Tue 21 Feb 2017
YANKEE FAKIR. Republic, 1947. Douglas Fowley, Joan Woodbury, Clem Bevans, Ransom Sherman, Frank Reicher, Marc Lawrence. Written by Richard S. Conway and Mindret Lord. Directed by W. Lee Wilder.
I was drawn to this because I wanted to see if Douglas Fowley really played the hero, and while I wasn’t thrilled, I at least kept watching; along the way I discovered a fascinating bit of background and much to wonder at.
For one thing: Whence that title? Did they imagine folks would beat down the doors to see something called Yankee Fakir? And whence “fakir”? I’ve never met an actual fakir, but they’re well-nigh ubiquitous in The Arabian Nights, so I know one when I see one and there just ain’t any here in this movie.
For another thing: This was released by Republic, Hollywood’s factory of low-budget thrills, but it’s an independent production by the semi-legendary W. Lee Wilder, older brother of Billy Wilder (you may have heard of him) and auteur of The Great Flamarian, Phantom from Space, Killers from Space, The Snow Creature and Man Without a Body.So you know what to expect. Yankee has none of the pace and polish one expects from a Republic western; in fact, it looks more like something that escaped from PRC or Monogram, what with Joan Woodbury and Douglas Fowley handling the leads.
I’ve mentioned Douglas Fowley here before: Doc Holliday on TV’s Wyatt Earp; slow-burning director in Singin’ in the Rain; slimy bad guy in dozens of cheap westerns and the actual director of Macumba Love. That’s the guy. Here he loses his familiar snarky moustache and dons a flattering hairpiece as a traveling salesman who falls for a Border Ranger’s daughter and turns detective when someone does the old man in.
Republic could have made a halfway decent B-western out of that — in fact they probably did, more than once — but Wilder pretty much fritters it away, with comic relief, a cute kid, local color, more comedy (I use the term loosely) and plot complications that pretty much go nowhere. Marc Lawrence, a figure associated with noir in general (and The Asphalt Jungle in particular) adds a moment of interest as a mysterious nasty, but not enough of them, even in a quickie like this.
But beyond the fascination of seeing a confirmed miscreant like Fowley cast solidly against type, Yankee Fakir raised an eyebrow — not when I watched it, but when I went to research it and encountered the story of the writer, Mindret Lord. There’s not room enough to recount it all here, but I suggest you look him up on IMDB for a story much more intriguing than this feeble movie warrants.