BORDER DEVILS. Supreme Pictures / Weiss Brothers Artclass Pictures, 1932. Harry Carey Sr., Kathleen Collins, George (later “Gabby”) Hayes, Olive Carey and Tetsu Komai. Script and continuity by Harry P. Crist, based on a story by Murray Leinster. Directed by by William Nigh.

   One of the first things you notice about Border Devils is that it’s based on a story by Murray Leinster, who gets a credit just under the title. And it would be interesting to know which one, because as the film unfolds we see some of the signature trademarks of Leinster‘s style all over it.

   The story starts with Harry Carey Sr. and his partner (don’t worry about who played him; he’s only in one scene anyway) following up a lead on a mysterious oriental criminal mastermind of the west, known only as The General. They’re drugged, the partner murdered (see?) and Carey framed for it.

   In due course, Carey becomes first a fugitive, then an investigator under a couple of assumed names, and finally he uncovers a plot to steal the heroine’s ranch. (How do they keep coming up with these new ideas?) He also picks up a more durable partner in the person of (who’da thunkit?) George “Gabby” Hayes.

   Harry and Gabby spend the rest of the film running down The General, riding up the plains, and just generally playing cowboy as they try to sort out just who’s working for the Yellow Peril and who ain’t. In the course of things, the story keeps wavering between some grandiose plot of the General (seen only in shadows at first by his frightened minions) and the more mundane matter of the heroine’s ranch, until our doughty heroes manage to penetrate the sinister cabal and unmask the baddies once and for finally.

   It’s easy to see the elements of Leinster’s style here: the massive conspiracy that figures in his sci-fi, the shifting identity of the hero, and the generally peripatetic nature of the tale as our cowboy commandos shuttle hither and yon like horsing lot attendants.

   Unfortunately, it’s all a rather shoddy affair, one of a series of less-than-inspired films by producer Louis Weiss — who would later be responsible for The White Gorilla. His westerns with Harry Carey, done at a time when the once-great Western star obviously needed cash, are uniformly slow-paced, cheap and cheerless affairs, and this one is right at the bottom of the barrel.

   Word has it that Carey actually had to sue Weiss for his salary, but it doesn’t show in his performance; the aging western star is as leathery-tough as ever, and a pleasure to watch, even in this seamy milieu.

   So like I say, it’s just a shame to see him in this dreadful mess. Director William Nigh seems to have been not so much directing as sleep-walking, and as for the “script and continuity” — well, they’re perfunctory and non-existent, respectively. Characters come on the screen without introduction, say a few words in reference to some aspect of the plot, then get interrupted by some other characters who enter the scene for no apparent reason and everyone talks until the scene shifts to something else that seems to have little if any relation to whatever preceded it.

   I remember thinking as I watched that whoever took credit for “script and continuity” ought to be ashamed of himself, and sure enough, he was: it turns out that the credited “Harry P. Crist” was actually a pseudonym for a sometimes-director named Harry Fraser.

   If you’re not familiar with Fraser, let me just say that he worked in films from the Silent days to the late 1950s without ever once showing the fainted glimmer of interest in whatever he turned his hand to. Those who celebrate the late Ed Wood should bow their heads and positively worship Fraser, who, come to think of it actually worked on the Wood-scripted Bride and the Beast. Which should give you some indication of his talent. For the record, his last official credit as a feature film director was Chained for Life, a film so tasteless I must get around to reviewing it someday.

   But getting back to Border Devils, I guess I should marvel at the talent of Leinster’s vision and Harry Carey’s charismatic presence. If they don’t exactly triumph over their surroundings, at least they shine through enough to be discernible.