Western Round Up: “B” Movie Sampler – Vol.2

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:

Hidden Valley (Robert N. Bradbury, 1932)

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.

Hidden Valley (1932) Movie Poster
Hidden Valley (1932)

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.

Lobby card for Hidden Valley (1932)
Lobby card for Hidden Valley (1932)

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).

Heart of The West (1936) Movie Poster
Heart of The West (1936)

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).

Lobby card for Heart of The West (1936)
Lobby card for Heart of The West (1936)

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.

Riders of Destiny (Robert N. Bradbury, 1933)

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.

Riders of Destiny (1933) Movie Poster
Riders of Destiny (1933)

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.

John Wayne and Cecilia Parker in Riders of Destiny (1933)
John Wayne and Cecilia Parker in Riders of Destiny (1933)

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.

Bordertown Gun Fighters (Howard Bretherton, 1943)

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.

Bordertown Gun Fighters (1943) Movie Poster
Bordertown Gun Fighters (1943)

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!

Bill Elliot, Anne Jeffreys and George "Gabby" Hayes in Bordertown Gun Fighters (1943)
Bill Elliott, Anne Jeffreys and George “Gabby” Hayes in Bordertown Gun Fighters (1943)

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.

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9 Responses to Western Round Up: “B” Movie Sampler – Vol.2

  1. John Hall says:

    Enjoyed all the reviews but was especially pleased with the inclusion of the Wild Bill Elliott feature. That eight film series was one of the best Republic produced.

    Have you ever seen any of Republic’s Don “Red” Barry series? The run of Barry’s films directed by George Sherman are all top notch.

  2. Barry Lane says:

    I’ve seen all four of these films on broadcast television, in the late forties and early fifties. Bob Steele became and remains a personal favorite even if his films do not always resonate, but the Hopalong Cassidy pictures were initially produced to a higher standard. I only saw Heart of The West again last week. Just fine, and I am an admirer of Jimmy Ellison. A personal note: I owned these films in the sixties for about an hour, and I mean held title to the entire sixty-six. Bill Elliott at Republic is especially an ace, but Singing Sandy is not on my radar. I saw this at age 11 and was shocked at the musical gunfight. Now, I am appalled, despite the cast. They were there for something better.

  3. Jerry Entract says:

    Congrats on 5 years writing interesting reviews on this blogsite, Laura!

    I have 3 of the films in my collection though not the Wayne. I do have a number of Wayne’s Lone Star films but avoid all the Singin’ Sandy ones. I also am a fan of Bob Steele and he did better films than this one. The Cassidy films are some of my absolute favourites; “HEART OF THE WEST” is ordinary in comparison to many, still good fun though.
    I completely agree with John Hall’s comments above. The 8 films Republic made to introduce Wild Bill Elliott for the first time, all with Hayes and Jeffreys, were among the best B-westerns ever made, as far as I’m concerned. Elliott at his best, Gabby and he are great together.
    I also agree with Mr Hall about the Don Barry series directed by George Sherman; possibly not a dud among them. I recommend you give them a try, Laura.

  4. Walter S. says:

    Laura, congratulations on five years of good write-ups here at Classic Movie Hub. I always enjoy them.

    I’ve viewed all these movies except HIDDEN VALLEY(1932) with Bob Steele, which has eluded me, and I do like Bob Steele.

    I liked your description of the contemporary Western Movies of that particular time as set in “Roy Rogers Land.” I’ve always enjoyed Westerns set in modern times. I think the best contemporary Western Movies back in the day and today build upon the tried-and-true traditions of the past while including situations with current technology. Life in the West of the 1930’s and 1940’s wasn’t that far removed from the 1880’s and 1890’s.

    William “Wild Bill” Elliott and William “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd movies have been favorites since my youngsterhood and still are. I look forward to the restoring and release of the Hoppy movies by ClassicFlix.

    John Wayne is an all-time great, but not as “Singing Sandy.” It’s a curio and it was training ground for him.

    I’ll join with John Hall and Jerry Entract in recommending the George Sherman directed Republic Pictures with Don “Red” Barry.

    Barry Lane mentioned about owning the Hopalong Cassidy movies for an hour. Here is his story for those who are interested. Look at the comments section. https://mysteryfile.com/blog/?p=54417

    Laura, look forward to your next write-up.

    • Barry Lane says:


      You are not only a good friend, but a gentleman and a scholar. I salute you.

      • Walter S. says:

        Barry, thank you for the kind words and it means a lot. I find your past experiences interesting, and I think others do also. Things just cross my mind and I do a little digging.

        Have a good day.

  5. Jerry Entract says:

    Thanks for that very interesting link, Walter. Good stuff.

  6. Annmarie Gatti says:

    Happy Classic Movie Hub Anniversary Laura! I really appreciate all of the articles you pen for Western RoundUp! They’re all so interesting and such fun to read 🙂

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