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Legends of the West - Volume 4 (32 Movies)
This volume is notable for its thankful absence of TV movies and horrible panned-and-scanned widescreen Westerns from the '60s and '70s, and for its overwhelming majority of Roy Rogers pictures, which will please fans of that star. Unfortunately, most of these are cut versions edited to run in one-hour timeslots in syndication, and Roy's later Trucolor films are presented here in black and white.
Ironically, the really minor, obscenely obscure independent B-Westerns from the 1930s tend to look much better; heaven knows where these were sourced, but overall they're the most interesting and watchable titles in this set.
As with Legends of the West Volumes One and Three (yes, a review of Volume 2 is coming soon), I sat through as many of these titles as my blurry and by now bloodshot eyes could stand, sampling the rest to gauge the quality of their transfers and print sources. The DVDs aren't labeled any particular way, but are generally grouped by star, era, or country of origin. Here's the breakdown, noting the original releasing company and cast, along with a word or two about the transfer of each film:
Disc 1: Roy Rogers
Jesse James at Bay (Republic, 1941) with George "Gabby" Hayes, Sally Payne, Pierre Watkin, Gale Storm, Roy Barcroft, Chester Conklin. Before replacing Gene Autry as Republic's No. 1 Singing Cowboy after Gene joined the army, Roy Rogers starred in a series of "historical Westerns" whose period settings contrasted the Never-Never Land of the studio's usual B-Westerns. This was the last and one of the goofiest, with Jesse James' (Rogers) good name besmirched by an evil look-alike, Clint Burns (also Rogers), the latter working for a crooked railroad magnate. Soft, worn 16mm print isn't the greatest, but seems complete or nearly so at 53-plus minutes. Video Rating: (**)
Night Time in Nevada (Republic, 1948) with Trigger (Roy's horse), Adele Mara, Andy Devine, Grant Withers, Hank Patterson, Sons of the Pioneers. Grant Withers is the bad guy in this above-average B, from Roy's late-Republic period of harder-edged oaters, after the inheritance of a young woman (Mara) whose father he murdered. Roy, Trigger and sidekick Devine save the day, as usual. The washed out print is the complete 67-minute version and fairly clean, but a TV print in black and white, with the original Trucolor credit optically blotted out. Video Rating; (**)
Rough Riders' Round-up (Republic, 1939) with Lynne Roberts, Raymond Hatton, Eddie Acuff, Dorothy Christy, Fred Kelsey, George Montgomery, Glenn Strange. Another of Roy's historical Westerns, with Rogers and his pals getting jobs as border patrol agents after their glory days with Teddy Roosevelt and the Spanish-American War have ended. George Montgomery and Dorothy Christy, Stan Laurel's wife in Sons of the Desert have small, uncredited roles. The is a cut TV syndication version, running 53 1/2 minutes, cut from its original 58-minute running time. The sound is a little murky, but the print is otherwise okay. Video Rating: (**)
Silver Spurs (Republic, 1943) with Smiley Burnette, John Carradine, Jerome Cowan, Phyllis Brooks, Dick Wessel, Byron Foulger, Kermit Maynard. Middle-period Roy outing, this one with an unusually good cast of outside talent, in a story that finds Roy trying to help out an inept rancher (Cowan) from being swindled by shady businessman Carradine. Roy sings "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" and "Springtime in the Rockies." Another cut TV print, running 53 minutes shorn of a good 14 minutes. Looks okay otherwise. Video Rating: (**)
Disc 2: B-Western Stars
Buffalo Bill in Tomahawk Territory (United Artists, 1952) with Clayton Moore, Slim Andrews, Charles Harvey, Rodd Redwing, Chief Yowlachie. Ultra-cheap Western uses reams of stock footage from other films, though it does offer viewers a chance to see an unmasked Clayton Moore in a film he made between seasons of The Lone Ranger. Best thing about this one is the title. Transfer has very muffled sound, poor contrast, and a videotape wrinkle at the bottom of the frame throughout. Video Rating: (*)
Border Phantom (Supreme Pictures, for release through Republic, 1937) with Bob Steele, Harley Wood, Don Barclay, Karl Hackett, Miki Morita, Hans Joby. Silly, cheap Western with likeable Bob Steele, full of evil Asian stereotypes and clunker dialog like this exchange: Asked by a surly sheriff, "What are you peddlin'? Snake oil or hose liniment?" Steele answers, "Neither one. I'm peddlin' sunshine and joy. Or Trouble. Whatever the customer wants." Steele helps out a woman wrongly accused of murdering her uncle. Audio sounds like a scratched-up 78rpm record, and that pesky video wrinkle is back (though less noticeable) at the bottom of the frame, though the rest of the presentation is okay. Video Rating: (**)
Skull and Crown (Reliable Pictures Corp., 1935) with Rin Tin Tin Jr., Regis Toomey, Jack Mulhall, Molly O'Day. After his silent era movie-star father dropped dead, Rin Tin Tin Jr. assumed his father's place as Hollywood's premiere canine star in a series of increasingly cheap adventures from 1932-39. However, when you work your way down from Mascot Pictures, it's time to hang up your dog collar. The film's title isn't exactly tantalizing, either. This transfer is completely missing the original opening credits (and replaced by abbreviated, video-supered ones) but otherwise this looks really good, with strong video and audio, all things considered. Video Rating: (***)
The Gunman from Bodie (Monogram, 1941) with Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, Raymond Hatton, Christine McIntyre, Dave O'Brien. There's something for everyone in this Rough Riders B, from cult star Buck Jones, who'd die along with nearly 500 hundred others in the tragic Boston Cocoanut Grove Nightclub fire, to an early appearance by McIntyre, future leading lady of innumerable Three Stooges shorts. Buck poses as an outlaw to trap a gang of rustlers. Washed out TV print, with requisite video wrinkle at bottom frame. Video Rating: (* 1/2)
Discs 3: Miscellaneous
Colorado (Republic, 1940) with Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes, Pauline Moore, Milburn Stone, Maude Eburne. Average historical Western offering from Roy Rogers, this time cast as a Union Army Intelligence lieutenant investigating Indian uprisings that threaten to distract the Union's fight against the Confederate Army back east. Good use of Red Rock Canyon locations. Cut TV version, missing only about three minutes, however, though the print is awfully dark. Video Rating: (** 1/2)
The Carson City Kid (Republic, 1940) with Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes, Bob Steele, Noah Berry Jr., Pauline Moore, Yakima Canutt. Terrific B-Western cast headline this story that finds Roy posing as an outlaw to find the man who killed his kid brother. A public domain perennial, on myriad VHS and DVD labels. Another cut TV version (?), it's missing about five minutes. Like Colorado, print is on the dark side. Video Rating: (**)
Rawhide (20th Century-Fox, 1938) with Smith Ballew, Lou Gehrig [yes, the], Evalyn Knapp, Arthur Loft, Cy Kendall, Dick Curtis. Baseball icon Lou Gehrig, in his only starring film, plays baseball icon Lou Gehrig, now happily retired and running a ranch out west. (Of course, things didn't exactly pan out that way for Gehrig in real life.) He's being harassed by a bunch of bandits, however, and enlists the aid of his sister and her boyfriend to help out. Print is complete, and looks and sounds pretty good, especially considering its obscurity. Video Rating: (** 1/2)
The Man from Hell's Edges (Sono Art-World Wide Pictures, 1932) with Bob Steele, Nancy Drexel, Julian Rivero, George Hayes, Gilbert Holmes. Busy Robert N. Bradbury directs sons Bob Steele in this oater, a familiar tale about a cowboy who infiltrates a prison gang to get to the man who murdered his father. Both image and sound are surprisingly good. Video Rating: (***)
Disc 4: More B-Western Stars
Round-Up Time in Texas (Republic, 1938) with Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, Maxine Doyle, The Cabin Kids, LeRoy Mason, Earle Hodgins. Despite the title, it's "South Africa or Bust" as Gene and his pals "ride" across the Atlantic to help brother Tex, who needs horses for a newly discovered diamond mine. Fascinating but pretty terrible film is full of outrageous Hollywood stereotypes about the Dark Continent, and nearly as ridiculous as the Hopalong Cassidy entry where Hoppy goes to Arabia. Cut version, missing about eight minutes, and rather soft. Video Rating: (**)
Springtime in the Sierras (Republic, 1947) with Roy Rogers, Trigger, Jane Frazee, Andy Devine, Stephanie Bachelor, Roy Barcroft, Hank Patterson. Roy's on the lookout for a big freezer full of meat, game slaughtered out of season in this late-period Rogers picture, memorable for pitting a woman (Bachelor) against the gentlemanly cowboy. Neither complete (a TV version shorn of some 20 minutes) nor in its original Trucolor. This B&W presentation is one to skip. Video Rating: (* 1/2)
Branded a Coward (Supreme Pitcures/William Steiner, 1935) with Johnny Mack Brown, Billie Seward, Syd Saylor, Lloyd Ingraham, Yakima Canutt. Johnny Mack Brown stars in this states-rights no-budgeter, made just before he moved onto somewhat greener pastures at Universal. It's actually fairly interesting in its unusualness, with Brown playing an honest-to-goodness coward who only gradually overcomes his fear of conflict and eventually goes after the men that murdered his family. Seems to be missing several minutes, though for such a minor obscurity it looks okay. Video Rating: (* 1/2)
Rip Roarin' Buckaroo (Victory Pictures Corp., 1936) with Tom Tyler, Beth Marion, Sammy Cohen, Forrest Taylor, Charles King, Wimpy the Dog. Before he playing the two roles for which is best-remembered, Captain Marvel and Kharis the Mummy (in The Mummy's Hand), Tom Tyler was a star of innumerable silent and early-talkie Westerns. This was made near the end of his starring career; after about 1937, Tyler was reduced to small roles and even uncredited bit parts. Despite the title this is as much a boxing picture as a Western, with Tyler a disgraced fighter who becomes a ranch hand. Audio is on the muffled side, but the picture is solidly good. Video Rating: (***)
Disc 5: B-Western Stars Continued
Home in Oklahoma (Republic, 1946) with Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Gabby Hayes, Carol Hughes, George Meeker, Frank Reicher, Arthur Space, Lanny Rees. Middling series entry has newsman Roy investigating the murder of a ranch who bequeathed his estate to 12-year-old Rees. True to the Republic formula, a spoiled niece (former Dale Arden Carol Hughes) is involved. Roy sings the title song, as well as "Hereford Heaven," a number written by Oklahoma governor Roy J. Turner. The print is mediocre, but at least this is the complete 72-minute cut, and not a TV syndication version. Video Rating: (**)
Stagecoach Outlaws (PRC, 1945) with Buster Crabbe, Al "Fuzzy" St. John, Francis Gladwin, I. Stanford Jolley, Kermit Maynard. "Our Old Pal," Billy Carson (Crabbe), formerly Billy the Kid, is back in this hour-long Western, utterly generic though marginally passable thanks to the agreeable performance by its star and veteran genre villain Jolley. Washed out, scratched up TV print, with that annoying video wrinkle back at the bottom of the frame. Video Rating: (**)
Fuzzy Settles Down (PRC, 1944) with Buster Crabbe, Falcon (Billy's horse), Al "Fuzzy" St. John, Patty McCarthy, Charles King, John Merton. Another Billy Carson film, this one intriguingly has Billy and Fuzzy essentially reversing roles, with Crabbe more like Fuzzy Q. Jones's sidekick. As the ads promised, "Fuzzy Settles Down to An Easy Chair - But Death Lurks at His Footstool!" And poor billing. Even though he's the lead character St. John still gets third billing, after Billy's horse!. Love that goofy title. Video is a big improvement over the previous entry. Video Rating: (**)
Arizona Days (Boots and Saddles Pictures, 1937) with Tex Ritter, Syd Saylor, William Faversham, Forrest Taylor, Snub Pollard, Glenn Strange. Tex is a county tax collector in this oddball cheapie, a strange salad of names from the legitimate stage, silent comedy, and cheap Westerns. Contrasty, but audio and video look pretty good. Video Rating: (** 1/2)
Disc 6: More Roy Rogers
Bad Man of Deadwood (Republic, 1941) with Gabby Hayes, Carol Adams, Henry Brandon, Herbert Rawlinson, Sally Payne, Jay Novello, Monte Blue. Roy's back for more PD madness, cleaning up Deadwood with the Laramie Gap Gang and fighting crooked businessmen dominated by villain Ripper (Wally Wales). Average B bolstered by Hayes's comedy relief. Cut print, super-soft, with weird and highly distracting video noise at top of frame. Video Rating: (*)
Sheriff of Tombstone (Republic, 1941) with Gabby Hayes, Elyse Knox, Addison Richards, Sally Payne, Harry Woods. Another typical early Rogers Western, later remade as California Firebrand (with Monte Hale, 1948) and Thunder Over Arizona (with Skip Homeier and helmed by Joseph Kane, this film's director, 1956). Roy is mistaken for a gunslinger hired by Tombstone's crooked mayor in this fast-paced entry. Apparently missing a minute or two, with distorted sound, but picture is a big improvement over Bad Man. Video Rating: (**)
Sunset Serenade (Republic, 1942) with Gabby Hayes, Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers, Onslow Stevens, Joan Woodbury, Helen Parris, Roy Barcroft. 1943) Better than average Rogers B, despite its routine story of a crooked rancher (Stevens) and scheming housekeeper (Woodbury) plotting to swindle away a valuable ranch from its rightful owner. Songs include "I'm a Cowboy Rockefeller." Cut by several minutes, dark and soft. Video Rating: (* 1/2)
Lights of Old Santa Fe (Republic, 1944) with Gabby Hayes, Dale Evans, Lloyd Corrigan, Tom Keene, Claire Du Brey, Roy Barcroft, Lucien Littlefield. Competing rodeo shows are at the center of this typical Rogers picture, one controlled by loveable Gabby Hayes, the other by shady Tom Keene, with ingénue Dale caught in the middle. Guess which side Roy ties up with. Lots of songs and stock rodeo action. Happily, this is a complete, unedited version, and it looks okay. Video Rating: (** 1/2)
Disc 7: Yet More Roy Rogers
The Gay Ranchero (Republic, 1948) with Trigger, Tito Guizar, Jane Frazee, Andy Devine, George Meeker, LeRoy Mason. Roy is a lawman ("The! Gay! Ran! Che-ro!" as the title song goes) after criminals sabotaging Frazee's planes and airline equipment company in this Trucolor wonder. Made near the height of Hollywood's "Hands Across the Border" era, this one's rife with Hispanic popular culture (and a few stereotypes). The film is complete, but a black and white print with the Trucolor logo optically blotted out. Video Rating: (**)
The Far Frontier (Republic, 1948) with Trigger, Gail Davis, Andy Devine, Francis Ford, Roy Barcroft, Robert Strange, Clayton Moore, Riders of the Purple Sage. Barcroft and Strange are border smugglers sneaking wanted criminals back into the U.S. from Mexico. When border patrolman Clayton Moore goes missing, fellow agent Roy Rogers goes looking for him. Cut by almost two reels, not in its original Trucolor, horribly framed, with videotape distortion. Video Rating: (No Stars!)
Days of Jesse James (Republic, 1939) with Gabby Hayes, Don "Red" Barry, Pauline Moore, Harry Woods, Scotty Beckett, Glenn Strange, Olin Howland. After a bank robbery, Roy infiltrates Jesse James's gang, only to discover that the famous outlaw didn't rob the bank after all, and then tries to unravel the mystery. Not a bad little picture. TV version, missing about 10 minutes, with video distortion at the bottom of the frame. Video Rating: (* 1/2)
Southward Ho! (Republic, 1939) with Gabby Hayes, Lynne Roberts [Mary Hart], Wade Boteler, Arthur Loft, Tom London. Confederate soldiers Roy and Gabby return to Texas after the Civil War only to find the state dominated by a corrupt Union captain and his henchmen, who are using their authority to rob Texans blind! First teaming of Roy with Gabby Hayes after the latter left the Hopalong Cassidy series following a prolonged salary dispute. Another TV syndication version, trimmed of about five minutes, though it looks okay otherwise. Video Rating: (**)
Disc 8: Miscellany
Ghost Patrol (Excelsior Pictures Corp., 1936) with Colonel Tim McCoy, Claudia Dell, Walter Miller, Wheeler Oakman, Dick Curtis. Starring one of the great early movie cowboy stars, Ghost Patrol is a modern Western with sci-fi overtones, with McCoy tracking down bad men who are using a professor's radium tube invention to force down government-controlled mail planes transporting large sums of cash. Looks and sounds pretty good, though you'll want to run a strip of black cloth along the top of your monitor's frame to blot out the video noise at the top of the frame. Video Rating: (**).
Desert Phantom (Supreme Pictures/William Steiner, 1936) with Johnny Mack Brown, Shelia Bromley, Ted Adams, Karl Hackett, Hal Prince. Another pre-Universal cheapie with Johnny Mack Brown, this one a remake of the Harry Carey starrer The Night Rider, made just four years before. Brown is on the trail of the men who killed his brother-n-law and were responsible for the death of his sister as well. Worn 16mm print, with that annoying video noise back at the top of the frame. (Jeez, why can't they fix this!?) Video Rating: (*).
Riders of the Whistling Skull (Republic, 1937) with Robert Livingston, Ray Corrigan, Max Terhune, Mary Russell, Roger Williams, C. Montague Shaw, Yakima Canutt. Three Mesquiteers outing with supernatural elements, with the trio accompanying an archeological expedition searching for the lost Indian city of Lukachuke and its gold treasures. Along the way, members of the expedition are being murdered. Hollywood Television Service TV cut, missing several minutes and scratched up. Video Rating: (* 1/2).
Sunset on the Desert (Republic, 1942) with Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes, Lynne Carver, Frank M. Thomas, Beryl Wallace, Glenn Strange, Douglas Fowley. In another old B-Western standard, hero Roy Rogers is mistaken for an outlaw and thus infiltrates the gang of thieves and blackmailers. It's missing about 10 minutes in this washed out TV version. Video Rating: (* 1/2).
Video & Audio
See above for comments on individual titles. All eight discs are single-sided and dual-layered, but the bit-rate is poor and, needless to say, these aren't progressive transfers, so line-doublers and the like are a big plus when watching these on big monitors. Everything is mono, and acceptable except where noted. Likewise, there are no alternate audio or subtitle options on anything, and no Extra Features. Viewers will also want to be warned of Platinum's water mark, which appears intermittently during all the films, roughly for 30 seconds every ten minutes or so. .
Volume Four of Legends of the West is worth it for most of its indie Westerns and for a very small number of the Roy Rogers films, the vast majority of which are ruined in their TV presentations. (Marginally) Recommended.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's new three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel. His audio commentary for Invasion of Astro Monster is now available.