The town of Silver City has a new marshal. He’s tough, no-nonsense, and an expert marksman. He is exactly what it needed to clean up the town and he is also a complete fraud. The marshal is actually Tim Benton (played by Tim McCoy), an escaped convict who was doing time after being framed for the murder of his father. Seeking revenge on the men who framed him and who stole his family’s silver mine, Tim escaped from prison with the help of Red Larkin (Matthew Betz), who actually was guilty of the crimes for which he was imprisoned. After Red kills the man who was actually appointed to serve as Silver City’s new marshal, Tim took the man’s identity.
Despite the years that he spent wrongly imprisoned, Tim really isn’t an outlaw at heart. He’s one of the good guys and he soon starts to settle into his role as town marshal. He even falls in love with Alice Wheeler (Dorothy Gulliver). However, Tim still has to get revenge for his father’s death and he is also going to have to deal with Red Larkin, who has no interest in going straight. Ironically, what Tim doesn’t know, is that he was only a day or two away from receiving a full pardon when he broke out of prison and went on the run.
The Fighting Marshal is an above average western programmer. Though the low-budget and rushed quality of the production is obvious (just check out the opening title card, which misspells Marshal), Tim McCoy is a credible western hero, looking credible on a horse and handling a gun with the skill of someone who started his career as a sharp shooter. The film’s mistaken identity plot is an interesting wrinkle on all of the usual western action and McCoy is convincing as he goes from being an escaped convict to being a man who truly cares about maintaining law and order in Silver City.
Of course, like many of the early western stars, McCoy was himself an authentic cowboy. He looked convincing with a gun because, in real life, McCoy was an expert marksman who was considered to be the best shooter in Hollywood. When he wasn’t making movies, McCoy served in the U.S. Army and he was also one of the first Hollywood actors to try to make the leap over to politics, running unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in Wyoming. Later, when his film career waned, McCoy hosted a children’s show where he would show his movies and discuss the history of the old west. He was nominated for a daytime Emmy but refused to attend the ceremony when he discovered he would be competing against a show featuring a talking duck. His exact words, when turning down the invitation to the ceremony, are often quoted as being; “I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit there and get beaten by a talking duck!”
One final note: According the IMDb, The Fighting Marashal was filmed over the course of a week in October in 1931. Less than a month later, it was released on November 25th. That’s the old Hollywood system for you. They didn’t waste anytime getting their movies into the theaters.