In a frontier town, a gang of rustlers are stealing cattle as a part of a plot to force cash-strapped ranchers to take out exorbitant mortgages on their ranches. Ma Turner (Sarah Padden) summons her old friend, Marshal Buck Roberts (Buck Jones), to come to town and take on the rustlers. When the town’s corrupt banker is murdered and Ma Turner’s son, Steve (Dennis Moore), is framed for the crime, Roberts calls in his fellow Rough Riders, Tim McCall (Tim McCoy) and Sandy Hopkins (Raymond Hatton), to help him take down the gang.
In many ways, this is a familiar Rough Riders film, right down to the main bad guy being the owner of the town’s saloon and Charles King showing up as a member of the gang. What sets it apart from the film that came before it is that, this time, Tim pretends to be an outlaw while Buck sets himself up as the new law in town. Tim takes on the identity of Tim Steele, a sarsaparilla-drinking ne’er do well who has just gotten out of prison. Jones and McCoy both seem to enjoy getting to switch their typical roles. As for Sandy Hopkins, he goes undercover as a peddler of snake oil and provides the comic relief. Riders of the West is a typical B-western but the chemistry between the three leads continues to shine through.
Marshal Buck Roberts (Buck Jones) has finally retired after a long and a legendary career. Two men who Buck arrested are not planning on allowing him to enjoy his retirement. Having served their sentence for robbing a stagecoach, Fulton (Charles King) and Howard (Bud Osborne) are released from prison and head to Yucca City, Arizona. They try to recruit their old partner, Jim Cramer (Dave O’Brien), into helping them get revenge on Buck but Cramer wants nothing to do with it. He’s gone straight and is running his own general store with his fiancée, Mary (Christine McIntyre). Cramer considers Buck to be a friend because Buck looked after Cramer’s children while Cramer was serving his sentence.
Fulton and Howard ambush Buck and nearly kill him. With the help of his horse, Silver (of Lone Ranger fame), Buck is able to escape but he’s seriously injured. His two fellow rough riders, Sandy Hopkins (Raymond Hatton) and Tim McCall (Tim McCoy), head down to Arizona to bring Fulton and Howard to justice. (Sandy even rides away from his own wedding when he hears that Buck has been injured.) While the Rough Riders search for Fulton and Howard, saloon owner Ed Nelson (Tris Coffin) works with the outlaws to steal a shipment of goods.
The third of the Rough Riders film, Forbidden Trails is memorable for acknowledging that the three Rough Riders were older than the most of the other contemporary western stars. Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, and Raymond Hatton were all veteran stars who began their careers during the silent era and who transitioned to B-movies in the sound era. At a time when their contemporaries were retiring, they were still appearing before the camera and riding the range. Like the actor playing him, Buck Howard has reached the age when most people retire but he cannot escape his past. Neither can Jim Cramer, who can’t live the law-abiding life that he desires as long as Fulton and Howard are free. While Cramer has to escape from his former friends, Buck is lucky to have friends like McCall and Hopkins. The movie showcases their loyalty and their friendship together and leaves no doubt that will never change, no matter how old the Rough Riders get. Along with showcasing the friendship of its three stars, the movie is full of chases and gunfights. The scene where Buck is ambushed is exiting and there’s also a good saloon shootout. Jones and McCoy are as authentically western as ever.
Dave O’Brien and Christine McIntyre both appeared in the previous Rough Riders film but they’re playing different characters here. Tris Coffin also played a similar crooked businessman in the first Rough Riders film, Arizona Bound.
The second of the Rough Riders films opens with Bob “Bodie” Bronson (played by Buck Jones) seeking shelter from a storm and coming upon a house. Brodie enters the house, just to discover two dead bodies, a crying baby, and a note that says that the house was attacked by rustlers. After the storm passes, Bodie takes the baby to a ranch owned by Alice Boden (Christine McIntyre) and her boyfriend, Joe (David O’Brien). Alice and Joe agree to look after the baby while Bodie heads into town.
Anyone who has seen Arizona Bound or any of the Rough Riders films that came out after The Gunman From Bodie will know that Boodie Bronson is actually Marshal Buck Roberts and that he’s working undercover. His partner, Marshal Sandy Hopkins (Raymond Hatton), is already working as a cook at the ranch. Soon, the third rough rider, Marshal Tim McCall (Tim McCoy), shows up with a wanted poster for Bodie. It’s all a plan, of course, to help Bodie ingratiate himself with the actual rustlers.
The Gunman From Bodie is considerably darker than Arizona Bound. Because of the murder of the baby’s parents, the Rough Riders aren’t just looking to uphold the law. They’re looking to avenge a terrible crime and to dispense some frontier justice. Buck Jones and Tim McCoy both give grim and determined performances that leave you with no doubt that you don’t want to get on their bad side. While Alice and Joe tug at the audience’s heartstrings by becoming parents to the orphaned child, the Rough Riders do what they have to do to prevent any more children from losing their parents. I especially liked the scene where Marshal McCall graphically described what happens when someone is executed by hanging, describing each detail until the actual murderer freaks out and reveals himself. The Gunman From Bodie is quick-moving western for adults that features Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, and Raymond Hatton at their best.