Western RoundUp: Streaming “B” Westerns at Home, Vol. 2

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!

This month we’ll take a look at some “B” Westerns available for streaming at home, starring Roy Rogers, William “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd, and the Rough Riders, Buck Jones, and Tim McCoy.

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)

Under Western Stars (1938) Movie Poster
Under Western Stars (1938) Movie Poster

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.

Roy Rogers & Smiley Burnette in Under Western Stars (1938)
Roy Rogers & Smiley Burnette

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 Gunman From Bodie (1941)
The Gunman From Bodie (1941)

Monogram Pictures’ Rough Riders series of 1941-42 starred Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, and Raymond Hatton as crime-fighting marshals.

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.

Buck Jones & Tim McCoy in The Gunman From Bodie (1941)
Buck Jones & Tim McCoy

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)

In Old Colorado (1941) Movie Poster
In Old Colorado (1941) Movie Poster

Over 30 Hopalong Cassidy films had been released in the half-dozen years between the first film, Hop-a-long Cassidy (1935), which I wrote about for Classic Movie Hub last fall, and In Old Colorado.

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.

Hopalong Cassidy and cast in a scene from "In Old Colorado", 1941. William Boyd (third from left, black hat) played Hopalong Cassidy in 66 theatrical features between 1935 and 1948, and more than a third of them were shot in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine California.
Hopalong Cassidy and cast in a scene from “In Old Colorado”, 1941. William Boyd (third from left, black hat) played Hopalong Cassidy in 66 theatrical features between 1935 and 1948, and more than a third of them were shot in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, California.

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.

Happy streaming!

— 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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5 Responses to Western RoundUp: Streaming “B” Westerns at Home, Vol. 2

  1. Barry Lane says:

    While the Hoppy’s were by far the best produced of the B westerns, although the Autry films from thirty-nine on were pretty great, the Rough Riders has a place in my heart, if no else’s. Love the song, and Col. McCoy, heavy actor or not, but above all, I am a Raymond Hatton fan. And always have been. Sandy Hopkins.

  2. Jerry Entract says:

    Your writing is always a welcome sight, Laura, and none more so than at this troubling time.
    By now I have seen many Roy Rogers films but for some reason his first starring film has so far eluded me. Must do something about that.
    I have seen all 66 Cassidy films and agree with all that has been said by you and also Barry Lane. Russell Hayden was the best of the young sidekicks in this series and as a result he was first co-starred at Columbia with Charles Starrett and then given his own, underrated series that featured the music and acting of Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys.
    You already know how much I admire Buck Jones and his films. Concurrent with Jones’ fine series for Columbia in the early 30s was the very enjoyable series at the same studio starring Tim McCoy. He made 24 westerns there 1931-35 and they are well-made and enjoyable generally. Ward Bond appeared in many and even Walter Brennan was getting started in them.

  3. Laura Grieve says:

    Barry, it’s great to read of your love for the Rough Riders series. I haven’t seen all of them yet but have thoroughly enjoyed those I’ve seen. I will take more note of Raymond Hatton in the future.

    Jerry, thank you so much for the kind words. I hope you can catch this early Roy Rogers film soon!

    I have really enjoyed getting to know the Hopalong Cassidy films and now I always look to see which ones will be shown each year at the Lone Pine Fest. I haven’t seen enough to choose a favorite sidekick! I need to check out more Starrett and Hayden films. Love Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys (and Western music in general).

    I also need to see more Tim McCoy solo films. Just recorded one a few days ago — sounds like I have many more out there to locate and watch. Thanks so much for that great background, including the Bond/Brennan info. That’s an area of Westerns where I need to learn much more!

    Best wishes,

  4. Walter says:

    Laura, another really good write-up, of which I enjoyed. I haven’t seen these movies in several years and I need to visit them once again. I recommend them to anyone interested in Western movies of yesteryear. Also, you mentioned one of the busiest Western writers of that time period, Adele Buffington. She wrote about 100 scripts and probably more. Most of the scripts were Westerns, many were Buck Jones oaters. She started out as a script reader for Thomas Ince in 1916 and her first script was filmed in 1919. She continued her prolific output through 1959. I think her career should be researched and written about.

    I look forward to your next write-up.

  5. Laura Grieve says:

    Hi Walter,

    So nice to hear from you! And thank you for the kind words, I’m delighted you enjoyed it. I’d love to know your thoughts when you have time to revisit these movies.

    I’ve definitely started taking note when I see the name Adele Buffington (or her pseudonym, Jess Bowers). Among other things, she wrote my favorite Johnny Mack Brown Western, FLAME OF THE WEST (1945), and the very enjoyable Edmond O’Brien Western COW COUNTRY (1953). I wasn’t aware of the early origins of Buffington’s career and appreciate you sharing that info. I would definitely .like to know more about her.

    Best wishes,

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