Riders of the West (1942, directed by Howard Bretherton)

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.

Previous Rough Rider Reviews:

  1. Arizona Bound
  2. The Gunman From Bodie
  3. Forbidden Trails
  4. Below the Border
  5. Ghost Town
  6. Down Texas Way

Below The Border (1942, directed by Howard Bretherton)

In the fourth Rough Riders film, the boys head down to Mexico City to defend the Garcia Ranch from a gang of cattle rustlers who are also planning on stealing the Garcia Family Jewels.  (Would the Rough Riders have any legal jurisdiction in Mexico?)  This time, Buck Roberts (Buck Jones) assumes the identity of a well-known outlaw who deals in stolen goods, Tim McCall (Tim McCoy) pretends to be a cattle buyer, and Sandy Hopkins (Raymond Hatton) gets a job sweeping up the local saloon.  As with almost all of the Rough Riders films, the owner of the saloon, Steve Slade (Charles King), is also the leader of the thieves.  Slade is blackmailing a reformed outlaw named Joe (Dennis Moore) into helping Slade and Scully (Roy Barcroft) steal the family jewels.  Joe is in love with Rosita Garcia (Linda Brent).

Below the Border has much in common with Forbidden Trails, the Rough Riders film that came before it, right down to a villainous saloon owner and a former outlaw being blackmailed to return to his old ways.  As usual, the outlaws try to humiliate Sandy Hopkins, just for Tim McCall to show up at the saloon and turn the tables.  Scully is a despicable bully and it feels good when McCall forces him to grab Hopkins’s mop and clean up the bar himself.

It’s not the strongest of the Rough Riders films. The plot is predictable, Linda Brent gives a terrible performance as Rosita, and even the action scenes are by-the-numbers.  The main appeal of Below the Border is to watch the three Rough Riders themselves.  Jones, McCoy, and Hatton all seem to have genuinely enjoyed working together and that comes through in their scenes together.  You never have any doubt that, even though they live in different parts of the country, all it would take is one telegram for them to get back together.  The highlight of each film is the final scene, where the Rough Riders tell each other what they’ve been up to between adventures.  This time, Buck invites everyone to visit him in Arizona but Tim has to get back to Wyoming and Sandy’s running a hotel in Texas.  They ride off separately but there’s little doubt they will reunite as soon as there’s a new rustler who needs to be brought to justice.

Previous Rough Rider Reviews:

  1. Arizona Bound
  2. The Gunman From Bodie
  3. Forbidden Trails

Across The Plains (1939, directed by Spencer Gordon Bennett)

In the old west, a group of outlaws attack a wagon train, killing a husband and wife but sparing their two children.  One child is taken by the outlaws, who tell him that they have saved him from an Indian attack.  He grows up to be The Kansas Kid (Dennis Moore), a wagon master who still works for Gordon (Bob Card), the outlaw who raised him.  The other child is adopted by a Native tribe and grows up to be known as Cherokee (Jack Randall).  Cherokee has been hired to protect a gold shipment that Kansas and Gordon are determined to steal.  How long until the brothers come into conflict?

Across The Plains is a pretty good programmer.  Dennis Moore and Jack Randall are convincing as two men on opposite sides of the law who don’t realize that they’re brothers and director Spencer Gordon Bennett captures the scenery of the old west.  This is a western where the frontier really feels and looks like an untouched frontier!  The gunfights are effectively choreographed and directed and the family aspect is a good spin on a simple story.  For fans of westerns, Across The Plains is an enjoyable example of the genre.

Dennis Moore and Jack Randall were both B-western mainstays.  Moore occasionally played a hero but was usually cast as a villain.  Across The Plans gives him a chance to play a more complex role than usual and he takes full advantage of the opportunity.  The Kansas Kid may be an outlaw but he’s not so much bad as just misguided.  Jack Randall was one of the many stage names used by actor Addison Randall.  He started out as a singing cowboy before playing more traditional heroes, like in this film.  In Across The Plans, Randall was as tough and convincing a western hero as he always was.    Tragically, he died six years after making this film when he fell off a horse while filming a Universal serial called The Royal Mounted Ride Again.  He was only 39 years old.

The Fabulous Forties #33: Boys of the City (dir by Joseph H. Lewis)


The 33rd film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1940’s Boys of the City.

As a classic film lover, I have to admit that I groaned a bit when the opening credits announced that Boys of the City starred “East Side Kids.”  The East Side Kids were a group of actors who appeared in a number of B-movies from the 1930s through the 50s.  Many of the actors started out as members of the Dead End Kids and a few more were members of a group known as The Little Tough Guys.  In the 40s, they merged to become the East Side Kids and then eventually, once the East Side Kids started to hit their 30s, they became known as the Bowery Boys.  Their movies started out as tough and gritty melodramas but, by the time they were known as the Bowery Boys, they were making cartoonish comedies.  Occasionally, one of their films will show up on TCM.  Their early serious films (Dead End, Angels With Dirty Faces) remain watchable but, from what little I’ve seen of them, their later comedies appear to be damn near unbearable.

Boys of the City finds the East Side Kids in transition.  The kids still have an edge to them.  They are definitely portrayed as being juvenile delinquents who are walking a thin line between either a short life of crime or a long life of poverty.  But them film itself, while it may not be as cartoonish as the films that were to come in the future, is definitely a comedy.

Basically, the East Side Kids (Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey, Hal E. Chester, Frankie Burke, Sunshine Sammy, Donald Haines, David Gorcey, and Algy Williams) have been arrested for vandalism and are given a choice.  They can either go to juvenile hall or they can spend the summer at a camp in upstate New York.  Somewhat reluctantly (and hopefully remembering the unlucky fates of Humphrey Bogart in Dead End and James Cagney in Angels With Dirty Faces), the kids agree to go to the camp.

However, on the way to the camp, their car breaks down and they are forced to stay at the nearby home of a crooked judge (Forrest Taylor) until they can get the car repaired.  The judge, however, is killed and it’s up to the East Side Kids to solve the murder!  Was the judge killed by the gangsters that he was set to testify against?  Was he killed by his niece (Inna Gest)?  Or maybe it was his housekeeper, Agnes (Minerva Urecal, who appears to be parodying Judith Anderson’s performance in Rebecca)?  Or was he murdered by Knuckles (Dave O’Brien), who the judge wrongly sentenced to die and who, following his vindication and release from prison, has become a guardian to the East Side Kids?

Who knows?  Who cares?  I certainly didn’t.

Clocking in at 68 minutes, Boys of the City is a typical 1940s second feature.  Designed to keep audiences entertained without requiring them to think, Boys of the City moves quickly and adds up to nothing.  I know that there are some classic film lovers who can tell the difference between the various East Side Kids (or Dead End Kids or Bowery Boys or whatever you want to call them) but they all pretty much blended together for me.

Not surprisingly for a film made in 1940, Boys of the City is full of casual racism.  Sunshine Sammy plays an East Side Kid named Scruno.  As soon as Scruno sees the cemetery next to the house, his eyes go wide and he says, “G-g-g-ghosts!”  Apparently, that was very popular in the 40s but today, it’s impossible to watch without cringing.

Boys of the City has some interest as a time capsule but otherwise, it’s a film that is easily and happily forgotten about.

Shattered Politics #13: The Fearmakers (dir by Jacques Tourneur)


Did you know that 75% of people are sick of hearing the results of polls about what people think about other polls?  It’s true!

Me, I first got sick of polls back in 2012.  That was when, every day, everyone on twitter would be talking about the result of another political poll.  A poll would come out showing that Obama was ahead of Romney in the presidential election and all of my Republican friends would immediately start tweeting about why the poll could not be taken seriously.  Then 2014 came along and polls started to show that the majority of American citizens did not approve of the job Obama was doing.  And all of my Democrat friends would immediately start tweeting about why those polls could not be trusted.

As for me, I was always more concerned with what the polls said over on Rotten Tomatoes.  Really?I would think.  Only 35% of critics gave California Scheming a good review?  67% of moviegoers want to see the new Transformers film?

Oh my God, I thought, those numbers have to be so fake…

Because, let’s face it.  The only time that we believe a poll is when we agree with it.  Otherwise, we assume that they’re either the result of subtle manipulation, selective interpretation, or just completely and totally untrue.

Believe it or not, this suspicion is not a new phenomena.  I’ve always felt that you can learn a lot about history by watching the movies.  That doesn’t mean that movies are historically accurate.  One need only read my review of Magnificent Doll to see that.  However, movies do reflect the culture and concerns of the time in which they were made.

For instance, The Fearmakers was made in 1958 and it shows that not only has polling been around for a while but so has the fear of being manipulated by a fraudulent poll.

In The Fearmakers, Dana Andrews plays Alan Eaton.  Before the start of the Korean War, Alan owned one of the best and most respected polling firms in Washington D.C.  However, while serving in the army during the war, Alan was captured and held prisoner by the Chinese.  After years of being tortured and perhaps brainwashed, Alan is finally released.

He returns to an America that is far different from the country that he left.  For instance, while on a flight to Washington, D.C., he finds himself sitting next to a shifty scientist (Oliver Blake) who tries to convince Alan to support a group that believes in nuclear disarmament.  Even worse, once the plane lands, Alan discovers that he’s been forced out of his polling firm and that his partner has died under mysterious circumstances.

The firm’s new owner, the outwardly friendly, inwardly cold-hearted Jim McGinnis (Dick Foran), offers to hire Alan as a special consultant.  Alan is at first resistant but then he has a meeting with his old friend, Senator Walder (Roy Gordon).  Walder explains that he suspects that Alan’s old polling firm has been infiltrated by outside forces and that it might be using its polling to try to push communist propaganda on the American people.  Alan agrees to work for Jim and to help track down any and all subversives….

The Fearmakers is better than it sounds.  Beyond the fact that the story remains relevant in our poll-driven times, it was directed by Jacques Tourneur, who directed several atmospheric and intelligent horror films in the 30s and 40s.  He brings a similar atmosphere of doom to The Fearmakers.  Perhaps the film’s best scenes are the ones where Tourneur just focuses his camera on Andrews’s face while Alan struggles to understand the country to which he has returned.  As played by Andrews, Alan is troubled and hardly your typical hero.  You’re never quite sure how much of the film’s danger is real and how much of it is just the result of Alan’s own paranoia.

I first saw The Fearmakers on Netflix.  The next time you’ve got 84 minutes to kill, check it out.

Scenes That I Love: Dennis Moore And His Horse Concorde

dennis moore

So, what did you do on Sunday night?

Myself, I watched The Adventures of Robin Hood on TCM.  There I was, watching the film and posting comments on twitter about how superior Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood was to Russell Crowe’s when suddenly I realized that a lot of very strange tweets were appearing on my timeline.

One person tweeted, “WHAT THE FUCK, GAME OF THRONES!?”

Another tweeted: “OMG!  #GoT”

And my personal favorite: “no, no, no, no, no #GameOfThrones.”

Later, I discovered that these people were reacting to the Red Wedding on Game Of Thrones.  I have been using twitter since 2009 and I have never before seen so much anger and sadness as I did last night after the Starks were massacred on HBO.

Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy Game Of Thrones and I DVR every episode but, at that moment, I was really happy to be watching The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Whenever I watch The Adventures of Robin Hood, I think about one of my favorite Monty Python skits, the story of Dennis Moore, the highwayman who attempts to steal from the rich and give to the poor and discovers that the redistribution of wealth isn’t as easy as he originally figured.

Or, as the Dennis Moore theme song puts it: “He steals from the poor and gives to the rich … Stupid bitch!”

In honor of The Adventures of Robin Hood, I figured why not share this classic skit?  If nothing else, maybe a little absurdist comedy is just what the doctor ordered for those of you who still haven’t recovered from the Red Wedding…