Mon 24 Feb 2014
RANGERS OF FORTUNE. Paramount, 1940. Fred MacMurray, Gilbert Roland, Albert Dekker, Patricia Morison, Betty Brewer, Dick Foran, Joseph Schildkraut. Written by Frank Butler. Directed by Sam Wood.
I had some trouble getting this due to a not-quite-prompt/dependable dealer, but it was worth the effort. You don’t hear the word “Rollicking” much anymore, but there’s no better word to describe this seldom-seen adventure classic, a film right up there with Gunga Din or Princess Bride.
MacMurray, Roland and Dekker come on as a trio of good-natured desperadoes (we first see them as they’re being marched in front of a Mexican firing squad) at loose ends on the range who find themselves sorting out the problems of a dying newspaperman, his moppet granddaughter, and a town being stylishly terrorized by an aristocratic bad guy.
Rangers was directed by Sam (Night at the Opera) Wood and written by Frank Butler, who did the Hope/Crosby “Road to” movies so you can figure it will offer some fun, and it is in fact rich in comic moments, some of them unexpected (Dekker playing his part like Curly in the Three Stooges) and some enjoyably predictable, when you see the punch-line coming and smile as you wait for it to smack the screen.
What you might not expect are the well-mounted action scenes (fights, chases and tricky gun-play galore) and the hard-edged moments when they kill off characters who don’t usually die in movies like this.
There are also some very well-thought-out minor characters played by actors you never heard, and they surprised me from time to time: Betty Brewer as the not-cloying moppet, Arthur B. Allen (from Our Town) as a drunken milquetoast who chimes in with some erudite sleuthing, and Bernard Nedell (who?) as a gunman nasty enough to seem like a genuine threat to our doughty heroes.
Patricia Morison is her usual sexy self, Dick Foran comes off well as the chump/straight man, and Joseph Schildkraut turns in one of those cultured-heavy performances that remind one of Count Zaroff or Kasper Gutman at their best — or worst if you prefer.
The film really belongs to the three male leads though, and they carry it vigorously, helped out by the typical Paramount production gloss and some canny direction from Sam Wood, who follows them around with a sweeping camera that lends pace and forcefulness to everything they do, from hawking newspapers to one of those memorable walks down Main Street to the showdown so beloved of western fans.
Not an easy film to catch, but you really ought to try.