Neath The Arizona Skies (1934, directed by Harry L. Fraser)

Chris Morrell (John Wayne) is an honest cowboy who keeps an eye on Nina (Shirley Jean Rickert), a little girl whose Indian mother died when Nina was just a baby.  When oil is discovered on land that belonged to Nina’s mother, Nina is offered $50,000 for the land.  Because Nina is only eight years old, her legal guardian will be responsible for taking care of the money.  Chris and Nina set out to find Nina’s father so that he can sign the guardianship papers and make Chris into Nina’s legal guardian.

When outlaw Sam Black (Yakima Canutt) decides that he would rather be Nina’s legal guardian, Chris sends Nina to a ranch owned by his old friend, Bud Moore, while he defeats Sam and his men.  At the ranch, it turns out that Bud Moore has died and the new ranch owner is another outlaw named Vic (Jack Rockwell) and Vic wants Nina’s oil claim for himself.  What Vic doesn’t know is that Nina’s father is one of his ranch hands.

For a 52 minute programmer, there’s a lot going on in ‘Neath The Arizona Skies.  There’s actually too much going on and, with that short of a run time, it feels as if more than a few important plot points were glossed over, like how Chris came to look after Nina in the first place.  John Wayne is stiff but likable as Chris while Yakima Canutt does his usual double duty as both an outlaw and a stuntman.  There are a few good action scenes, especially when Chris runs off Sam’s gang for the first time.  Sheila Terry plays Wayne’s love interest, who has to be first convinced that Chris isn’t actually an outlaw.  As Nina, Shirley Jean Rickert is energetic but you’ll quickly get tired of her yelling, “Daddy Chris!” whenever anything happens.  This isn’t one of the best of the 50 poverty row films that Wayne appeared in before Stagecoach made him a star but, even in this film, there are still hints of the screen presence that would later become Wayne’s trademark.

Randy Rides Alone (1934, directed by Harry L. Fraser)

Randy (John Wayne) rides his horse into a frontier town.  He is planning to pay a visit to his old friend, saloon owner Ed Rogers.  But when Randy enters the saloon, he discovers that everyone, including Ed, has been shot dead and a hand-written note has been left by the perpetrator, warning the sheriff not to come after him.

The sheriff and a posse of citizens arrive at the saloon and refuse to believe Randy when he says that he didn’t commit the crime.  Matt the Mute (George Hayes, before he became known as Gabby) hands the sheriff a note in which he suggests arresting Randy and hanging him for the crime.  Matt’s note is written in the same handwriting as the note that was left at the saloon but no one notices because Matt has a reputation for being a fine, upstanding citizen.

With the help of Ed’s niece, Sally (Alberta Vaughn), Randy escapes from the posse and makes his way to a cave, which he discovers is the hideout for a gang of thieves led by Matt the Mute, who isn’t even a mute!  When the gang kidnaps Sally, Randy has to rescue her and clear his name.

A 56-minute programmer, Randy Rides Alone is one of the many B-westerns that John Wayne made before Stagecoach made him a star.  In the 30s, every poverty row studio was churning out short westerns that would play as double features and which would entertain audiences looking for an escape from the present day.  Randy Rides Alone is one of the better examples of the genre, due to John Wayne’s authoritative presence and a better-than-average plot.  The opening, with a smiling John Wayne entering the saloon just to discover that all of his friends have been murdered, establishes the stakes early on and the movie is as much about revenge as it is about Randy clearing his name.  George Hayes, who became best known for playing comedic relief sidekicks, is an effective villain.  The film’s target audience was probably bored with Sally and Randy falling in love but they also probably enjoyed Randy climbing a mountain to rescue her.  The movie ends with Sally announcing that Randy won’t be riding alone much longer.  Randy may have settled down but John Wayne had 150 more films ahead of him.

Mason of the Mounted (1932, directed by Harry L. Fraser)

Bill Mason (Bill Cody) is a member of the Canadian Mounted Police who is sent over the border to track down a murderous horse thief.  Going undercover, Mason discovers that a nearby frontier town is being terrorized by rustlers.  The townspeople have named Calhoun (LeRoy Mason) as the head of the local posse but Mason soon discovers that Calhoun is actually the horse thief!

Mason of the Mounted is only 57 minutes long but it’s a very slow-moving 57 minutes.  It’s also a pre-Code film but, other than a grisly shot of a dead body at the start of the film, there’s nothing about Mason of the Mounted that you wouldn’t expect to find in a western made under the production code.  Much of the film centers around Mason befriending an American teenager named Andy Talbot (played by Andy Shuford).  This was actually one of 8 films that Bill Cody and Andy Shuford made together.  Cody was a genuine cowboy who performed in wild west shows before and after his film career.  Shuford was a child actor whose career was primarily in Westerns.  During World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, flew many missions out of England, and eventually reached the rank of colonel.  He never returned to making films.

As for Mason of the Mounted, Bill Cody has some authentic cowboy grit and is credible when he’s on a horse or shooting a gun but the plot moves too slowly and most of the cast is stiff and awkward.  I did like the idea of the main rustler disguising himself as the only person capable of stopping the rustlers.  That was an interesting idea and I wish the movie had done more with it.  This is a film that’s mostly for fans of the genre and even the most undemanding western fan will probably have a hard time making their way through the whole thing.

The Fabulous Forties #25: Jungle Man (dir by Harry L. Fraser)



About a month ago, for reasons that I’m sure made sense at the time, I decided it would be fun to watch and review all 50 of the films included in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set.  If you know anything Mill Creek box sets, then you won’t be surprised to learn that the majority of these 50 films are public domain B-movies.  A few of them have been good, a few of them have been bad, and a few of them have been forgettable.

I have to admit that, as much as I love watching old movies, there’s a part of me that’s more than ready to move onto the next Mill Creek box set, the Nifty Fifties.  But, before I do that, I have to finish up the Forties.  Fortunately, I just watched the 25th film included in the Fabulous Forties and I am happy to say that I am now halfway done with this project!  Yay!

As for the film itself, it’s a 63-minute film from 1941.  Though it was later retitled Drums of Africa, it was originally called Jungle Man.

Jungle Man

As for what Jungle Man is about … well, it’s mostly about stock footage.

There is kind of a plot.  Wealthy Bruce (Weldon Heyburn) and his friend Alex (Robert Carson) want to go to Africa so that they can see the legendary City of the Dead.  Bruce’s fiancée, Betty (Sheila Darcy), decides to accompany them because she wants to visit her brother (Charles Middleton), a missionary.  Once they get to Africa, they also meet a doctor (Buster Crabbe) who is trying to find a cure for a fever that is wiping out the native population.

But really, the plot is mostly just an excuse for stock footage.  We watch as our explorers walk down a jungle trail.  Someone says, “Look up in that tree!”  We cut to grainy footage of a monkey in a tree.  Cut back to everyone looking upward.  Cut back to that monkey in the tree.  Suddenly, we hear a roar on the soundtrack.  Cut to slightly less grainy footage of a tiger running through a field.  Cut back to the explorers saying, “Look out, tiger!”  Cut back to the monkey climbing up higher in the tree.

(Of course, tigers don’t live in Africa but that’s just the type of film this is!)

Even when our heroes finally reach the City of the Dead, we don’t actually see them walking around the city.  Instead, we see them staring into the distance and then immediately cut to some still shots of what Wikipedia identifies as being Cambodia’s Angkor Wat.  Of course, no attempt is really made to match any of the shots.  If Jungle Man was made today, they could just CGI the Hell out of it.  But since it was made in 1941, audiences had to suspend their disbelief and accept shots that didn’t particularly match up with any other shots and a storyline that was pretty much determined by whatever stock footage the producers had available.

On the plus side, it’s only 60 minutes long and some of the stock footage is fun, particularly if you like cute monkeys or fierce tigers.  For the most part, it’s silly but inoffensive.

And you can watch it below!

(I should admit that, as I watched it, I kept thinking about those GEICO commercials where Jane and Tarzan are lost in the jungle and Tarzan refuses to ask for directions.  “Tarzan know where Tarzan go.”  “No, Tarzan does not know where Tarzan go.  Excuse me, do you know where the waterfall is?  The waterfall?”)