The sixth entry in the Rough Riders series finds Marshal Tim McCall (Tim McCoy) traveling from Wyoming to Texas so that he can help Sandy Hopkins (Raymond Hatton) celebrate his birthday. When he arrives, he discovers that the birthday celebration is on hold because Sandy has been accused of murdering his best friend, John Dodge (Jack Daley). Dodge was the richest man in town and the townspeople think that Sandy murdered him as a result of a disagreement over a card game. What they don’t know is that Sandy and Dodge were only pretending to be mad at each other as a practical joke.
Dodge was really murdered by Bert Logan (Harry Woods), an outlaw who has hired an actress named Stella (Lois Austin) to pretend to be Dodge’s long-lost wife. When all of Dodge’s property is given to Stella, Stella will then give it all to Dodge. While Tim tries to keep the sheriff (Glenn Strange) from prosecuting Sandy, Marshal Buck Roberts (Buck Jones) goes undercover and infiltrates Logan’s gang.
After five previous films that just featured the Rough Riders talking about what their lives were like when they weren’t chasing outlaws, Down Texas Way shows us Sandy Hopkins’s life in Texas. It’s about what you would expect. Sandy likes to spend his time playing cards and hanging out in the lobby of his hotel. It seems like an nice life, at least until Bert Logan tries to frame him for murder. Luckily, the other Rough Riders are always there to have his back. Down Texas Way is not one of the better Rough Riders films because Bert’s scheme never makes much sense but Hatton is relaxed and engaging and McCoy and Jones are their usual tough selves. As with the previous film, the appeal of this Rough Riders film is the Rough Riders themselves and the way that they always stick together and have each other’s back. That’s especially true in Down Texas Way, in which both Tim and Buck show that they’ll travel across several states if it means helping out a friend in a jam.
One final note, the town’s sheriff is named Trump, though I assume he’s no relation. Glenn Strange, who played Sheriff Trump, would later play Frankenstein’s Monster in the last of the Universal horror movies.
Feeling that the old west has become a dangerous place, law-abiding gunslinger Billy the Kid (Buster Crabbe) fakes a stagecoach robbery and pretends to kidnap the governor’s daughter, all to show him that the west needs more law enforcers. The governor is so impressed by Billy’s ruse that he agrees to stand tough on crime. This upsets Dirk Randall (Glenn Strange, who also played Frankenstein’s monster is some of the later Universal horror films), a businessman who has been funding the criminals in order to make the governor look weak so that Randall could defeat him in the next election.
Randall orders one of his men to pull a gun on Billy while Billy is leaving the local saloon. Billy pulls and fires his own gun in self-defense but it’s Randall who actually kills the man by shooting him in the back and then running off in the confusion. Because the man was shot in the back, Billy is accused of murder, arrested, and sentenced to death in record time. With Billy in jail, it falls to his comic relief sidekick, Fuzzy Jones (Al St. John), to prove that Billy didn’t actually fire the shot that killed the man.
By most accounts, Billy the Kid was a nasty piece of work who would kill anyone who look at him in the wrong way but, in the 30s, the character was the hero of a series of 42 Westerns that all featured him as a hero and a valued member of the community. (Originally, Bob Steele played Billy. Buster Crabbe took over the role with the seventh film.) Western Cyclone was the 17th Billy the Kid film and, as long as you’re not a stickler for historical accuracy, it’s an entertaining B-western. The plot is formulaic but Crabbe was a good hero, Strange was a diabolical villain, and, for once, Al St. John got to play an important role in resolving the film’s story. Fuzzy Jones did some impressive detective work. The real Billy the Kid probably could have used someone like Fuzzy in his corner.
Since I’ve already reviewed HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN back in 2015, we now turn our attention to HOUSE OF DRACULA, the last “official” entry in the series (though the Universal Monsters would ‘Meet Abbott & Costello’ three years later). The film tries to put a new slant on things, using science to conquer the supernatural, but winds up being just a hodgepodge of familiar horror tropes without much cohesion. HOUSE OF DRACUA does have its fans, but I’m not one of them.
John Carradine returns as Count Dracula, introducing himself as Baron Latos to Dr. Edlemann (Onslow Stevens ) and seeking a cure for his vampirism. Edlemann discovers a “peculiar parasite” in Dracula’s blood, and believes he can cure him through a series of transfusions. But the Count, that sneaky devil, has his fangs set for Edlemann’s pretty nurse Militza (Martha O’Driscoll), whom he hypnotizes with those hypnotic eyes of his…
Gary Farrell (Buster Crabbe) is a widowed truck driver who wants his son to have a better life than his old man. Good luck pulling that off on a salary of $45 a week. Gary enters a boxing tournament, just hoping to win enough money to pay for his son to go to military school. But, under the tutelage of veteran trainer Pop Turner (Milton Kibbee), Gary becomes a real contender. He also becomes a first class heel, turning his back on his old, honest lifestyle and getting involved with fast-living socialite, Rita London (Julie Gibson). Can Gary’s friends and newspaper reporter Linda Martin (Arline Judge) get Gary to see the error of his ways?
The Contender, which is in the public domain and can be viewed at the Internet archive, is a typical poverty row production, with all the expected boxing clichés. Gary’s initial rise is just as predictable as his downfall and eventual redemption. For fans of Buster Crabbe, though, it is a chance to see Crabbe playing someone other than Tarzan, Flash Gordon, or Buck Rogers. (Crabbe was the only actor to play all three of these roles over the course of his long career. He also appeared as Billy the Kid in several westerns.) Though he was a swimmer and not a boxer, Crabbe’s natural athleticism made him a good pick for the role of Gary. Julie Gibson is sexy and fun as the bad girl and be sure to keep an eye out for Glenn Strange, who plays Gary’s best friend. Just as Crabbe was forever typecast as Flash Gordon, Strange will always be remembered for replacing Boris Karloff in the role of Frankenstein’s Monster.
It’s Halloween, and we’ve finally made it to the Universal Classic Monsters! Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, and The Wolf Man had last appeared onscreen in 1945’s HOUSE OF DRACULA. Shortly thereafter, Universal merged with International Pictures and decided to produce only “prestige” pictures from then on, deeming their Gothic creature features no longer relevant in the post-war, post-nuclear world. The comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were also in danger of becoming irrelevant, victims of their own success, as audiences were beginning to grow tired of them after twenty movies in a scant eight years.
That “prestige” thing didn’t work out so well, and Universal went back to what they did best…. producing mid-budget movies for the masses. Producer Robert Arthur developed a script called “The Brain of Frankenstein”, giving it over to Frederic Rinaldo and Robert Lees. Lou Costello hated it, and the team’s gag writer John Grant was brought it to punch things…