THE GAY CAVALIER. Monogram Pictures, 1946. Gilbert Roland, Martin Garragala. Nacho Galindo, Ramsay Ames, Helen Gerald, Tristam Coffin, John Merton. Screenplay by Charles Belden, based on the character created by O Henry. Foreword by Sidney Sutherland. Directed by William Nigh.

   “Sometimes a rider comes, his face is not so pretty. He is death.”
      — the Cisco Kid

   Gilbert Roland rides onto the screen as the Cisco Kid in this B Western and does so with a good deal more romance and less action than you might expect.

   Cisco had been around ever since the story by O Henry whose original character is a far cry from the charming Mexican Robin Hood we know and love.

   The original Cisco was a sociopathic Anglo Billy the Kid type hunted by a brave Texas Ranger captain (based on Lee Nace the Ranger who arrested and befriended William Sidney Porter in Texas for embezzlement). In the story the Kid uses his Mexican girlfriend to escape the Ranger having her ride away on his horse in his clothes and to be killed by the Ranger while he escapes on her horse in drag.

   By the time Cisco came to the big screen, he was a charming but still ruthless Mexican bandit played by Warner Baxter, who managed to take home the first Academy Award playing the part in 1929 (Ronald Colman was nominated as Bulldog Drummond that year) in In Old Arizona.

   Over the years Cisco was a handsome Cesar Romero (mostly playing himself), the beloved Duncan Renaldo of television fame, Jimmy Smits in a made-for-television movie, and the dashing and dangerous Gilbert Roland.

   Roland my be billed as the gay cavalier, but there is nothing light or happy about him. There are a few rueful or slightly sinister smiles, and he romances some beautiful women, but his Cisco all in black is almost noirish dark, driven, and haunted as well as philosophical.

   “Baby, why do you worry about time? Time is a wonderful thing, it ages wine and mellows women.”

   Roland, debuted in the silent era and went from leading man to character actor over his career, but as Leonard Maltin once wrote, no movie was ever worse for his presence, and here as a dark and sardonic Cisco he brings something new to the character.

   The film opens with Cisco on a hill top standing with his hat off beside a cross. It is the grave of his father. As his fat friend Baby (Nacho Galindo) explains to one of the gang, Cisco’s father was the most powerful man in California at one time, and now Cisco to atone for his father’s sins and so the old man can rest, has become a Robin Hood stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.

   I don’t think any other film ever gave Cisco an origin story.

   Meanwhile Don Felipe (Martin Garragala), a poor ranchero, is marrying his daughter (Helen Gerrald) off to wealthy gringo John Lawton (Tristam Coffin) though she loves a poor Mexican boy. What no one knows is that Lawton and his man (John Merton — a bad guy surprise surprise) are criminals planning to use Don Felipe’s estate as a base and have already held up the money gathered to build a new church and blamed the Cisco Kid for the crime.

   That doesn’t sit well with this Cisco. He determines to find whoever imitated him and stole the church money, and once he knows it is Lawton to play Cupid for the young Juan and Don Felipe’s daughter.

   Meanwhile Cisco finds time to romance the older and much more attractive daughter, Ramsay Ames.

   There is a raid on Lawton’s hideout to steal the money back for the church, and a well staged duel with swords between Coffin and Roland, but little boys must have been squirming in their seats on Saturday mornings as this one unreeled. On the other hand, adults may have enjoyed a more mature Western done with some actual charm and a charismatic lead who could actually act.

   Leonard Maltin’s axiom stands. Like anything else he was in, no movie was ever worse for the presence of Gilbert Roland, and many, like this one, far better for him being in it.