Western RoundUp: Streaming “B” Westerns at Home, Vol. 2
As everyone continues to wait out the ongoing epidemic at home this month, I’m returning with another round of streaming recommendations!
As was the case with last month’s recommendations, these films are all currently available for streaming from Amazon. They’re free at no additional cost for members of Amazon Prime.
I’d like to note that many additional Westerns are available for streaming via Amazon, often for a fee. I’ve focused on Amazon simply because of the much greater availability of classic-era Westerns there compared to other streaming services.
Please note that titles tend to come and go from streaming services, so it’s possible they’ll disappear from Amazon in the future, but they can also be found on DVD.
Under Western Stars (Joseph Kane, 1938)
Roy Rogers became a Western movie star thanks to Under Western Stars. This Republic Pictures film was originally planned for established star Gene Autry, but Gene went on strike, resulting in Roy getting his big break. Roy proved to be a success, so Gene decided not to stay on strike long!
Roy, born Leonard Slye, plays a character named Roy Rogers in this film, and that of course was also his professional name from that point forward. Under Western Stars is a rather different type of Western; Roy is elected to Congress, where he tries to aid Depression-era Dust Bowl farmers desperately in need of water.
Somewhat unusually for a “B” Western, Under Western Stars received an Academy Award nomination for the song “Dust” by Johnny Marvin. This somber song is memorably performed as Roy sings it while showing documentary-style footage of struggling farmers.
The score also includes the terrific song “Listen to the Rhythm of the Range,” which Marvin wrote with the film’s originally planned star, Gene Autry.
Roy was teamed in this film with Autry’s perennial sidekick, Smiley Burnette. Leading lady Carol Hughes, the wife of character actor Frank Faylen, would go on to appear in multiple Autry films. This was the last screen appearance for the music group the Maple City Four, who had previously appeared in a pair of Autry films.
Like most “B” Westerns the movie is short, at just 65 minutes. It’s worth the investment of a little over an hour for the unusual story, the Oscar-nominated music, and the look at one of our greatest Western stars at the outset of his long career.
The Gunman From Bodie (Spencer Gordon Bennet, 1941)
The first film in the series, Arizona Bound (1941), is available for streaming and is good to watch to understand the origins of the series. The three marshals, all working undercover, arrive in a Western town to solve stagecoach robberies, eventually revealing their true identities as lawmen. One might almost think of the series as foreshadowing the superhero films of decades later, with a trio of great Western crime fighters uniting to work as a team.
I like the second Rough Riders film, The Gunman From Bodie (1941), even better than Arizona Bound. I feel it’s a marvelous example of a quality “B” Western.
In a spooky, atmospheric opening sequence, Bob “Bodie” Bronson (Jones) enters a darkened home, seeking shelter from a storm, only to discover a pair of bodies. The woman is holding a note naming their killer which also says “Take care of my baby.” Bodie locates the baby and soon thereafter finds the little one a home at a ranch owned by Alice Borden (Christine McIntyre).
Bodie then ingratiates himself with the unsavory characters around town, while carefully avoiding Marshal Tim McCall (McCoy), who’s in possession of a “wanted” poster for Bodie.
Late in the game, it’s also revealed that Alice’s cook Sandy (Hatton) is a marshal just like Marshall McCall… and is Bodie really the bad man he seems to be when he’s not saving a baby? Hmmm.
McCoy occasionally seems to be on the verge of overacting, yet his confident persona is compelling enough to push those infrequent awkward moments aside. Viewers won’t soon forget the scene where he describes a hanging to a murderer.
Jones is terrific as a seemingly dark, conflicted character, while Hatton provides the “third wheel” comic relief.
The story of this 62-minute film, scripted by Jess Bowers (aka Adele Buffington), was sturdy enough that it was remade on at least two occasions.
This is an attractive movie that was filmed at various Southern California locations. Incidentally, what’s now the California ghost town of Bodie, referenced in the title, is never seen.
The trio of Jones, McCoy, and Hatton appeared in a total of eight Rough Riders films, with Jones and Hatton also starring with Rex Bell in a ninth film after McCoy was called up from the Army Reserves for active duty in World War II. That final film, Dawn on the Great Divide (1942), was released a month after Jones’s tragic death in the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in Boston, and with that, a wonderful series came to a sad end.
In Old Colorado (Howard Bretherton, 1941)
With over 60 Hoppy films produced, a great many of these titles can be found streaming, and I recommend Western fans explore them as they are generally solid, enjoyable films with good production values. Over the last few years, I’ve become quite a fan of the series thanks to repeated exposure to Hoppy at the Lone Pine Film Festival.
I chose to highlight In Old Colorado here as not only have I enjoyed watching it, but I’ve been fortunate to visit the locations where it was filmed outside Lone Pine. It’s also notable as the screenplay was co-written by Russell Hayden, who plays Hoppy’s sidekick Lucky. It was Hayden’s only feature film writing credit.
Hoppy, Lucky, and their sidekick California (Andy Clyde) are on their way to buy cattle for the Bar 20 Ranch when they’re robbed of $20,000. They had planned to buy the cattle from Ma Woods (Sarah Padden), who desperately needs the income. She’s also dealing with nasty Joe Weiler (Morris Ankrum), who’s keeping her cattle from getting to water as well as causing conflict with one of her neighbors (Stanley Andrews).
In a compact 66 minutes, viewers can rest assured that Hoppy will take care of everyone’s problems. It’s a simple but well-made film from Paramount Pictures, beautifully shot in black and white by Russell Harlan. It’s a wonderful way for Western fans to spend some time in Lone Pine’s Alabama Hills, where so many Westerns, from “B’s” to classics, were filmed over a span of decades.
— 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.