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.