Chronologically the fourth of four "Three Mesquiteers" Westerns released to Blu-ray by Olive Films, and the sixth of eight such films co-starring John Wayne, Three Texas Steers (1939) is a lively B-Western/circus picture/racetrack yarn genre hybrid. Subtle it ain't, but for those viewers willing to sit back and enjoy its frequent ridiculousness, it can be 56 minutes of unpretentious fun.
The world of B-Westerns and what separates them from their big studio A-Western counterparts is perhaps best exemplified by the double duty co-star Ray "Crash" Corrigan pulls on Three Texas Steers. Not only does he co-star with John Wayne and Max Terhune as one of the Three Mesquiteers, under the stage name "Naba" he also appears as Willy, a happy-go-lucky circus gorilla. Corrigan owned his own gorilla suit and throughout the '30s and '40s would pick up a little extra dough wearing it in jungle films and two-reel comedies.
As with Olive's three other Mesquiteers titles, the high-definition transfer is spectacularly good. As I've been extolling the virtues of these sparkling transfers, I've also heard complaints about the price, that $24.95 is too much to ask for one 56-minute movie. (I myself have made similar complaints in the past with regard to other studios' overpriced B-Westerns.) However, and for reasons I'm not aware of, Olive's Blu-ray titles are available through Import CDs at much more reasonable prices. As I write this, the Three Mesquiteers Blu-rays are currently listed at just $12.18 apiece, better than half-off.
Three Texas Steers was filmed immediately after John Wayne finished shooting his scenes for John Ford's Stagecoach (1939). After that experience it's hard to imagine the goofy plot of Three Texas Steers' inspiring anything other than grave embarrassment. Wayne didn't look back at these films with great fondness.
Young circus owner Nancy Evans (Carole Landis) also owns her grandfather's seemingly worthless W-E Ranch, which her business manager, George Ward (Ralph Graves), has been trying to get her sell. That's because he intercepted a letter to Nancy from the Department of Water & Power offering her $75,000 for the property, as they want to build a dam. Turning up the pressure, Ward and his henchmen Steve (Ted Adams) begin sabotaging the circus, releasing lions and setting fire to the big top.
Soon enough, Nancy is reduced to a handful of loyal circus people (including little person Billy Curtis as Hercules and Corrigan as Willy, the Gorilla). With no place to go they decide to live at the W-E Ranch until they can reconfigure their "jinxed" circus. However, they mistake the Three Mesquiteers 3-M Ranch as Nancy's - the Mesquiteers' sign is upside-down - putting Stony Burke (Wayne), Tucson Smith (Ray Corrigan), and Lullaby Joslin (Max Terhune) in an awkward position. They first try staying at her ranch but it's a dump and, besides, Ward's men, believing Nancy and the circus folk are residing there, set the place ablaze.
Eventually the three cowboys move back to their old place, offering Nancy a $1,000 loan against her apparently worthless land. Lullaby foolishly sells it to Ward's coconspirator for $1,500, just as Nancy learns of its true value. She thinks the Mesquiteers are trying to pull a fast one, and they don't help the situation by committing various crimes while trying to help her, including stealing her show horse, Rajah, for a trotting race where the trio hopes to win the $2,500 prize.
Three Texas Steers is pretty entertaining, despite a contrived plot that requires the Mesquiteers to incriminate themselves multiple times, and for Lullaby Joslin in particular to act foolish and inept.
Carole Landis is best remembered today for her notorious suicide at age 29 following a torrid affair with Rex Harrison, and the near destruction of his career (and related failure of his great comedy for Preston Sturges, Unfaithfully Yours) that followed. I've seen many of her '40s films but here "the Blonde Bomber's" hair isn't dyed but its natural color (dark brown?), and she comes off more like a young Barbara Stanwyck, not what I was expecting at all.
Corrigan wore his distinctive gorilla costume well into the 1950s, though he may have retired from jobs by the late-1940s, or had more than one, because at some point he sold at least one to former bartender Steve Calvert, who played monster gorillas throughout the 1950s. Regardless, "Crash" eventually devoted his energies to Corriganville, a Western backlot area he co-created and subsequently leased to movie and television production companies, and did play a monster of another sort, the basis for the entire "Alien" franchise in fact, in It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), his last film role. In Three Texas Steers Corrigan clearly is playing Willy in all but the last shot of the movie. (Ah, the curse of the movie buff, to able to identify gorilla suit actors by their pantomime style.) As Corrigan is featured at the fade-out, another actor, name unknown, is in the costume, and he's clearly not half as good as Corrigan is.
In other vitally important matters, ventriloquist Max Terhune's dummy, Elmer, makes its token appearance in a couple of scenes. Possibly influenced by Edgar Bergen's use of Charlie McCarthy in You Can't Cheat an Honest Man and elsewhere, instead of simply interacting with the dummy in the usual ventriloquist manner, here Elmer is seen animated and talking independent of Terhune's reach, something not done on the three earlier pictures. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.
Video & Audio
Three Texas Steers is presented in its original 1.37:1 full frame format, with the word "revival" superimposed over the credits suggesting this, like the other three, was sourced from reissue film elements. Regardless, the image is dazzlingly sharp and pristine throughout, a real revelatory viewing experience. The mono audio (English only, no subtitles) is likewise terrific. No Extra Features.
For B-Western and circus melodrama fans, trotter enthusiasts, and those with a taste for men-in-ape-suit hijinks, Three Texas Steers comes Highly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.