Western movies


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN. United Artists, 1958. Sterling Hayden, Sebastian Cabot, Carol Kelly, Eugene Martin, Ned Young. Screenplay: Dalton Trumbo (fronted by Ben L. Perry). Director: Joseph H. Lewis.

   I watched Lewis’s Terror in a Texas Town again the other day, a film I have reviewed before. It’s a splendidly cheap thing, with Sterling Hayden as a Swedish whaler coming to help out his Dad on the besieged Ranch they bought, Sebastian Cabot as the dress heavy, and blacklisted Ned Young as the Ultimate Hired Gun, who looks like they coined the term”walking dead” just for him: He’s overweight, over-age, over-indulged, and with every gesture he conveys the feel of a deadly working stiff who long ago forgot what he’s doing all this for.

   Lots of fine camera work, surprising characterization, and a few scenes that stay in the mind a long time, such as Young begging Hayden to take a few Steps closer so their final gunfight will be fairer — to Hayden.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #76, March 1996.

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

THE TEXAS RANGERS. Paramount, 1936. Fred MacMurray, Lloyd Nolan, Jean Parker, and Jack Oakie. Screenplay by King Vidor, Elizabeth Hill, and Louis Stevens, from the book by Walter Prescott Webb. Directed by King Vidor. Currently streaming on YouTube.

   A trio of desperadoes get separated while fleeing from a posse. Two of them join the Texas Rangers as cover, and gradually find themselves becoming committed to the Ranger mission, while the third forms a new gang and continues on his thievin’ murderin’ way, and if you can’t tell what develops….

   Despite the formulaic plot, this is far far from routine, thanks to Vidor’s assured direction and the performances from the leads. Until he hooked up with Disney and My Three Sons, MacMurray always lent a kind of equivocal edge to his roles that contrasted uneasily with his bluff good looks, and it makes him perfect as the bad guy turned hero (for now). Oakie’s good-for-little bravura makes a fine comedy relief, and Nolan’s big-city look suits his character just fine.

   But it’s Vidor’s sensitive handling of stock situations and his flair for action scenes that lifts Rangers out of its cliche’d roots.

   F’rinstance, there’s a bit where the Rangers are trapped on a cliffside, holding off angry Apaches down below. A few of the more ambitious Native Americans climb up above and start laboriously rolling boulders down at the Rangers. Vidor’s smooth way of cutting (The boulders come at intervals, thundering down the near-sheer wall like a cannon shot, as the rangers claw their way up the cliff to stop them) from long-shots, to medium exteriors, to studio “exteriors” propels the scene to epic proportions.

   Then, in quieter moments, the emotional resonance he puts into the scene where Nolan and Oakie have it out — Oakie’s braggadocio melting as he realizes how dangerous his old pal has become, Nolan losing control of himself, and visibly enjoying it — has stuck with me since I was a kid, and followed me into my dotage.

   Jimmy Stewart called moments like these “Pieces of time.” I call it fine movie-making and great fun.

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

BROKEN LANCE. 20th Century Fox, 1954. Spencer Tracy, Robert Wagner, Jean Peters, Richard Widmark, Katy Jurado, Eduard Franz, Hugh O’Brian, E. G. Marshall, Earl Holliman, Carl Benton Reid. Screenplay by Richard Murphy based on the screenplay for House of Strangers by Philip Yordan. Director: Edward Dmytryk.

   By 1954 when this drama of a family in conflict and brothers at each others throats was made, the Western was the dominant form of entertainment in theaters around the country, and the simple morality plays of an earlier era had been replaced with far more complex and adult themes. Novels, histories, and original screenplays were being churned out in great number and it was perhaps natural that Hollywood would turn to its own products for the basis of new material for the seemingly endless demand for new Westerns.

   It had already begun in the Post War-era. Raoul Walsh remade his own High Sierra as Colorado Territory, John Ford’s Four Men and a Prayer was remade as Fury at Furnace Creek, Kiss of Death as The Fiend Who Walked the West, Objective Burma as Distant Drums, and soon Asphalt Jungle as Badlanders, The Lost Patrol as The Last of the Comanches, even Gunga Din as Sergeants 3.

   Broken Lance was a remake of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1949 film noir House of Strangers. In that one Edward G. Robinson was the patriarch of an Italian banking family whose favorite son, Richard Conte who loves society woman Susan Hayward, goes to jail to save the old man when he gets in trouble with his high-handed ways only to find his brothers led by Luther Adler out to destroy him and cheat him out of his part of the family fortune when he finishes his prison term.

   Here Spencer Tracy is Matt Devereaux, cattle rancher and pioneer who has died while his youngest son Joseph (Robert Wagner) was in prison. Joe’s half brothers Ben, Mike, and Denny (Richard Widmark, Hugh O’Brian, and Earl Holliman Jr.) try to buy him out and send him packing when Joe is released, but Joe still has business and memories to deal with.

   The movie opens with a lobo wolf running wild across the landscape. We will later see Matt refuse to let son Denny shoot the same wolf, and at one point Matt’s Native American foreman (Eudard Franz) tells Joseph that Matt’s spirit runs with the wolves. We see and hear the wolf a final time as the music rises and The End appears hammering home the theme.

   The story is told in flashback, and to Mankiewicz’s plot, Dmytryk and screenwriter Richard Murphy add a sub plot about racism and intolerance since Wagner’s Mother (Katy Jurado, who was only six years older than Wagner) is Native American, a source of many not so subtle snubs from Matt’s business partners..

   When Old Matt takes on a copper mine poisoning his source of water and destroys the place he finds his friend the territorial governor (E. G. Marshall — and yes the film several times refers to Arizona as a state well before that happened) is unwilling to help him unless he stops Joe from romancing his daughter Barbara (Jean Peters).

   The legal proceedings go badly and Joe volunteers to go to prison to save his father striking a deal to only serve a short sentence if Matt will sell the land to the copper interests, but when the time comes older brother Ben refuses to sign, Joe is sent to prison for three years, and Matt has a stroke confronted by Ben and his brothers refusal to help Joe.

   While Joe is in prison the brothers undo everything Old Matt built and eventually cause his death in a well done scene reminiscent of the end of El Cid. But Joe wants no part of fratricide having said his goodbyes to his dead father and is ready to leave when Ben decides he would never sleep well as long as Joe was alive and decides to kill him.

   Beautifully shot by cinematographer Joe MacDonald, with a strong score by Leigh Harline, and imaginatively staged by director Edward Dmytryk, Broken Lance is a satisfying adult Western with the shoot ’em up action nicely balanced by family drama, a trial, and Tracy in larger than life scene stealing mode (there are two life sized portraits of Tracy featured in the film I would kill to own).

   An avid polo player when he was younger Tracy sits a horse well and looks natural in the saddle. At this point he was still active enough to look believable in action scenes.

   Widmark is good (when isn’t he?) as Ben the resentful older brother who hates his father enough to destroy every thing and everyone around him including his half brother. O’Brian and Holliman fill out the roles of the two wastrel middle brother well enough though neither has much to do.

   Of course Katy Jurado is fine in anything she plays and in this period has one fine role after another. Eduard Franz plays Old Matt’s Native foreman and surrogate father to Wagner’s character with his usual quiet efficiency (he plays a similar role as a tracker in The Burning Hills). Peters, Marshall, Reid are all solid in their various supporting bits as well.

   The star here though, despite Tracy’s top billing, is Wagner, who is in almost every scene as the decent loyal son, and holds his own opposite the likes of Tracy (Wagner knew many of the Old Hollywood elites well, including Tracy who he had caddied for when he was younger) and Widmark. He played opposite O’Brian in The White Feather, so this was old home week in some ways.

   It’s no easy task for a young actor to even stay on the screen with the likes of Tracy (they played brothers in The Mountain) and Widmark, but he does it with ease. He was always at ease on screen, perhaps too much so for his own growth as an actor, but here he more than manages the unenviable trick of having to hold the screen when viewers are waiting for more of Tracy and Widmark.

   Incidentally there is a quiet scene with Tracy and Widmark that is almost a masterclass in two screen naturals subtly battling for screen dominance and coming to a draw without either of them ever once slipping out of character or crossing the obvious line into scene stealing. Widmark’s quiet self assurance on screen with Tracy, expressed in his relaxed posture, even adds to the tension between their characters in the film.

   

JOE DAKOTA. Universal-International, 1957. Jock Mahoney, Luana Patten, Charles McGraw, Barbara Lawrence, Claude Akins, Lee Van Cleef, Anthony Caruso, Paul Birch. Screenplay: William Talman and Norman Jolley. Director: Richard Bartlett. Currently streaming on Starz.

   When Jock Mahoney’s character rides into the small western town of Arborville, at first he finds it totally deserted. No one in the street. No one in any of the stores. No one anywhere. Until at last he discovers a girl (Luana Patten) sulkily standing near the general store. That she is not forthcoming as to where all the townspeople are is an understatement. Shrugging, he rides off.

   

   Whereupon he finds the answer. A short way from town all of the men who live there are drilling an oil well. By hand. The women are sitting in the shade at the equivalent of a picnic table, watching. Jock Mahoney’s character asks if he can watch. After some discussion with the man in charge (Charles McGraw), it is agreed that no harm would be done if he did.

   Pushing the boundaries of the agreement he has just made, Jock Mahoney’s character enters the small shack near where the men are working. This seems to annoy them, and Jock Mahoney’s character winds up in the oil pool next to the drilling site. Covered in black, he unceremoniously leaves. The next we see him, he is taking a bath back in town in their watering trough, with the girl secretly watching.

   As it so happens, Jock Mahoney’s character is looking for an old Indian who calls (or called) himself Joe Dakota. It was his shack there near the oil well, but what he is told is that he sold right to the property just before leaving town.

   If you stop and think about it right about here, you will probably know where the story is going from here, and you’d probably be right. You may even think of another earlier movie with a plot line that would be along the same lines as this one, and you’d be right about that, too.

   It doesn’t mean that this one is not fun to watch, because it is. Nor can it be bad, not with a cast like this, and a storyline that’s clean and efficient and basically well told. Jock Mahoney makes no attempt to overplay his role; quite the opposite. The villain, of course, is Charles McGraw’s character, and Claude Akins and Lee Van Cleef play a pair of local louts for all they’re worth, as only they could.

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER, Universal, 1954. Rory Calhoun, Colleen Miller, John McIntire, Walter Brennan, George Nader, Jay Silverheels, Nina Foch, Charles Drake, Nestor Paiva, and Mary Field. Screenplay by George Van Marter and Franklin Coen, from a story by Louis L’Amour. Directed by Richard Carlson. Streaming on Starz until December 1st.

   The Asphalt Jungle with Indians. And not bad.

   Rory Calhoun plays an out-and-out owl-hoot in this one, the CEO of an outlaw band that includes John McIntire, George Nader, and Jay Silverheels (as a Yaqui Indian this time) on the run from one unsuccessful robbery, and planning another effort.

   Along the way they meet up with Walter Brennan, a reformed outlaw and old saddle pal of McIntire’s, and his daughter (Colleen Miller) who could best be described in frontier terms as a buxom lass, or as we say today, a real hottie. Writers Van Marter and Coen go out of their way to get her wet as often as possible, and director Carlson shows her off to excellent effect, sure to keep the big kids (this one, anyway) in their seats while the little ones go for popcorn.

   There’s not much time for popcorn, though, because Rory’s plan calls for the other three to hit the bank in his old hometown while he picks a fight with his old-buddy-turned-lawman (Charles Drake) who ran him out of town and married his gal (Nina Foch) years ago.

   So we get a vigorous and protracted fight between Calhoun and Drake, cross-cut with a tense bank job, followed by a pursuit conveniently interrupted by marauding Apaches. Of course, when Calhoun and his band are faced with the choice of making their escape or going to the aid of Brennan and Miller, pinned down and surrounded by hostiles, they do what every kid in the audience would, and we get another pitched battle.

   Yeah, it’s all a little too pat. Chalk it up to the writers, whose work (separately) includes high points like The Train and Champagne for Caesar, and dreck like Chained for Life — a very mixed bag, to be sure. But it finishes off with a powerful showdown between Calhoun, badly wounded, and Drake, badly humiliated, shot for maximum emotional tension by Carlson, who alternates tracking shots of the antagonists with long shots that frame the conflict perfectly.

   Added up, this one is a touch formulaic, but still intriguing. And Collen Miller will keep you watching.

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID FRIEND:

   

WILD WILD WEST. Warner Brothers, 1999. Will Smith (James West), Kevin Kline (Artemus Gordon), Kenneth Branagh (Dr. Arliss Loveless), Salma Hayek, M. Emmet Walsh, Ted Levine. Loosely adapted from The Wild Wild West, a 1960s television series created by Michael Garrison. Director: Barry Sonnenfeld.

   Soon after the American Civil War, impulsive Army Captain Jim West (Will Smith) sets out to find his parents’ killer: the bitterly ruthless ex-Confederate General ‘Bloodbath’ McGrath (Ted Levine). The trail leads to a West Virginia brothel where the blundering intervention of undercover U.S. Marshal Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline) and an accidental nitroglycerin explosion causes McGrath to escape.

   The two Americans may be on the same side, but they dislike each other on sight, so neither are pleased when President Ulysses S. Grant orders them to join forces and continue the hunt for McGrath, who has kidnapped several of the country’s best scientists in a plot which could destabilise the government.

   Aboard Gordon’s gadget-laden train ‘The Wanderer’, the fiercely competitive pair follow a bloody clue to the New Orleans home of Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh), a legless ex-Confederate officer and ingenious engineer in a steam-powered wheelchair and decorous goatee beard. Imprisoned there is singer Rita Escobar (Salma Hayek), who claims her father is one of the captured scientists. It seems that mysterious new weapons are being manufactured, one of which they discover to be an armoured vehicle – what we would now recognize as a tank – that has the power to kill dozens of soldiers in a single sweep.

   Yet something even bigger abounds in an eighty-foot mechanical spider stocked with two nitroglycerin cannons. Loveless uses this war-machine to kidnap the President before threatening to destroy the United States if they aren’t divided among other nations and himself. The ensuing struggle on the cliffs of Spider Canyon ends with West – and the fate of the country itself – at risk of falling into a yawning abyss…

   In the ’90s, making films of ’60s TV shows was a major trend. Baby boomers were buying tickets to see at the cinema what they had seen in their living rooms as kids. And so, after Batman, we got a cycle of remakes, mostly bad (Lost In Space, My Favourite Martian, The Saint) but some good (Mission Impossible, The Fugitive). Wild Wild West was yet another, based on the quirky action-adventure series made to weather the western genre’s declining popularity by having it capitalise on the James Bond craze – what you might call ‘spies-in-saddle’.

   This film version must have sounded great at the time. People who had enjoyed Will Smith and middle-aged straight man Tommy Lee Jones being government agents in sci-fi comedy adventure Men In Black would surely watch Will Smith and middle-aged straight man Kevin Kline being government agents in western comedy adventure Men In Chaps. Smith even chose it over The Matrix, believing it could result in another of his “big Willy weekends”.

   Instead, Wild Wild West was a disaster. The script was re-written, scenes were reshot, and the budget ballooned until it became one of the most expensive films of all time. On release, it lost money and “won” five Razzies, including Worst Picture, Worst Screenplay and Worst Director. Smith has repeatedly joked about its failure. It might now be bundled alongside those two other self-afflicting franchise films of the late ’90s, Batman and Robin and The Avengers.

   And yet, whereas I think such clunkers could be enjoyed as weird camp classics that just don’t care – the cinematic equivalent of streakers on a sports field – Wild Wild West is just bad.

   The pace is off from the start: Smith’s first fight, though shot continuously, is placed either side of a languid scene with Kline in drag, immediately killing any excitement. From there, the humour is ribald, with two different sequences showing scantily-clad prostitutes, and at one point both main characters suggestively fondle a pair of fake breasts. It’s a strange attempt at a running joke with a crude pay-off, much later, in which Smith’s character beats his hands against a woman’s bosom.

   The sexism becomes downright tasteless when Salma Hayek’s character unwittingly wears a buttock-exposing night-gown, much to the stunned pleasure of our heroes, who go on to mutter much innuendo built around the word “ass”. Apart from that, in fact, Hayek is barely in the movie at all. She tries to join them by slipping onto their train, yet Smith’s character doesn’t believe she can handle herself and insists she get off again. The actress herself felt underused in what is little more than an extended cameo. You know they only put a woman in it so they could splash her over the posters.

   Elsewhere, Ted Levine – playing yet another southerner – is dependable as always, though he gets dispatched halfway through with little consequence. Branagh is fun, and director Barry Sonnenfeld regularly has him wheel close to the camera to humorous effect. Thinking, though, of how Ken justified all this to his high-brow theatre friends in London is more entertaining than anything managed on set.

   The balance, throughout, between Smith and Kline is not quite set and neither appear to be the foil. (Maybe they’re not meant to be equal? Note how the title drops the definite article of the original version, subtly giving Smith the eponymous character – did Kline not notice?).

   Characterisation, too, is a bit ropey: at times, Kline gives us an amiably absent-minded scientist, proud of his gadgets and easily distracted by them, yet at others he seems cynical and condescending to his partner. And the decision to have him play the President too is just baffling. It made sense in Fierce Creatures when he was a father and son, but here it’s contrived, convenient and not at all cute.

   Meanwhile, Smith’s loud, smart-guy persona seems a little anachronistic in the Old West – and though some of the race jokes work in his favour, others are just clumsy and misconceived, especially a sequence in which he must appease a lynch mob, and another that sees him doing a harem dance (even the director hated it).

   Perhaps most importantly, the stakes in this thing are too fuzzily defined: why, for example, must Loveless be caught before the transcontinental railroad is inaugurated? And which is the super-weapon – tank or tarantula?

   A boisterous, preposterous romp, Wild Wild West does show occasional flashes of inspiration: the opening, in which a terrified man is decapitated by a flying buzz-saw, is vividly Avengers-esque, and there’s playful humour in all manner of steampunk gadgets. Yet the film never enjoys its western trappings as thoroughly and warm-heartedly as, say, Maverick or Back to the Future Part III, and neither does it do anything with the world of spying. This is an espionage-western which isn’t interested in either genres, focusing instead on infantile comedy, tired buddy-cop tropes and empty, if eccentric, spectacle.

   Had it been a light-hearted mystery-adventure with a sense of proportion, it could have been terrific. As a comedy, however, it’s a wild, wild mess.

Rating: **

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

RAIDERS OF OLD CALIFORNIA. Albert C. Gannaway Productions/Republic, 1957. Jim Davis, Faron Young, Arlen Whelan, Marty Robbins, Lee Van Cleef, Louis Jean Heydt, and Douglas Fowley. Screenplay by Samuel Roeca and Tom Hubbard. Directed by Albert C. Gannaway.

   Let’s get one gripe out of the way first: This thing is set around the time of the Mexican-American War, but the uniforms, firearms and clothing date from almost a generation later. Don’t let it bother you. This is just a B-Western, and a pretty good one.

   Story-wise, the usual thing is afoot here: a cattle baron (Jim Davis) in old California (hence the title of the piece) is trying to grab all the land he can from surrounding farms, using a Spanish land grant he extorted from a Mexican General (Lawrence Dobkin) at the end of the war. Enter Judge Ward Young (Louis Jean Heydt) and his son Faron (Faron Young) who set about putting things to rights by … well, that would be giving away one plot twist too many.

   It may be worth mentioning that Faron Young played a character named Faron Young in Hidden Guns (reviewed here),  where Richard Arlen played Sheriff Ward Young. Or maybe it’s not worth mentioning, in which case forget I mentioned it.

   The dialogue is rudimentary, and some of the sets look more like cardboard boxes than adobe walls, but Raiders still has a lot going for it, starting with superior stunt work and a script that emphasizes action. The players go through their familiar paces with authority born of long practice (though neither Faron Young nor Marty Robbins sings a note) and Douglas Fowley is a real surprise as a grizzled ad hoc sheriff.

   Best of all, Raiders gives Lee Van Cleef the kind of part he was born for and lets him show off his type-cast malevolence with real flair. I’d venture to say he gets more screen time than any of the principals, and he eats it up with a spoon, whether quietly threatening his victims, or administering a beating with psychotic pleasure.

   Lee Van Cleef was one of the real pleasures of 1950s movies, and his euro-stardom in the 70s only proved that he was better at supporting a picture than starring in it. His presence in Raiders of Old California is a reminder of just how effective he could be.

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

UTAH BLAINE. Columbia, 1957. Rory Calhoun, Susan Cummings, Angela Stevens, Paul Langton, Max Baer, George Keymas, Ray Teal and Gene Roth. Screenplay by Robert E Kent, from a novel by Louis L’Amour. Produced by Sam Katzman. Directed by Fred F. Sears.

   A Western brought to you by the producer-director team that gave us The Giant Claw.

   And actually, it’s not bad. The keynote here is action, plentifully supplied in Robert E. Kent’s screenplay, and briskly directed by Fred Sears, an old, old hand at this sort of thing, who moved easily from the Durango Kid series to Sam Katzman’s B unit at Columbia. Sears knew how to make a B-Western: fast pace and plenty of fightin’, and he keeps Utah moving violently along, starting with Blaine (Rory Calhoun) rescuing an old rancher from a lynching, through gunfights, chases, fistfights, and a few seconds of mushy stuff so we can get our popcorn.

   The plot is a standard thing: Big Rancher Ray Teal wants the surrounding spreads and has hired a band of ne’er-do-wells who pose as vigilantes and mete out “justice” to the offending landowners. Enter our Hero, looking a bit threadbare and unkempt after an unprofitable sojourn in Mexico. Rory saves a rancher from a slow hanging, hires on as foreman, and sets about putting things to right.

   But Rory Calhoun was always on the side of Right more as a matter of convenience. In this case, Ray Teal’s hired boys include a fast-gun (Sepulchral George Keymas) who, the script hints, was responsible for putting him in Mexican Jail. Give credit to writer Kent again. He never tells us what went on South of the Border (That would slow down the action.) just drop hints that Rory wasn’t on his best behavior back in them days, and his grudge against Keymas is a matter more of revenge than justice.

   The actors move easily through this familiar territory, and while I can’t say Utah Blaine is anything outstanding, it offers the unpretentious gracefulness true professionals bring to bear on even forgettable projects like this.

   

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

THE STREETS OF LAREDO. Paramount Pictures, 1949. William Holden, Macdonald Carey, Mona Freeman, William Bendix, Stanley Ridges, Alfonso Bedoya, Ray Teal, Clem Bevans. Directed by Leslie Fenton.

   I was no more than fifteen minutes into The Streets of Laredo when I began to have the distinct impression that I had seen the movie before. The thing is: I was nearly certain I hadn’t. I’m pretty good at remembering which movies I’ve seen and which I haven’t. I also was pretty sure I would have remembered William Holden portraying an outlaw turned Texas lawman.

   As it turns out, this late 1940s Technicolor western was a remake of The Texas Rangers (1936), which I reviewed here some seven years ago. Turns out that I liked the movie well enough, although it doesn’t seem like I felt like it was anything exceptional.

   In many ways, the same good equally be said for The Streets of Laredo. The film strives to be something of an epic tale about friendship, love, and good vs. evil, but ends up being something less than that. It’s just a solidly made western, albeit one that is assuredly better than many of the clumsy westerns from the late 1940s. Notably, it doesn’t include a single Native American character or a notably goofy sidekick.

   William Holden portrays Jim Hawkins, who along with friends Lorn Reming (Macdonald Carey) and Wahoo Jones (William Bendix) is in the stagecoach holdup business. After the trio gets separated, Lorn (Carey) continues to pursue a life of crime, while Hawkins and Wahoo sign up with the Texas Rangers. Two men, former amigos, end up on the opposite side of the law.

   But that’s not all. Both Jim and Lorn have similar romantic intentions toward Rannie Carter (Mona Freeman), a young woman they had rescued years ago. Add in a devious extortionist by the name of Charley Calico (a scenery chewing Alfonso Bedoya) and you’ve got yourself a solid ninety minutes of cinematic entertainment.

   Although it’s been a while since I’ve seen The Texas Rangers, I somehow have the impression that the original was better than the remake. There’s nothing remotely memorable or artistic about the direction or cinematography in The Streets of Laredo. Aesthetically, it’s about as average as you can get. And from what I can tell from my review of King Vidor’s 1936 film, that one was “worth viewing for its good direction, plot twists, and some rugged, well choreographed, frontier action. There’s an especially harrowing sequence involved Indians rolling boulders down a hill in order to maim and murder some Rangers that is really something to behold.” I can’t think of any such equivalent action sequence in Leslie Fenton’s film.

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

THE RETURN OF WILDFIRE. Lippert, 1948.  Richard Arlen, Patricia Morison, Mary Beth Hughes, James Millican, Reed Hadley, Chris Pin-Martin, Stanley Andrews and Mike Ragan. Written by Betty Burbridge and Carl K Hittleman. Directed by Ray Taylor and Paul Landres.

   Whence the title? Return of Wildfire isn’t a sequel, and the eponymous stallion never actually leaves anyplace, so the issue of returning doesn’t arise here. Well never mind, it’s a bit draggy at times, but well played, and with a terrific finish.

   The story opens on a ranch owned by Stanley Andrews, the widowed father requisite in B-Westerns, with two daughters (Mary Beth Hughes and the lovely Patricia Morison.) Andrews raises horses, and suffers from the depredations of outlaw horse Wildfire, who keeps running off with his stock. But his real problem is with dress-heavy Reed Hadley, who aims to corner the market and will stop at little or nothing to get his hands on Andrews’ herd.

   About this time driftin’ cowpoke Richard Arlen blows in, helps out Ms Hughes, who has been injured hunting Wildfire, and is promptly hired on. He also takes a yen for Ms Morison, which leads to some very tiresome complications with Hughes, but before things can get too bogged down, Hadley makes his play and things liven up.

   Andrews gets murdered by his own foreman (James Millican, in a well-judged role as a vacillating bad guy) Hadley jumps in and scarfs up the horses in a dirty business deal, and when Arlen whips up replacements from Wildfire’s herd, Hadley just plain steals them, too.

   Up to this point, The Return of Wildfire has run on the tepid side, but from here on out, it’s non-stop action, with a running gun battle across the Sierra Peloma Mountains, capped with an exhausting fistfight that recalls similar moments in Winchester 73 and The Naked Spur. And I have to say directors Taylor and Landres do it just as well as Anthony Mann could have. Quite a surprise coming from producer Lippert, and one that makes for fine viewing.

   I said The Return of Wildfire was well played, and it is. Besides Millican’s wavering, we get Arlen’s type-cast toughness, and Reed Hadley’s sepulchral villain. And best of all, there’s Patricia Morison, who makes any film she’s in a delight to watch.

   

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