Western RoundUp: “B” Western Actresses, Part 2

Western RoundUp: “B” Western Actresses, Part 2 – Marjorie Reynolds, Lola Lane, and Anne Jeffreys

Earlier this year I celebrated my love for “B” Westerns with a column focusing on the work of three favorite actresses who worked in the “B’s” early in their career.

I promised then that I’d be looking at additional leading ladies of “B” Westerns in the future, so here’s a sequel to that column. This time around we’ll take a look at Marjorie Reynolds, Lola Lane, and Anne Jeffreys.

The Overland Express (1938) Marjorie Reynolds, Carlyle Moore
Marjorie Reynolds and Carlyle Moore in The Overland Express (Drew Eberson, 1938)

Marjorie Reynolds was born in Idaho in 1917. Like Virginia Grey, one of the actresses I wrote about earlier this year, Reynolds started out in the movies working as a child actress before moving into bit parts as an adult.

Reynolds’ first opportunities as a leading lady were in “B” Westerns opposite Western stars such as Buck Jones, Tex Ritter, George O’Brien, and Ken Maynard. Marjorie was 20 when she appeared opposite Jones in The Overland Express (1938) for Columbia Pictures. It was one of her first couple of credited leading roles, just after she made Tex Rides with the Boy Scouts (1937) with Ritter.

Overland Express is the story of a Pony Express line started in Sacramento, California, by Buck Dawson (Buck Jones). Californians have grown weary of delays receiving mail from the East, especially after they only belatedly learned of the start of the Civil War.

Marjorie plays tomboyish Jean Greeley, who alternates wearing pants and cowboy hats with pretty dresses and bonnets. Jean has a crush on Pony Express rider Tommy (Carlyle Moore Jr.), but Tommy’s life will soon be in danger due to the machinations of the owners of a stage line who want the mail contract for themselves.

The Overland Express (1938)
Still from The Overland Express (1938)

The movie is somewhat interesting, depicting the establishment of Pony Express stops in real locations such as Friday’s Station, California, and Genoa, Nevada, but the combination of “just the facts” story with lots of stock footage of riders and Indian battles doesn’t leave a great deal of room for character development or emotion. The latter is supplied only due to Marjorie’s performance, when about halfway through the film Jean witnesses Tommy’s limp body return to town slung across a horse; her ensuing scenes are moving and provide the film’s only real emotional pull. Without Marjorie’s performance, this lesser Buck Jones Western would have been dull fare indeed.

The Overland Express (1938) Movie Poster, Buck Jones, Marjorie Reynolds, and Carlyle Moore
“Smashing Saga of The Pony Express!”

After appearing in numerous Westerns, Marjorie hit it big dancing with Fred Astaire and introducing “White Christmas” (albeit dubbed by Martha Mears) with Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn (1942). While many of her films after that point would continue to be relatively minor, she also had notable roles in a few additional films, including the classic Fritz Lang thriller Ministry of Fear (1944) and the Abbott and Costello comedy The Time of Their Lives (1946). She also starred with William Bendix in the TV series The Life of Riley from 1953 to 1958.

William Boyd and Lola Lane in Lost Canyon (Lesley Selander, 1942)
Lola Lane in Lost Canyon (Lesley Selander, 1942)

You never know who will turn up in a Hopalong Cassidy Western, and in this case, it’s lovely Lola Lane of the Lane Sisters. Lane was born in Indiana in 1906; while she started in films in 1929, she was perhaps best known for starring with her younger sisters Priscilla and Rosemary in Four Daughters (1938) and its sequels. Lola continued to work in roles large and small in a variety of films, including a couple of Westerns, before retiring from the screen in 1946.

Here she stars with William Boyd in the Paramount Pictures release Lost Canyon (1942), a remake of an earlier Hoppy film, Rustlers’ Valley (1937). Lola plays Laura Clark, who is engaged to Jeff Burton (Douglas Fowley, remembered by many as the director in Singin’ in the Rain).

Jeff doesn’t want Laura to be friendly with her old family friend Hoppy, which perplexes her; Laura is unaware Jeff and Hoppy had come to blows when Jeff made a crack about the death of Hoppy’s sidekick Johnny (Jay Kirby). Johnny is believed to have robbed a bank, but naturally, no friend of Hoppy’s would be a bank robber, and thankfully he’s not really dead, either.

Jeff has been up to no good and becomes increasingly obnoxious every time he happens to see Laura being friendly with Hoppy. Jeff isn’t very smart, as it doesn’t seem to register with him that driving his fiancee away will spoil his plan to acquire her father’s ranch along with their marriage. As Hoppy sets out to clear Johnny’s name, things are unlikely to end well for Jeff.

Lane is a very pleasant addition to this film, and although Laura and Hoppy aren’t romantically involved, it was rather nice to see Boyd play opposite an actress who was much closer to his age than many of the actresses who appeared in the series. Boyd and Lane convey a comfortable and appealing friendship in their scenes together. I especially enjoyed a couple of scenes where they listen to The Sportsmen Quartette — including future “Tony the Tiger”/Disney voice Thurl Ravenscroft — singing “I Got Spurs That Jingle Jangle Jingle.” The only thing that would have been nicer would have been if Lane had the opportunity to sing as well!

I wish Lane had made additional Westerns, but she only appeared in one more, Buckskin Frontier (1943), with Richard Dix and Jane Wyatt.

Anne Jeffreys in Calling Wild Bill Elliott (Spencer Gordon Bennet, 1943)
Anne Jeffreys in Calling Wild Bill Elliott (Spencer Gordon Bennet, 1943)

Anne Jeffreys, born in North Carolina in 1923, had just started making films in 1942, yet the 1943 release Calling Wild Bill Elliott was her 12th film! It was the first of eight Westerns she made at Republic opposite Bill Elliott. She then moved on to RKO in 1944, where one of her first roles was starring opposite Robert Mitchum in the “B” Western Nevada (1944).

Calling Wild Bill Elliot Theatre Card, George Hayes, Anne Jeffreys, Wild Bill Elliot
Calling Wild Bill Elliot Theatre Card

Anne doesn’t enter Calling Wild Bill Elliott until around halfway through the 55-minute running time, but she quickly has a very nice scene where she sings while “Wild Bill” is listening outside a window.

The plot concerns a greedy governor (Herbert Hayes) driving ranchers off their land, and Wild Bill Elliott comes to the help of his friends. Spunky Edith (Jeffreys), newly arrived in town, initially has the wrong impression of Bill, especially when she believes he’s murdered her father (Forbes Murray), but when shown she’s wrong she quickly takes action to set things right.

Calling Wild Bill Elliot movie poster
Calling Wild Bill Elliot movie poster

While I would have loved for Anne to have more screen time, she does a nice job in this fast-paced and enjoyable film, showing the same forthright confidence the actress radiated in her later movies.

Anne was interviewed by Michael G. Fitzerald and Boyd Magers for their book Ladies of the Western, where she remembered her frequent costar Bill Elliott as “a very nice gentleman.” She said, “He had it all planned what he was going to do and how he was going to do it. And he accomplished it. He became a big Western star practically overnight. He was always sort of reserved and quiet, but fun…had a nice sense of humor.”

Anne would later appear in a pair of Randolph Scott “A” Westerns, Trail Street (1947) and Return of the Bad Men (1948). After the latter film, Anne only appeared in a handful of additional movies, but she went on to very successful careers in both musical theater and television, where her credits included starring with her husband, Robert Sterling, in Topper from 1953 to 1955.

Watch for looks at additional leading ladies of the “B’s” here in the future!

– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub

Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns.  She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals.  Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.

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4 Responses to Western RoundUp: “B” Western Actresses, Part 2

  1. Aw man….I love these gals. Where would the west be without ’em!!

  2. Laura Grieve says:

    I agree, Theresa! 🙂 🙂

    Best wishes,
    Laura

  3. Jeremy Entract says:

    I do so enjoy these pieces of yours, Laura, on different aspects of the western movie!

    You have of course focussed on films of three of my favourite ‘B’-western stars so that makes a great starting point for me. The Buck Jones film here is really one of his weakest and the Hoppy film also not one of the strongest of the series IMO. However, the Bill Elliott chosen IS a highlight in his CV. He made 8 films playing himself (Wild Bill Elliott) for Republic 1943-44 that stand as some of the strongest ‘B’ westerns made. They all co-starred ‘Gabby’ Hayes and Anne Jeffreys and she was a great choice for them, bringing both beauty and acting talent to them.

    I recently saw Marjorie Reynolds in another western, Tim Holt’s “Cyclone On Horseback” (1941) and she showed her talent well in it with a strong presence.

    Thanks for highlighting these lovely actresses in a film genre so close to my heart, Laura!

  4. Laura Grieve says:

    Jerry, thank you so much for your faithful readership and your kind words. I’m so glad you’re enjoying them! Your own enthusiasm for the genre has really helped spur on my own. 🙂

    Very glad to get your feedback on all these titles. Like you I love all these Western stars and will be looking forward to seeing a couple of them in stronger titles. (Hope to see another Hoppy film at Lone Pine in early October!) I recently picked up a set of the Elliott-Jeffreys films and am very much looking forward to watching more of them.

    Like you I enjoyed CYCLONE ON HORSEBACK with Marjorie Reynolds and Tim Holt. They were great in it, and Ray Whitley’s music also added considerably to that film’s pleasures.

    Best wishes,
    Laura

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