This B-western takes place in the legendry frontier town of Deadwood. It’s a town that’s patrolled by General George Custer (Addison Richards) and which is home to Wild Bill Hickok (Richard Dix) and Calamity Jane (Frances Farmer). When outlaw Jack McCall (Lon Chaney, Jr.) and his gang start disguising themselves as Sioux and start robbing stagecoaches, young homesteader Jim Holliday (Robert Stack) is appointed town marshal. Unfortunately, Jim’s older brother, Bob (Broderick Crawford), has gotten involved with McCall and his gang. Bob has also never forgiven Jim for marrying Anne (Ann Rutherford), the woman that Bob loved. Jim struggles to get the town to take him seriously. When Jim tries to put out a fire that’s threatening to burn down several businesses, the citizens laugh at him and shoot a hole in the water hose. No one said that the people of Deadwood were smart. Ann wants to leave town but McCall and his gang are growing more brazen in their attacks and when one of Jim’ mentors is murdered, Jim has no choice but to get justice and revenge. Meanwhile, the real Sioux grow tired of being blamed every time a stagecoach is robbed and they launch their own attack on the town.
Though the plot may be predictable, Badlands of Dakota is memorable for the cast that was assembled to bring its familiar story to life. Along with those already mentioned, the cast also includes Andy Devine as a saloon owner, Hugh Hubert as the town drunk, Fuzzy Knight as the town’s stagecoach driver, and the folk band, The Jesters, as the town’s entertainment. They all do their part to bring the town of Deadwood to life. Frances Farmer steals the film with her tough and unsentimental portrayal of Calamity Jane and Lon Chaney, Jr. is an effectively hard-edged villain. This was one of Robert Stack’s first films and he’s appropriately stiff and upright as Jim. Jim is the only honest man in Deadwood, which also means that Jim is fairly boring when compared to everyone else around him. It’s also difficult to accept him as being Broderick Crawford’s younger brother, though Crawford does a good job of portraying the personal betrayal that Bob feels when he discovers that Jim has married Anne.
Not surprisingly, Badlands of Dakota plays havoc with history. This is especially true when it comes to Addison Richards’s sober and reasonable portrayal of a middle-aged General Custer. (The real-life General Custer died when he was only 36 and could reportedly be slightly erratic. Not to mention, Custer died the same year that Deadwood was founded so it’s doubtful that he ever visited the city, much less had a personal friendship with Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.) Still, there’s a lot here to entertain fans of B-westerns. Along with all of the familiar faces in the cast, there’s also a sequence with an out-of-control stage coach that makes good use of rear projection and the film’s final gun battle is exciting and well-directed. It’s a quick 76 minutes, full of all the action and bad history that a western fan could hope for.