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Wild West Days
Wild West Days is a delightful "Cowboys and Indians" serial directed by Ford Beebe and Clifford Smith, which spread out over 13 weeks (presumably) during the summer of 1937. For 20-minutes at a pop, before your Feature Presentation, you could plop down in a cool movie theater to take in the exploits of Kentucky Wade and his gang, if only to forget the ongoing Great Depression, just for a little while.
Based loosely on the novel "Saint Johnson" by W.R. Burnett, ("Little Caesar", "Scarface" among many others) Wild West Days tells the story of frontier good guy Kentucky Wade, (John Mack Brown) an easy-goin' fellah with an ‘I'm not worried' grin perpetually plastered to his face, and his pals Trigger (Robert Kortman), Dude (George Shelley) and Mike Morales, (Frank Yaconelli) a tight group of do-gooders that ends up looking out for Larry Munro (Frank McGlynn). Larry and his sister Lucy (Lynn Gilbert) own a ranch and some land outside the town of Brimstone. Larry's the lucky owner of some acreage containing a a platinum deposit, but the Secret Seven, a group of scumbags headed by local newspaperman Matt Keeler, (Russell Simpson) has designs on jumping that particular claim, leading to lots of nefarious doings and close scrapes.
Wild West Days is thoroughly entertaining, if not terribly compelling by today's narrative standards. As such, this single-disk release is mostly for fans of the genre and nostalgia buffs, though anyone might be sucked in by the drama or desire to satisfy their curiosity. In general each chapter contains a bit of conflict resolution, a plot-point to move the story along one step, and a cliffhanger to keep people coming back next week, although you will probably binge all four hours in a couple of sittings. For what it's worth, the serial structure still sounds like a great idea to generate steady ticket sales.
On the other hand, I imagine serials were rather expensive to produce. This one features lots of battling between Kentucky's gang and Indians [sic] who are used to run interference willfully by the Secret Seven, mostly because of that gang's member Buckskin (a suitably shifty Charles Stevens) a ‘ half-breed' willing to exploit his native blood for personal gain. [‘half-breed' ‘Indians' and other anachronisms are certainly expected, and you'll have to check your own temperature regarding such things.] These battles, typically led by Red Hatchet (Chief Thunderbird) contain tons of stock footage struggling and failing mightily to match the scenery of principal photography; point being, it's padding intended to liven up proceedings. It's not the only trick in the producers' bag, which also employs sped-up footage to make it look like Kentucky et al are riding really fast while wasting bullets. All that action calls for respite, as Dude sings the same ‘Song of the Sage' almost every episode. But what's most interesting is the depiction of wild west jurisprudence, which in function finds the Sheriff and local Judge most often simply taking people at their word, whilst tossing back whiskey at the saloon.
Though produced in the late 1930s, decades after the action depicted, Wild West Days, is nothing if not anachronistic on many, many levels. Taken as pure nostalgic entertainment, however, it feels like an innocent blast, illuminating the type of fun latter day auteurs such as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg attempted to recreate in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Though the action ratchets up intensely for the last few installments, with bodies literally piling up at the end, the simple story of a group of scummy Black Hats trying to cheat an innocent man out of his good luck, and the efforts of decent folks like Kentucky Wade to set things to right, bubbles along nicely in 20-minute doses, perfect to help you forget the troubles of modern times. I reckon most folks might Rent It and have a grand old time, though wild west super fans may find it recommended.
Wild West Days, (a Universal Presentation brought to us now by VCI Entertainment) at a hair over 4-hours total, comes to us in its original full-frame 1.37:1 ratio. This Blu-ray presentation is mastered faithfully enough to highlight the differences between stock-footage and the bulk of the serial. Said stock footage is often quite soft, but doesn't take up much time at all. The rest is generally sharp, and remarkably clean of dirt and free of damage. Film grain is soft and tasteful, and while details could never rise to the level one would expect from later movies presented on Blu-ray, the whole package looks very nice overall.
Dolby Digital Mono Audio is similarly clean, clear, and free of distortion. I have no complaints regarding this most basic of sonic presentation, except for the lingering effects of hearing bits of ‘Song of the Sage' in (I think) every episode.
Extras are limited to English SDH Subtitles and 3 Chapter Stops per episode, which is helpful to skip past the lengthy credits sequence at the start of each.
Produced in the late 1930s, decades after the frontier action depicted, the Universal Pictures serialized production Wild West Days, is nothing if not anachronistic, but taken as pure nostalgic entertainment, it feels like an innocent blast, illuminating the type of fun latter day auteurs such as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg attempted to recreate in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The simple story of Kentucky Wade and his pals working hard to stop a group of scummy Black Hats from trying to cheat an innocent man out of his good luck, bubbles along nicely in 13 20-minute doses, perfect to help you forget the troubles of modern times. I reckon most folks might Rent It and have a grand old time, though wild west super fans may find it recommended.