In 1889, wagon master Milt Dawson (Sam Flint) rides into a western town. He is planning on meeting his son John, who is also a wagon master. However, when a friend of Milt’s is killed by gambler Ace Holmes (Warner Richardson), Milt announces that he’s going to clean up the town and Ace is the first piece of trash that Milt is going to toss out. Ace responds by having his henchmen shoot Milt in the back.
After Milt’s death, his son finally arrives in town and you know that Ace is going to be in trouble because John Dawson is played by John Wayne! Seeking to avenge his father’s death, John teams up with an outlaw named Kit (Al Bridge) and declares war on Ace and his gang.
This is a typical western programmer, one that would probably be forgotten if not for the presence of John Wayne in an early starring role. This was before Stagecoach so the budget is low and the plot is simple. Even in his early 20s, John Wayne has the natural authority that would later make him a star but it’s still strange for me to see him in any film where he’s playing a young man who still has parents. There are some actors who you can’t picture as ever having been anything less than middle-aged and John Wayne is one of them. While most of the other actors are stiff and awkward, Wayne seems right at home in the dusty streets of The New Frontier. Interestingly, given Wayne’s identification with law-and-order, he plays a character here who has no problem working with outlaws and who understands that sometimes, the law can be unfair. Ace is the most powerful man in town and John has no choice but team up with those on the outs of what was then considered to be respectability. Another memorable scene juxtaposes a gun battle with the town’s citizens praying in church, a reminder that innocent people were often caught in the middle of the old west’s grudge matches. These are interesting themes, though they’re not very deeply explored.
Though the gunfights are nicely choreographed and shot, the chance to see a pre-stardom John Wayne clean up the old west is the main reason to watch The New Frontier.
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