, scratches, or missing frames—one of the best prints I’ve seen in these megapacks.

So what about the movie? John Wayne is a fast-shooting bad man, Quirt Evans, who winds up injured and in a Quaker household. The girl of the household (Russell) cares for him and falls for him—and the way Wayne looked at age 40, it’s not hard to see why. (In one or two scenes he smiles an open smile instead of his usual hard-ass half-smile: It’s a revelation.) After a series of situations and tribulations, some of them involving other bad men out to get Wayne, all ends well. The movie’s generally well acted (although the cynical old Doctor does do a bit of scenery-chewing), with a particularly good job by Harry Carey as the sheriff who waits patiently for Quirt to screw up so he can hang.

What makes the movie remarkable, other than good plot, good acting (I’ve never been a big Wayne fan, but maybe that’s my mistake, and Russell’s excellent as well—as are Cabot, Rich, and the rest), and good filmmaking, is the gimmick. This isn’t exactly a plot spoiler—the movie’s 60 years old—but skip this sentence if you feel it will lessen your enjoyment: Wayne never once fires a gun during the picture (except maybe under the title). A fine picture and a good print—I enjoyed watching it again. $2.

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