RENEGADE TRAIL. Paramount, 1939. William Boyd, Russell Hayden, George Hayes, Charlotte Wynters, Russell Hopton, Roy Barcroft, John Merton, Bob Kortman, and Sonny Bupp. Screenplay by John Rathmell & Harrison Jacobs, based on characters created by Clarence E. Mulford. Directed by Lesley Selander.

   A landmark Western… of sorts.

   Even if it were no better than routine, Renegade Trail would be remembered by B-Western buffs for the last appearance in a Hoppy film by George Hayes, who had established himself as trusty-dusty side-kick Windy Halliday in George Sherman’s Hopalong Cassidy series since Bar 20 Rides Again in 1935.

   In the intervening four years, Hayes had worked his garrulous old-timer schtick into a smooth routine, replete with tall tales, amusing double-takes and toothless muttering asides. Small wonder then, that Hayes hit producer Sherman up for a substantial raise. Or that Sherman, running a successful but not hugely profitable enterprise, had Windy Halliday written out off the Bar 20 ranch, into a comfortable sinecure as a town marshal and out of the series.

   George Hayes moved to Republic, playing basically the same character, but since “Windy” was owned by Paramount, he changed the name to “Gabby,” and it stuck. Gabby Hayes. Thus are legends born.

   Getting back to the movie itself, Trail is a bit lacking in action, the plot needlessly complicated, but vigorously directed by Lesley Selander, and has a moment that would have been at home in an Anthony Mann movie:

   Hoppy’s pal Lucky, lying wounded in the back of a chuck wagon, trying to get his gun out as a bad guy walks from long-shot to medium range and murders the driver. The only problem is that Mann would have done it in a single shot, where Selander breaks it into 3 or 4 — which makes the difference between a great director and a talented one.

   But I said this was a landmark Western and it is. Renegade Trail is the only Western I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen plenty) where the bad guy (Roy Barcroft) actually makes his entrance kicking a dog – an act which seems to have gone down in B-movie folklore. And it ties into a delicious ending, so I’ll insert here a SPOILER ALERT!

   Toward the end, the outlaw gang has the good guys pinned down, but Hoppy slips behind their lines, sneaks up close to Roy Barcroft and says. “Tell your men to drop their guns!” which he does and they do. Then in the post-game wrap-up, there’s a conversation I’ll paraphrase as:

   “Nice work, Hoppy. But how’d you know he’d give up?”

   And Hoppy replies, “No man that’d kick a dog would stand up to a fair fight!”

   They just don’t make ’em like that anymore.