DUDE RANCH. Paramount, 1931. Jack Oakie, Stu Erwin, Eugene Pallette, Mitzi Green, June Collyer. Written by Milton Krims, Percy Heath and Joseph L. & Herman J. Mankiewicz. Directed by Frank Tuttle.

   The first of the films I brought home from Cinevent, and what a treat!

   Stu Erwin plays the owner of a Dude Ranch where things are so dull the tour guide falls asleep in mid-sentence. As one departing guest observes, “Wild West? The wildest thing I saw out here was a wildflower — and it was a pansy!”

   As the guests prepare to depart en masse, a down-at-the-heels-and-soles troupe of traveling players (Oakie and Pallette, marvelously hammy, abetted by Mitzi Green as a professional orphan and Ms Cecil Weston as her chronically long-lost mother) stumble onto the scene, and quickly conspire with Stu to liven things up with a bit of full-blooded melodrama.

   Thus Jack Oakie becomes Vance Kilroy, hero of the plains; Eugene Pallette morphs into Black Jed, wife-beater, child-starver, and all-purpose blackguard, menacing Mitzi and Ms Weston as mother-and-daughter recently escaped from Injuns. A bit of drama, some fisticuffs, and the guests (except for the lovely Ms Collyer) eat it up with a ladle.

   This is the meat of the film: Jack Oakie, preening and posing as only he could, Eugene Pallette huffing, puffing, and stuffing his mouth, and little Mitzi wrenching tears of sympathy from all & sundry. The written word doesn’t do her justice. You just have to watch the scene where a kindly old lady asks her what tribe captured her, and she rolls her eyes heavenward and sighs, “They was Cleveland Indians, Ma’am!”

   As an aside, I really think Jack Oakie developed the Bob Hope Persona before Hope himself did: Soft of heart and head, cowardly, vainglorious, yet somehow likeable—and most important, Fun-nee!

   But to get back to the story: More plot quickly ensues as a quartet of genuine tough guys arrive, intending to use the dude ranch as a base of operations for a bank job—a plot that gets no more attention from director Frank Tuttle than it merits, as we race through the usual complications, enlivened with some funny pratfalls and cutting wordplay, then up to the Big Chase Finale, with thespians, guests, Stu Erwin and the law in pell-mell pursuit of the baddies and a captured heroine.

   And I have to say that this chase seems to have been the inspiration for much of Raiders of the Lost Ark, as Jack Oakie’s stunt double leaps from car to truck, swings off the roof and into the cab, kicking the driver out, and gets into a wild donnybrook with the baddies while the truck is stalled on a railroad track with the Superchief bearing down on them. Tuttle gears this bit for thrills, and produces a breathtaking and suspenseful few minutes that left me marveling in its wake.

    Dude Ranch didn’t win any awards, and it’s completely forgotten these days, but the talents involved put a lot into it, and it paid off handsomely for any viewer who chances to discover this gem.