"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Last Outlaw (HBO, 1993)


Seen worse




 
 
There have been quite a few Last Outlaws. John Ford, no less, directed a 1919 silent of that title, Gary Cooper was in a 1927 Paramount picture of the same name, Harry Carey Sr starred in a 1936 Christy Cabanne-directed RKO talkie. John Ford planned a post-war remake of this Harry Carey one, and signed up Carey and John Wayne for the project, but went for My Darling Clementine instead. And in the 1980 there was a TV mini-series. In 2014 there would be a Johnny Ringo/Bat Masterson The Last Outlaw. So one way and another, the Last Outlaws were never really the last. None of the above, however, had the same plot. They weren’t remakes. The 90s HBO offering was a Quantrillesque tale of ex-Confederates who can’t accept that the war is ended (“The war ain’t never gonna be over,” says one) and become outlaws, hitting “Yankee” banks. It’s New Mexico, 1873.

In fact they start with a bank raid. I liked this bit because the bank manager has a hidden derringer, and you know how I like derringer Westerns. The ruthless gang leader Graff discovers it and asks scornfully, “What the hell is this?” But this derringer is destined to play a key part in the last reel (if TV movies have reels). So that sent the picture up in my estimation.
 
 
The gang was somehow expected in the town and a large posse is ready to gun them all down in a Northfield/Wild Bunch way but Graff gets them out by blowing up the bank with dynamite (only patented in 1867 so he got hold of it pretty fast).
 
Bad guy
 
Mickey Rourke is Graff. Mr. Rourke plays the bandit as more than half crazed and cold as ice. He wears a bandanna on his head and this adds to his piratical appearance. The ‘good’ member of the gang, who comes to reject Graff’s brutality (better late than never) is Eustis (Dermot Mulroney, who had small parts in Bad Girls, Young Guns and Sunset). In fact eventually Eustis shoots Graff when the leader is about to murder wounded gang member Loomis (Daniel Quinn), who is slowing them down. The gang (which includes Steve Buscemi) leave Graff for dead and ride off, with Eustis as their new leader, heading by a roundabout route for Mexico.
 
Bad guy Rourke threatens (relatively) good guy Mulroney
 
The posse chasing them (which includes Rourke’s brother Joey) is led by the equally ruthless Marshal Sharp (Gavan O’Herlihy) who is blond (blond men are rarely goodies in Westerns) and a crack long-distance shot with his rifle. He and his men, including Banker McLintock (Richard Fancy) with an umbrella, are ready to do anything to track down the Rebs and get their money back. And it turns out that Graff isn’t dead after all, and he joins up with the posse to get his revenge on Eustis…
 
Steve is a Reb
 
Both gang and posse are riven by internecine strife, and both are gradually reduced in numbers. The banker and his money take a one-way trip off a cliff thanks to Graff. Finally the gang is down to three, leader Eustis, a Deets-like Lovecraft (Keith David) and an Edmond O’Brien/RG Armstrong-ish Potts (Ted Levine). Lovecraft has some mumbo-jumbo with bones which he throws to foretell the future, and this future doesn’t look too bright. Finally the gang remnants get to the Rio Grande, within sight of safety but…
 
Lovecraft and Potts
 
Well, I can’t tell you any more without a spoiler alert, and you wouldn’t want that. But I bet you can guess there will be a Eustis/Graff one-on-one showdown, and you may not be wrong.

It’s 90s HBO so there are a few f-words and such and the violence is quite violent. But it’s not Deadwood. It's a '15' now. The New Mexico locations are attractive, shot by Jack Conroy, who worked on an episode of The Magnificent Seven TV series, in nice color.
 
The marshal is just as ruthless
 
The director was Geoff Murphy, who directed the same episode of The Magnificent Seven and also did Young Guns. He keeps the pace up. It was writer Eric Red’s only Western. There was one good line, when Potts looks across the Rio Grande and says, “That ain’t Mexico. Where’s the women?”

All in all this The Last Outlaw is watchable.

 


 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

In Old Oklahoma aka War of the Wildcats (Republic, 1943)


Duke drills for oil




 
 
In Old Oklahoma, re-released as War of the Wildcats, is a wartime John Wayne Western, one of the several he made for Republic at that time. It was a ‘companion piece’ to In Old California the year before.

Well, I say it was a Western. It was just about. It’s a 1906 story set during the oil boom in Oklahoma. The bad-guy tycoon Jim Gardner (Albert Dekker, excellent as always) has an “autymobile”, though appropriately it breaks down, enabling Gabby Hayes as Despirit Dean to use his stagecoach to transport people about. Wayne as Dan Somers is a cowpoke back from the war in the Philippines, in 1870s duds and pistol making no concessions to the new century.
 
Cowboy-turned-oilman and rich tycoon, rivals for the hand of the fair Catherine
 
It's a skullduggery story about ruthless Gardner wanting to take over Indian lands to get his greedy hands on the oil that lies beneath them, and decent Dan and Despirit, aided by hotel owner (to put it politely) Bessie Baxter (Marjorie Rambeau, imposing) standing up for the Indians and farmers against the corporate might of the millionaire.
 
Bessie and Gabby with cowpoke Dan
 
But it’s also a rom-com, with glam author Catherine Allen (Martha Scott) falling first for rich, suave Gardner, then, when she realizes how Ruthless he is, for the honest cowboy, who just happens also to be tall and handsome.

That’s about it. Not much plot really, and what there was is rather 30s B-Western in tone, but it adds up to quite a lot of fun, and the last reel is certainly full of action.
 
Romance
 
Dan was also in Cuba before the Philippines, where he palled up with Teddy Roosevelt (Sidney Blackmer), who is now in the White House, which comes in handy when he decides to beat Gardner at his own game and himself extract the oil from the Indian territory, splitting the proceeds 50/50 with Chief Big Tree and his (unspecified) tribe. He gets the concession and it’s war to the knife between the old tycoon and the new one.

Wayne buddy Grant Withers is the oilman who helps him. Other Wayne buddy Paul Fix is the evil Gardner henchman Cherokee who pretends to like Dan but then sabotages his oil rig with dynamite. Dale Evans has a part as the saloon gal Cuddles with long legs (no sign of Roy yet). You can also spot Lane Chandler and Irving Bacon in small parts, and I swear the doc was Will Wright. Yak Canutt did the stunts and is a brawler. You can have quite a lot of fun character actor-spotting.
 
Grant is the oilman who helps Duke
 
There’s a song crooned by the oilmen out on the prairie conducted by Gabby. There’s much dashing hither and, naturally, thither. And it all ends with a thrilling climax as the good guys run wagons full of oil through a prairie fire set by Gardner’s men to get to Tulsa before the deadline. Of course there are final fisticuffs between Gardner and Dan, and no prizes for guessing who wins.

It’s light, entertaining and well handled by director Albert S Rogell, who had helmed Westerns since 1921, put out wagonloads of Fred Thomson, Jack Hoxie and Ken Maynard oaters and would still be directing Broken Arrow episodes on TV into the late 1950s.
 
Director Rogell on the set
 
Recommended.

 

Monday, September 18, 2017

City Slickers (Columbia, 1991)


Dances with Cows

 


 

 
 
After some 1960s-ish cartoon titles and a (rather overdone) comedy version of the bull-running in Pamplona (an event in which I always cheer for the bulls which catch the stupid men) we are presented with an urban comedy in which New Yorkers say witty things. Have we strayed into a Woody Allen picture?

City Slickers is only a Western by a great stretch of the meaning of the word. Yet it does have Western themes and we’ll give it a go.

Three guys (Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Bruno Kirby) have a midlife crisis and decide to take a two-week vacation driving cattle from New Mexico to Colorado. So we have the age-old plot of the Easterner tenderfoot out West, which has been going ever since silent movies began. The midlife crisis is, I must say, brilliantly defined by the movie’s producer and star, Mr. Crystal, in a scene in which he tells schoolchildren (who appear to have Mrs. Thatcher as their class teacher) how their lives will pan out. It is bleak and funny in equal measure.
 
The city-slicker trio arrives
 
As the trio arrive out West, the color gets brighter and we see lovely New Mexico locations shot by Dean Semler (Dances with Wolves, Lonesome Dove, Appaloosa, Young Guns) and the music surges into stirring, sub-Bernstein Magnificent Seven-style orchestral richness (it’s actually by Marc Shaiman and Thomas Richard Sharp). And after a build-up, there, in an entrance to die for, is Jack Palance as the trail boss Curly, feared by all ("Did you see how leathery he was? He was like a saddle bag with eyes.") Palance strikes a match by scraping it down his cheek. Phew, we think, it’s a Western after all.
 
Palance allowed to overact but gets away with it
 
Crystal, his writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel and/or the director Ron Underwood (no Western form) had clearly seen and were probably admirers of Red River. There are various references, one even explicit (“the Yahoo moment”). Of course, they have about ten cows so this picture doesn’t have quite the epic sweep of Howard Hawks’s, even if Palance does go for a Wayne-Dunson vibe. There’s also a Deliverance parody aspect.

There is (there had to be) a stampede, or, as one of the city slickers shouts, “The cows are going away!” It is set off by Crystal using his battery-operated grinder on his tropical roast coffee beans. Unfortunately catching the runaways is hard because Crystal has what he calls a roping disability – despite much practice he has never mastered the lariat. But gradually, as we guessed might happen, the Easterner learns, and after delivering a calf he earns the highest possible accolade: Curly says, “Good job, cowboy.”
 
"The cows are going away!"
 
There has to be a river crossing too, naturally, and Crystal finally and heroically manages his rope. Left without a boss (for such a dominant part, Palance’s appearance is very short lived) the greenhorns man up, rather like the boys left without John Wayne in The Cowboys, and bring the herd in, as Curly would have wanted. In a symbolic moment Crystal abandons his baseball cap for a Stetson.

There are some very funny lines and the whole show is certainly entertaining. It works. You get the impression that city slickers the cast and crew may have been but they evidently loved the Western, as, indeed, who among us does not? For did we not, we would be cast into outer darkness. And wouldn’t be reading this blog.

 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Run for Cover (Paramount, 1955)


Cagney with a Colt, not a machine gun




 
 
Nicholas Ray (1911 - 79), pictured left, directed this VistaVision Technicolor offering from Paramount, and the picture enjoyed some great Colorado locations in the shape of Silverton and the Royal Gorge. It was written by Winston Miller, of My Darling Clementine fame, and the art direction was by the great Henry Bumstead. Furthermore, there was a strong cast of character actors backing up the principals: Jack Lambert, Ray Teal, Ernest Borgnine, Denver Pyle, Trevor Bardette and Irving Bacon. There was clearly therefore talent on the set, in front of and behind the camera, and there was budget for it too.

So we are in for a really good Western, right?

Nope. Not really. It suffered from two major weaknesses: firstly, the lead actors, and secondly, the picture had very little to say – there was no message particularly and the whole plot seemed vin ordinaire – just another B-Western.

This was the third of Nicholas Ray’s four oaters (I don’t count Circus World as a Western). Ray is often thought of as a genius and certainly The Lusty Men (1952) and Johnny Guitar (1954) were interesting and unusual movies. His last, Fox’s mainstream The True Story of Jesse James (1957) was so altered by the studio as to make it hardly Ray’s work at all. This one, though, seems, well, just rather ordinary. You would certainly not have known it was a Nicholas Ray picture if you hadn’t read his name on the credits. It’s competently directed – though at 93 minutes probably a bit long – but nothing more.

We all like James Cagney (right) in a tux holding a machine gun in a Chicago speakeasy. And after all, he won an Oscar and was nominated for two more. But on a horse? He was a rotten rider, for one thing. His whole demeanor – and diction – just didn’t suit the Western. He did three (we can’t count his narration of Arizona Bushwhackers). Most famously he was The Oklahoma Kid in the amateurish Warners picture which had the equally unconvincing Humphrey Bogart as the baddy in black. The year after Run for Cover he would do the Robert Wise-directed Tribute to a Bad Man for MGM. And that was all she wrote. Despite the similarities between the gangster movie and the Western, the stars didn't always succeed at both.

In the first reel he meets up with a twenty-year-old played by John Derek (left), who was in fact 29. Derek, who would be both Mr. Ursula Andress and Mr. Bo Derek for a time, produced movies as well as acting in them (he won a RAZZIE Award for Worst Achievements in Film for his direction of Tarzan the Ape Man) and was a photographer (he snapped three quarters of his wives for Playboy), and was also an editor, writer and cinematographer. So pretty well a Jack of all Hollywood trades. As a Western lead or second lead, though, he was pretty weak. Watch him in The Outcast, say, or Ambush at Tomahawk Gap and you'll see what I mean. He didn’t do that many big-screen oaters. Mostly he did Frontier Circus on TV.

The idea in Run for Cover is that Matt Dow (Cagney) is an old hand, good with a gun and a man who knows the West, while Davey Bishop (Derek) is a green kid who hovers on the brink of being a no-good. He doesn’t hover long, though. He is pretty well a skunk, despite Cagney’s avuncular care.

There’s an implausible plot in which an express man throws a bag of money out at their feet as the train passes because he thinks they are robbers and doesn’t want to get hurt (again). Davey toys with keeping it but Matt is firm: they will take it into town and hand it in. But in Madison (clearly Silverton, but they call it Madison) the train man has cooked up a story to explain his actions and so Sheriff Ray Teal leads a posse which includes townsmen Jack Lambert and Denver Pyle, to capture the ferocious outlaws. If there is a message to the movie it is that people are too quick to jump to conclusions and judge others without evidence. While undoubtedly true, it must be said that a good percentage of Westerns rely on this notion, and indeed the posse opens fire without warning on the two men, grievously wounding one, and Jack Lambert immediately wants to string the other up from a nearby oak tree. Standard practice for Westerns, of course.
 
Technicolor VistaVision, but still a bit 'B'
 
Matt talks his way out of it, showing up Sheriff Teal, who looks ashamed and loses the next election, opening up the job for Matt to take – at a thousand a year plus fines. He makes Davey his deputy, to make a man outa him. Mistake.

Davey has recovered from his wounds because he is nursed by Matt and Helga, a Swedish farmer’s daughter (Viveca Lindfors – at least they cast a Swede). You might expect Helga to get sweet on the boy but nay, it is Matt she falls for (despite the more than two decades gap in their ages). The best bit about this part of the plot is Helga’s dad, Mr. Swenson, very well played by Jean Hersholt in his last picture (he died the following year), actually a Dane but hell, Danish, Swedish, they’re all Scandinavian, ain’t they? He had been in silent Westerns, including Hell's Hinges, back in the day. I just loved his bulky, stoic, even flinty farmer, a persona which hides a very shrewd man. I wonder if Hersholt had seen Edgar Buchanan's Fred Lewis in Shane...

One good bit: when he takes the lawman’s job Matt slips a rolled banknote into one of the cartridge chambers of his Colt. He says old lawmen do this so they always have money for a funeral on them. A nice touch.
 
Posed? Nous?
 
Well, everything settles down and sheriff and deputy have little to do. Matt whittles, in the best Destry tradition. In fact he whittles a toy for a small town boy, clearly thereby establishing his goody credentials. But one day there is a bank robbery. One robber is wounded and Matt leaves Deputy Davey in charge while he chases the other, Ernest Borgnine. Of course he brings Ernest in but when he gets back to town he finds that weak Deputy Dave has failed to stop the townsmen from lynching the other bandit. And Matt sure hates lynch mobs. In fact he arrests them all in the saloon, and they get a severe punishment from the local judge: a ten dollar fine each, for disturbing the peace.

There’s a pretty cringeworthy church service at Easter with children singing badly, a clumsy proposal by Cagney is accepted by the Swede (actually, she kinda pre-empts it) an action climax follows in which the bad guys are – oh, hell, you know how it turns out, even before you’ve watched it.

Now, I’m not saying all this is bad, exactly. It’s not bad. It’s just not all that good.

Probably just as well


 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Trooper Hook (UA, 1957)


Sergeant McCrea




 
 
A major revelation coming up, so brace yourself. All my life I have disliked Barbara Stanwyck in Westerns. She was a most unlikely Annie Oakley, barely acceptable as a chirpy colleen in Union Pacific (with Joel McCrea) and really bad in the 1947 tawdry pot-boiler California. True, she was impressive in Anthony Mann's The Furies, but The Moonlighter? Cattle Queen of Montana? The Violent Men? Oh, please. The Maverick Queen was even worse and as for Forty Guns, well, words fail me to describe its awfulness. No, she was entirely unsuited to the genre – yet she would insist on doing Westerns. I only watched Trooper Hook because it was a Joel McCrea Western, and, well, you gotta.

However, and it’s a really big however (this is where you need to brace yourself), in Trooper Hook Barbara Stanwyck is seriously good.

Yes, I knew you’d be amazed.
 
Stanwyck unusually good
 
It was produced by one Sol Baer Fielding, his only Western (he only produced five films altogether). It is a low-budget 81-minute black & white picture released in the year of major commercial color Westerns such as Paramount's Gunfight at the OK Corral and Fox's The True Story of Jesse James, and it was in many ways completely overshadowed. Most of the potential viewers probably stayed at home to watch Gunsmoke on TV. But ’57 was also the year of Columbia's really fine black & white 3:10 to Yuma, and Trooper Hook can justly be compared with that Delmer Daves picture.

I have always thought Joel McCrea one of the best ever Western actors. He was so steady, somehow. Quiet, taciturn, a splendid rider, he always came across as the decent cowpoke doing what a man’s gotta do. Trooper Hook (actually, he’s Sergeant Hook) is no exception. McCrea made this one just after being Sam Houston in The First Texan. He made four Westerns in 1957, quite a record: The Oklahoman was released in May, Trooper Hook in July, Gunsight Ridge in September and The Tall Stranger in November. True, these were mostly B-Westerns, and McCrea had earlier starred in major A-pictures such as Paramount’s Wells Fargo and the Cecil B DeMille-directed Union Pacific. He was Buffalo Bill for William A Wellman at Fox. But being late 50s ‘smaller’ pictures didn’t detract from the quality. In fact Trooper Hook reminds me quite a lot of an absolutely superb black & white oater McCrea made in 1948, Four Faces West. Both pictures have small casts and budgets but are thoughtful, intelligent and yes, rather charming films.
 
Stern and steely soldier McCrea
 
Trooper Hook is notionally a cavalry/Apache story, with Rodolfo Acosta, always good, curiously billed as Rudolfo Acosta, as the (fictional) fearsome Chiricahua war chief Nanchez. In the first reel he smilingly orders the execution of some cornered troopers, thus earning his ‘fearsome’ credentials. But another troop, commanded by Sergeant Hook, captures him. Hook’s men find that a white woman is among the captives, and this is Nanchez’s wife (Stanwyck), with his young son (Terry Lawrence). The woman is silent (that must have been hard for Ms. Stanwyck) but to be fair she plays the white woman ‘hardened’ to Apache life with restraint and skill. And she also manages very well the gradual re-integration into ‘civilized' society of a formerly respectable married woman. Honestly, it’s really well handled.
 
Acosta excellent
 
Sgt. Hook is charged with taking the woman and child by stage down to Tucson where her white husband is waiting. Some good news: the crusty old stage driver, a Buffalo Bill lookalike, is Royal Dano, in a splendid performance. And the husband waiting in Tucson is John Dehner, who was never less than excellent in Westerns.
 
A very posed shot but Dehner reliably good - though his part is too short
 
TV writers David Victor and Herbert Little Jr, with Martin Berkeley, who had worked on The Nebraskan and would do Red Sundown, wrote the screenplay from a story by Jack Schaefer, no less, and it must be said it’s well done. There are some great lines. Also contributing to the script was the director, Charles Marquis Warren. Warren was a novelist and magazine-story writer who worked for MGM in the 30s. Many of his stories had been made into movies, Streets of Laredo, Only the Valiant, Little Big Horn, Hellgate and Springfield Rifle, to name but a few. He directed a bit too, and wasn’t bad. He certainly understood the Western.
 
Charles Marquis Warren
 
On the journey they pick up various other passengers, including a sympathetic and decent young cowhand, Jeff, very well played by third-billed Earl Holliman, born in 1928 and still going strong, as far as I know. He was the ‘good’ son in Broken Lance and Charlie Bassett in Gunfight at the OK Corral, and later he was one of the Elder boys (John Wayne’s young brother) in The Sons of Katie Elder.
 
Holliman winning as sympathetic cowpoke
 
The picture has a worthy anti-discrimination/bigotry agenda and reminds us a little (but only a little) of Devil’s Doorway in that regard. I liked Sheb Wooley as leader of the bullies who abuse the "squaw" and her child - of course Hook knocks him to the floor with a mighty punch.

Well, Nanchez escapes from custody (there's a great shot of his broken manacles as he stands on a ridge gazing at the stage; we don't see his head but we immediately understand it is Nanchez, free) and of course he follows the stagecoach to recover his son (he doesn’t seem to care about his wife). But Sgt. Hook has his orders, to take wife and son to Tucson, and remember, a man’s gotta do…

Gradually, as we knew would happen, on the journey Hook and Mrs. Sutcliff (that was her white name; we never learn her Chiricahua one) warm to each other, and Hook bonds with the little boy. Yup, they are becoming a family unit alright. They had probably seen Hondo and The Tin Star. Luckily, husband Dehner is unwilling to accept the ‘redskin’ child and he perishes in an overly convenient ending in which he kills Nanchez and Nanchez kills him right back, enabling the new family threesome to go off to California, probably, to start a new life.

The DP was Ellsworth Fredericks, the Invasion of the Body Snatchers cinematographer who had worked on They Died with Their Boots On and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, as well as the AndrĂ© De Toth/Randolph Scott Western Carson City, so he knew a thing or two. The bleak and arid Mojave Desert locations the stage crosses to get to Tucson are appropriately hostile for the tale, and beautifully shot in a luminous monochrome (the fort scenes are shot at Kanab, Utah, obviously). It’s released in MGM’s Limited Edition Collection and is a good-looker.

Of course there are plenty of sound-stage studio shots, notably of the three-sided stagecoach which enables us all to get a good view of the occupants without crowding the cameraman in there too. The actors must have felt a bit silly delivering their lines while some prop boy rocked the stationary coach on its springs but they were pros. McCrea especially manages to be completely convincing as the stern soldier grimly carrying out his duty. At one point he interestingly says, "Duty means a lot of things...usually means looking things square in the face and forgettin' the rules and regulations."
 
That's stage driver Royal Dano's back we see
 
The relationship between Hook and Nanchez is very subtly done. Hook finds Nanchez a cruel killer but at the same time he understands him. Nanchez says to him, "My people have long called you 'Face of Stone.' They were wrong. Your name should be 'Heart of Stone,'" to which Hook replies, "I do what must be done." This makes Nanchez smile wryly and he says, "You are more Indian than you know," to which Hook grimly responds, "I taught myself to think like my enemy."

I really like this movie. Don’t be put off by Stanwyck in the cast list; I think you’ll like it too. It’s no big A-picture but it’s a very classy little B with considerable merit. Four revolvers, e-pards!

 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Fort Vengeance (AA, 1953)


The evil Sitting Bull




 
 
While 1953 was giving us mighty examples of our great genre, the likes of Paramount's Shane, Warner Bros' Hondo or MGM's The Naked Spur, the humble B-Western trotted on undisturbed. One such was an Allied Artists picture produced by Walter Wanger (left), no less, though Fort Vengeance is no Stagecoach.

Actually, to the purists, Fort Vengeance isn’t a Western at all because it’s another tale of how the Mountie got his man (in this case his brother). Soldiers in red tunics don’t cut it for the true Westernista, though Tyrone Power had tried it in Pony Soldier, Alan Ladd in Saskatchewan, even Gary Cooper in North West Mounted Police, not to mention Bob Steele in Northwest Trail. Of course these ‘Canadas’ were usually shot in California or Arizona, and Fort Vengeance is no exception, giving us the well-known forests, mountains and adobe buildings Saskatchewan is so famous for.
 
Fort Vengeance was directed by the old pro Lesley Selander (right), a reliable Western helmsman, and so it's pacey and rattles along.

Hollywood loved ‘Fort’ films. On this blog alone we have reviewed Fort Apache, Fort Bowie, Fort Defiance, Fort Dobbs, Fort Invincible, Fort Laramie, Fort Massacre, Fort Ti, Fort Worth and Fort Yuma, and I may have forgotten some. These forts were usually what I call toy ones, wooden stockades, often filmed at Kanab, Utah (till it burned down). Fort Vengeance has the most perfunctory ‘fort’ set you ever saw, with about three logs either side of a gate. Well, budget was tight.

It stars James Craig (left) as Dick Ross. Now James Craig was not one of the brightest stars in the Hollywood firmament. He was an MGM contract player in the 40s, a sort of poor man’s Clark Gable. Considering that as far as Westerns go Gable was a poor man’s everyone else, that’s not much of an accolade. Craig did lead in a dozen or so Westerns, all Bs. He had some form as a Mountie, having starred in Northwest Rangers in 1942 (Hollywood producers loved Rangers almost as much as they loved Forts).

His ne’er-do-well brother, the no-account Carey Ross, is played by Keith Larsen (below), Brave Eagle on TV. We know he will be crooked in the plot and die badly, and he duly does.
 
 
It’s set in 1876. We know this because a line of the dialogue tells us that Custer has been killed at Little Bighorn “a few weeks ago.” In this version of ‘history’ Sitting Bull (Michael Granger, in his second Western of six) raced for the Canadian border with his braves right after the battle, where he immediately started stirring up trouble, trying to persuade the peaceable Blackfoot under sage Chief Morris Ankrum that the redcoats are just as perfidious as the bluecoats and the warpath is the only answer.
 
Statesmanlike Chief Ankrum
 
This Bull is an out-and-out bad guy. He lies, and he orders his braves to attack Canadian wagon trains (I didn’t know they had those) and kill Canadian farmers’ wives so that the NWMP will intervene and Chief Ankrum will be obliged to take up the tomahawk with his red brothers. As you know, it didn’t quite happen like that.
 
Sitting Bull the bad guy
 
Rita Moreno has a rather perfunctory part as the daughter of a trader (Emory Parnell) and she dances for the Mounties at the trading post. She doesn’t get to say much but she does flash her legs about. I don’t quite know why an ‘Irish’ trader (well, I think Parnell’s accent was supposed to be Irish) should have a Puerto Rican daughter but hell, why not? This was only Rita’s second Western and she didn’t do many, though another, The Yellow Tomahawk, was also a Lesley Selander picture.
 
Rita with her dad
 
The Mountie colonel (they call them Inspectors up there) is fightfully, frightfully English, played by Reginal Denny, from Surrey, who would be the dastardly Sir Harry in Cat Ballou.
 
 Inspector Reginald

It’s all in a quite nice Cinecolor, in Corrigan Ranch, Simi Valley locations. Selander was good at action so there’s a fair bit of gallopin’ and shootin’. There’s a villainous French-Canadian, Luboc (Peter Camlin), who takes Carey in on his scam, which causes all the trouble. There’s a last-reel brotherly showdown, enabling Chief Ankrum to announce sonorously that “There will be peace!” Phew. The End.

I enjoyed it though.