After narrowly avoiding execution by a firing squad in Mexico, three good natured outlaws head back to Texas. Gil (Fred MacMurray) is their leader, a former army officer. Antonio (GIlbert Roland) is the charming caballero. George (Albert Dekker!) is the punch-drunk former prizefighter who provides comedic relief. When they reach Texas, they meet and become involved in the efforts of a newspaper publisher (Brandon Tynan) and his daughter (Betty Brewer) to free their hometown from the control of an aristocratic landowner named Col. Rebstock (Joseph Schildkraut), who rules the town with the help of a sadistic group of cowboys. It turns out that the three outlaws aren’t so bad while the respectable and wealthy Col. Rebstock is as bad as they come.
Rangers of Fortune is a standard 1940’s western programmer, though it’s distinguished by a better than usual cast and the quick-paced direction of Sam Wood. It starts out almost as a comedy, with MacMurray, Roland, and Dekker cracking jokes and getting the better of almost anyone that they come across. The screenwriter of Rangers of Fortune, Frank Butler, also wrote some of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope’s road films and he’s just as good as coming up with comedic dialogue for the team of MacMurray, Roland, and Dekker as he was for Hope and Crosby.
But the movie takes a serious turn once MacMurray, Roland, and Dekker cross the Texas border and they discover that Col. Rebstock will do almost anything and kill just about anyone to keep his hold on the town. Even a successful scheme to install Gil as sheriff just leads to more innocent people dying. When Rangers of Fortune turns dark, it turns very dark, with characters, who we usually don’t expect to die in a film like this, meeting a violent end. Though it won’t convert any skeptics, it’s an interesting film for those who are already fans of old Hollywood westerns.
Rangers of Fortune has never gotten a proper video release but it is on YouTube. Unfortunately, the copy uploaded to YouTube was in terrible condition so it’s difficult to fairly judge the film’s production values. However, even on a damaged print, the natural authority of Fred MacMurray’s lead performance comes through and Joseph Schildkraut is as good a villain as always. Patricia Morrison plays the prettiest girl in town and, even on YouTube, it’s easy to see why every man in town is competing for her attentions. Seeing Albert Dekker, usually cast as intelligent and often conniving character, playing dumb is also an interesting experience, even on a bad print. Hopefully, someday, Rangers of Fortune will get a decent restoration.