Western Round Up: “B” Movie Sampler – Vol.2
Last summer I shared a series of short reviews of “B” Westerns I watched while traveling.
I went on another road trip earlier this month and again watched several short Westerns in the evenings, thanks to my portable DVD player.
Taken together the films I watched provide a nice cross-section of “B” Westerns released between the early ‘30s and early ‘40s.
It’s interesting to note that despite each one of these films having a different cowboy star, only two directors and two cinematographers worked on the quartet of movies discussed below. And rather amusingly, George “Gabby” Hayes appeared in every single one of these!
Here’s a sampling of this year’s vacation viewing:
I chose this short 57-minute Monogram Western because I like Bob Steele and knew the film was packed with familiar Lone Pine locations, filmed by Archie Stout. The movie even features Lone Pine’s Dow Villa Hotel doubling as a courthouse, and when Steele’s character escapes through a window, LONE PINE (all but the final “e”) can be seen painted on the side of the building.
The plot is some nonsense about Bob (Steele) working as a guide for a man with a map to a hidden valley of treasure, and when the man is murdered, Bob is arrested and convicted of the killing.
Of course, he didn’t do it, and what follows is one of the crazier “B” Westerns I’ve ever seen. It’s set in what I call “Roy Rogers Land,” with a mixture of cowboys on horseback, cars, telephones, and electricity poles in view — but what really makes it unique is the film features a Goodyear Blimp! I was amazed, as at different points Bob is rescued by the blimp and parachutes out of it.
There are some excellent stunts but the acting is flat throughout — though the deadpan acting of the blimp pilot almost veers the film into “so bad it’s good” territory. Steele and his director father (Bradbury) made many better “B” Westerns, but this one will linger in the memory nonetheless, thanks to the blimp over the Alabama Hills.
Heart of the West (Howard Bretherton, 1936)
This fourth film in the Hopalong Cassidy series finds Hoppy (William Boyd) and Johnny (James “Jimmy” Ellison) traveling to take a trail drive job for rancher John Trumbull (Sidney Blackmer, misspelled Sydney in the credits).
Along the way they save the life of Windy (George “Gabby” Hayes). When Hoppy and Johnny arrive at their destination they discover that Trumbull is trying to force Windy’s boss, Jordan (Charles Martin), out of business so they switch sides and go to work for Jordan instead. It doesn’t hurt that Johnny is attracted to Jordan’s pretty sister Sally (Lynn Gabriel).
This short 63-minute film doesn’t have any unique features and is hampered by pretty Gabriel sounding rather like Minnie Mouse. It’s also a bit too quaint at times; when Blackmer menaces Sally, he comes off like the villain in an old-school melodrama.
That said, it’s nicely produced, with most scenes shot outdoors by Archie Stout in Sonora and Kernville. It’s an amiable hour-plus; if you like Hopalong Cassidy films as I do, this fills the bill nicely.
This was the first of 16 “Lone Star” Westerns John Wayne made for Monogram. He was directed by Robert N. Bradbury, father of Wayne’s friend Bob Steele; Steele’s twin brother, Bill Bradbury, dubbed Wayne’s singing. Bradbury sounds nothing like Wayne, but he has a nice voice.
Wayne plays “Singin’ Sandy” Saunders, who rides into a town in the middle of a water war and land swindle being run by James Kincaid (Forrest Taylor). Saunders is helpful to the farmers, and though at one point his undercover work among the bad guys leads others to jump to wrong conclusions, no one will be very surprised when it’s ultimately revealed he’s a federal agent.
Wayne is engaging throughout, even when contending with the obviously fake dubbing of his singing; he also valiantly makes it through a very odd gun showdown which he approaches… singing?! One can see that doing so many of these types of films, including having to portray a singing gun battle, would prove to be a great training ground for the actor.
Cecilia Parker, later to be Andy Hardy’s sister at MGM, is an appealing leading lady, and there’s some outstanding stunt work by Yakima Canutt, warming up for Stagecoach (1939). I do note that a couple of horse stunts are concerning, making one wonder if the animals were okay afterwards.
It’s an entertaining little 53-minute movie, which like the above Westerns was filmed by Archie Stout. This time around the movie’s locations included the Jauregui and Carr Ranches in Newhall, California.
The supporting cast included Gabby Hayes, Al St. John, and Earl Dwire.
This one might have been my favorite of the week. Bill Elliott plays an undercover federal agent – a theme this week! – trying to bring down Cameo Kirby (Ian Keith), who runs a crooked lottery in El Paso.
In a surprising bit of casting, Harry Woods plays a federal marshal working with Bill; the majority of Woods’ “B” Western roles were as bad guys so it was quite refreshing to see him on Bill’s side. The sequence where he rescues Bill and the unsuspecting Gabby Hayes from a sheriff who’s in league with the villain was quite fun.
Lovely Anne Jeffreys, who costarred in eight Elliott films, plays Cameo’s innocent niece and even gets to sing “Camptown Races.”
And look very closely at a messenger who makes a delivery to Woods — it’s a very young Ben Johnson!
This one has a good story and moves along pretty well over the course of its 56 minutes. It was filmed by Jack Marta. Locations included Iverson Ranch, which I wrote about here last year.
None of these films has had a nice DVD release, although it’s worth noting the ClassicFlix label is working to restore and release Hopalong Cassidy films later in 2023. The movies I’ve written about above may be found various places including on the public domain DVD label Alpha or on YouTube.
In closing, this month I am celebrating my fifth anniversary writing the Western RoundUp column, which is rather hard to believe! Thanks so much to Classic Movie Hub for giving me the opportunity to share so much about a genre I love, and thanks to everyone who reads and comments!
– 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.