In the mining town of Gold Creek, an outlaw gang has been hijacking shipments of gold. Newspaper publisher Rufus Todd (Milburn Morante) has learned that the head of the gang is saloon owner Jim Rand (Harry Woods). Todd is planning on publishing a story identifying Rand as the outlaw leader on the front page of his newspaper so Rand’s secret partner, businessman John Corbett (Jack Daley) arranges for Rufus’s printing press to be blown up.
Rufus calls in his old friend, Marshal Buck Roberts (Buck Jones). Buck arrives in town with his fellow Rough Riders, Tim McCall (Tim McCoy) and Sandy Hopkins (Raymond Hatton). As usual, everyone is working undercover. Buck pretends to be an outlaw named Rocky Sanders. Tim claims to be a preacher who is not afraid to draw his gun and force everyone in the saloon to put down their drinks and listen while Rufus identifies Rand as being an outlaw. Sandy is the new undertaker and his coffins prove useful for smuggling in some much needed equipment.
The eighth Rough Riders film trods familiar ground. Once again, Buck is framed for a crime he didn’t commit and, as always, the villains are a businessman and a saloon owner. Still, I enjoyed seeing Tim to pretend to be a preacher and Sandy had some funny moments are the town’s garrulous undertaker. As always, McCoy, Roberts, and Hatton possessed an authentic western toughness that made them compelling heroes even in B-westerns like this one.
Since Tim McCoy reenlisted in the U.S. Army following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, this was the last Rough Riders film to feature the original three riders and their chemistry and friendship are as strong as when the series first began. The movie ends with the promise that the Rough Riders would ride again but sadly, it was not to be. Though West of the Law doesn’t break any new ground, it’s still a decent finale for the original team.
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.
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.
When two U.S. marshals are ambushed and killed while searching for a group of outlaws in a nearly deserted ghost town, Marshal Tim McCall (Tim McCoy) leaves his ranch in Wyoming to investigate the crime. He was friends with the two murdered men, making this case personal. Of course, McCall’s two fellow Rough Riders ride into town to help McCall out. Buck Roberts (Buck Jones) and Sandy Hopkins (Raymond Hatton) arrives separately and pretend to be prospectors. Their investigation leads to the outlaws (led, as usual, by Charles King), a corrupt member of the community, and a network of underground tunnels that might lead to a gold mine. As with all of the Rough Rider films, Ghost Town Law features a younger secondary protagonist who was there to appeal to audiences who didn’t remember Jones, McCoy, and Hatton from their silent and pre-code era heyday. Virginia Carpenter plays Josie Hall, who comes to the town to search for her grandmother and brother.
Starting with the two marshals getting gunned down in the line of duty, this is one of the more violent of the Rough Riders films. Since the Rough Riders are as interested in getting revenge as they are in getting justice, the Rough Riders themselves are quicker on the draw than usual. The identity of the main villain will not be a shock to anyone who has watched any of the other Rough Rider films but the use of the underground tunnels adds a new element of danger to the movie. For once, the outlaws and the Rough Riders seem evenly matched. The film also features the very lovely and likable Virginia Carpenter, making the last of her five film appearances.
As always, the main appeal is watching Jones, McCoy, and Hatton acting opposite each other. Due to the nature of the case, all three of them are more serious than usual in Ghost Town Law but it is still enjoyable to watch them discuss what’s been happening at their ranches since the last movie.
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.
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.
The town of Mesa City, Arizona has a problem. A gang of thieves are holding up stagecoaches and shooting the drivers. Stagecoach lines are removing Mesa City from their list of destinations and the town is having to depend on the services of corrupt businessman Steve Taggert (Tristram Coffin). After the death of her father and the shooting of her boyfriend, Ruth Masters (Launa Walters) takes over her family’s stagecoach line and is determined to keep it running. But who will drive her coaches?
Cattle salesman and former marshal Buck Roberts (Buck Jones) rides into town and volunteers to drive the next stagecoach. Because the stagecoach is carrying a gold shipment, everyone suspects that it will probably be targeted by the thieves. Volunteering to help Buck is another cattleman named Sandy Hopkins (Raymond Hatton) and the town’s newly arrived preacher, Parson McCall (Tim McCoy). McCall has already run afoul Taggert because of his crusade to close down Taggert’s saloon. What Taggert and the other citizens of Mesa City don’t know is that Buck, Hopkins, and McCall are the Rough Riders, undercover government agents who have a plan to both protect the gold and to reveal the identities of the culprits.
Arizona Bound was the first of seven films about the Rough Riders. While the plots were never anything special, these films stood out because they paired Buck Jones and Tim McCoy, two B-western mainstays who had been active since the silent era and who both brought a good deal of authentic toughness to their performances. In Arizona Bound, both Jones and McCoy don’t hesitate to show that they’re not going to put up with any nonsense from Taggert and his men. There’s a great scene where McCoy proves that even a preacher can outdraw and intimidate an entire saloon full of roughnecks. Jones, McCoy, and Hatton made a good team, though world events would come together to prevent the Rough Riders from having too many adventures. After the U.S. entered World War II, McCoy volunteered for active duty. Meanwhile, Jones died in a tragic night club fire. Raymond Hatton continued to play Sandy Hopkins in other films but none with the original Rough Riders.
The town of Silver City has a new marshal. He’s tough, no-nonsense, and an expert marksman. He is exactly what it needed to clean up the town and he is also a complete fraud. The marshal is actually Tim Benton (played by Tim McCoy), an escaped convict who was doing time after being framed for the murder of his father. Seeking revenge on the men who framed him and who stole his family’s silver mine, Tim escaped from prison with the help of Red Larkin (Matthew Betz), who actually was guilty of the crimes for which he was imprisoned. After Red kills the man who was actually appointed to serve as Silver City’s new marshal, Tim took the man’s identity.
Despite the years that he spent wrongly imprisoned, Tim really isn’t an outlaw at heart. He’s one of the good guys and he soon starts to settle into his role as town marshal. He even falls in love with Alice Wheeler (Dorothy Gulliver). However, Tim still has to get revenge for his father’s death and he is also going to have to deal with Red Larkin, who has no interest in going straight. Ironically, what Tim doesn’t know, is that he was only a day or two away from receiving a full pardon when he broke out of prison and went on the run.
The Fighting Marshal is an above average western programmer. Though the low-budget and rushed quality of the production is obvious (just check out the opening title card, which misspells Marshal), Tim McCoy is a credible western hero, looking credible on a horse and handling a gun with the skill of someone who started his career as a sharp shooter. The film’s mistaken identity plot is an interesting wrinkle on all of the usual western action and McCoy is convincing as he goes from being an escaped convict to being a man who truly cares about maintaining law and order in Silver City.
Of course, like many of the early western stars, McCoy was himself an authentic cowboy. He looked convincing with a gun because, in real life, McCoy was an expert marksman who was considered to be the best shooter in Hollywood. When he wasn’t making movies, McCoy served in the U.S. Army and he was also one of the first Hollywood actors to try to make the leap over to politics, running unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in Wyoming. Later, when his film career waned, McCoy hosted a children’s show where he would show his movies and discuss the history of the old west. He was nominated for a daytime Emmy but refused to attend the ceremony when he discovered he would be competing against a show featuring a talking duck. His exact words, when turning down the invitation to the ceremony, are often quoted as being; “I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit there and get beaten by a talking duck!”
One final note: According the IMDb, The Fighting Marashal was filmed over the course of a week in October in 1931. Less than a month later, it was released on November 25th. That’s the old Hollywood system for you. They didn’t waste anytime getting their movies into the theaters.
Last night, as a part of my effort to clean out my DVR by watching and reviewing 38 movies in 10 days, I watched the 1956 Best Picture winner, Around The World In 80 Days.
Based on a novel by Jules Verne, Around The World In 80 Days announces, from the start, that it’s going to be a spectacle. Before it even begins telling its story, it gives us a lengthy prologue in which Edward R. Murrow discusses the importance of the movies and Jules Verne. He also shows and narrates footage from Georges Méliès’s A Trip To The Moon. Seen today, the most interesting thing about the prologue (outside of A Trip To The Moon) is the fact that Edward R. Murrow comes across as being such a pompous windbag. Take that, Goodnight and Good Luck.
Once we finally get done with Murrow assuring us that we’re about to see something incredibly important, we get down to the actual film. In 1872, an English gentleman named Phileas Fogg (played by David Niven) goes to London’s Reform Club and announces that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. Four other members of the club bet him 20,000 pounds that he cannot. Fogg takes them up on their wager and soon, he and his valet, Passepartout (Cantinflas) are racing across the world.
Around The World in 80 Days is basically a travelogue, following Fogg and Passepartout as they stop in various countries and have various Technicolor adventures. If you’re looking for a serious examination of different cultures, this is not the film to watch. Despite the pompousness of Murrow’s introduction, this is a pure adventure film and not meant to be taken as much more than pure entertainment. When Fogg and Passepartout land in Spain, it means flamenco dancing and bullfighting. When they travel to the U.S., it means cowboys and Indians. When they stop off in India, it means that they have to rescue Princess Aouda (Shirley MacClaine!!!) from being sacrificed. Aouda ends up joining them for the rest of their journey.
Also following them is Insepctor Fix (Robert Newton), who is convinced that Fogg is a bank robber. Fix follows them across the world, just waiting for his chance to arrest Fogg and disrupt his race across the globe.
But it’s not just Inspector Fix who is on the look out for the world travelers. Around The World In 80 Days is full of cameos, with every valet, sailor, policeman, and innocent bystander played by a celebrity. (If the movie were made today, Kim Kardashian and Chelsea Handler would show up at the bullfight.) I watch a lot of old movies so I recognized some of the star cameos. For instance, it was impossible not to notice Marlene Dietrich hanging out in the old west saloon, Frank Sinatra playing piano or Peter Lorre wandering around the cruise ship. But I have to admit that I missed quite a few of the cameos, much as how a viewer 60 years in the future probably wouldn’t recognize Kim K or Chelsea Handler in our hypothetical 2016 remake. However, I could tell whenever someone famous showed up on screen because the camera would often linger on them and the celeb would often look straight at the audience with a “It’s me!” look on their face.
Around The World in 80 Days is usually dismissed as one of the lesser best picture winners and it’s true that it is an extremely long movie, one which doesn’t necessarily add up to much beyond David Niven, Cantinflas, and the celeb cameos. But, while it may not be Oscar worthy, it is a likable movie. David Niven is always fun to watch and he and Cantinflas have a nice rapport. Shirley MacClaine is not exactly believable as an Indian princess but it’s still interesting to see her when she was young and just starting her film career.
Add to that, Around The World In 80 Days features Jose Greco in this scene:
Around The World In 80 Days may not rank with the greatest films ever made but it’s still an entertaining artifact of its time. Whenever you sit through one of today’s multi-billion dollar cinematic spectacles, remember that you’re watching one of the descendants of Around The World In 80 Days.