The Roan Archival Entertainment Group, now owned and operated by Troma Films, is responsible for digitally restoring and remastering classic Films. While falling short of the lengths to which Criterion goes when issuing a classic release, Roan still puts out very solid work. I had the pleasure of watching their John Wayne: The Early Years Collection and was very pleased with the results. Crisp black and white prints with clean audio and solid, steady transfers seem to be the norm. I'm happy to say that Randolph Scott's The Fighting Westerner (1935) also lives up to their exacting standards.
Author and naturalist Zane Grey has been called "the greatest storyteller of the American West," drawing on his own past and rich life experiences to capture the elusive spirit of the Old West in the written word. In 1872 Pearl Zane Gray was born in Zanesville, Ohio, a town named for his mother's ancestors who settled it. It was after a fateful hunting trip to Arizona that Gray fell head over heels for the Western frontier and its history and, with the support of his wife, turned his attention to writing full time. Under the pen name Zane Grey he would go on to popularize the Western genre in literature and become one of the first millionaire authors.
Throughout the teens, '20s and '30s, Grey had at least one bestseller in the top ten at any given time and like most successful writers, his works inspired several films. The earliest adaptations were made by Zane's own motion picture company during the silent era. He later sold his company to Paramount Pictures who would go on to adapt Grey's works. The Fighting Westerner (1935) was a remake of the silent film Golden Dreams (1922) and is also known as The Rocky Mountain Mystery and The Vanishing Pioneer. It's interesting to note that the film has quite a modern bent for being a western. From character's dialogue, the film appears to be set shortly after WWI. Characters enjoy modern conveniences such as cars and the telephone and instead of a gold mine, the mystery surrounds a radium deposit. Surprisingly, it's these touches like these that set the film apart and add depth to this typical, by-the-numbers mystery.
Scott plays mining engineer Larry Sutton who teams up with Deputy Tex Murdock (Chic Sale) to solve the mystery of his brother-in-law Jack Parson's disappearance. Parson worked as an engineer at Jim Ballard's radium mine, then murdered the ranch's caretaker Adolph Borg and hasn't been seen since. When Sutton arrives at the ranch he finds a veritable rogue's gallery in the form of the mysterious Chinaman Ling Yat (Willie Fung), Borg's widow (Leslie Carter), her son John (James Eagles) and Jim Ballard's next-of-kin including Fritz (Howard Wilson) and Flora (Kathleen Burke), who've been alerted to their Uncle's failing health. In addition, the beautiful and spirited Rita Ballard (played by a very young Ann Sheridan, who had previously cameoed in Scott's Wagon Wheels) is at the ranch and quickly earns Sutton's trust.
Once all the players are in place, a mysterious "black rider" appears and murders Fritz in the same manner that Adolph was killed, crushed under the massive weight of the stamp mill under the house. This is a huge apparatus used for pulverizing rock to unearth ore and analyze its base properties. Everyone is a suspect, as the mysterious rider appears again and again, shooting the young Borg, attacking Sutton, slashing Flora Ballard's throat, eventually whittling down the suspects until the unsurprising, but yet still satisfying conclusion. The Fighting Westerner really is a mystery, and a "fair play" one at that. Enough clues are given so that if the audience pays attention, they can figure out the answer well before the final reel.
Picture: This movie is presented in a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio, with some minor edge enhancement. The transfer is rock solid with a crisp B&W picture.
Audio: This film is presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital Mono.
Extras: In typical Troma fashion, the only Extras on this DVD are the first chapters of the Roan Western serials The Last Frontier starring Lon Chaney, Jr. and Zorro's Black Whip which features Zorrita, the "female Zorro," as well as the bizarre short "Radiation March." There's also an informative introduction on the background of the film by New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick.
Conclusion: The Roan Group has been quietly building a reputation for itself as a source of remastered classic titles and The Fighting Westerner is definitely a worthy addition to their growing catalog. Much like their previous release, Colorado Sundown, Roan has provided a nice assortment of bonus content showcasing some of their other themed titles. The Fighting Westerner is unique in its modern "old west" setting (characters dream of owning a Hawaiian ranch and raising pineapples) and is Recommended for western lovers and the merely curious alike.