“Fighting Frontiersman”

June 11, 2008

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Check out this cool opening narration:

“From these wars on our Southwest border, there sprung up many tales of hidden treasure to intrigue the imagination and attract the adventuress. The most fascinating of these tales of Spanish gold was that of Santa Ana’s last score. This was supposed to be hidden in the silent barrels of his cannons and buried somewhere in Texas. After the war, the settlers found themselves penniless and desperate. There was no law in the land. And the search for the hidden pay of Santa Ana went on ceaselessly. Then a mysterious rider, the Durango Kid, decided to try his luck where so many others had failed.”

And they called the thing “Fighting Frontiersman”?!

C’mon! “Curse of Santa Ana’s Gold” or “Hidden Treasure of Texas” or at least something along the lines of “Digging for Danger.” Geez. I mean, Geez!

The 1946 film opens with the ratty old prospector, Cimarron, finding said gold. He says, “Lookie there, Gold!” This should have been the Smiley role, except that he gets kidnapped and spends most of the film bound and tortured. Come to think of it, this could have been the role of Smiley’s lifetime!  Children all over the world would have stood up and cheered!

Cimarron’s only friend in town, the saloon gal Dixie, writes for help from Steve Reynolds, a Texas Ranger out of Tres Nogales.

This letter leads to one of the most revealling moments in the DK series. After letting Smiley get a whiff of the perfumed letter, Steve exclaims, “It’s from a lady.” To which Smiley replies, “I didn’t know you were a ladies man, Steve.” Nervous laughter from Steve. “Heh heh heh…”

Steve Reynolds (“That’s a common name.” “Well, I’m a common fella.”) sets off for Twin Forks to set things right.

This is the second time I’ve seen this gag: 1) the bad guys know a Ranger is coming, and they know his route, so they head off to ambush him. 2) They mistake Smiley for Steve. 3) Durango shows up and saves Smiley. 4) Smiley brags to Steve how he single-handedly handled the bad guys. 5) Steve smiles knowingly.

There is a first in this film. A bad guy unmasks Durango! This here bad guy then gets shot dead and blown to bits seconds later, so Steve’s secret remains secret.

Funny thing about that, though. When DK is unmasked, he’s lying unconscious on the ground. We can’t see his face, only see the bad guy’s reaction. Later, when DK comes to, he takes pains to hide his face from camera while he replaces the mask.

Leading to this question: Was there ever anyone who saw these films and didn’t figure that Steve was Durango? Try and imagine that. Seriously, take a moment.


A few Odds and ends:

— Durango fans his gun real cool in this one.

— I think this film is the source of the much used footage of Durango running across the rooftops of the town.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Hank Newman (say what?) and his Georgia Crackers (excuse me?) do the music thing.


4 Responses to ““Fighting Frontiersman””

  1. I haven’t seen this particular DK film, but the unmasking is strange. I have to assume that every kid watching knew that DK and Steve (whatever) were one and the same. I know that in the LONE RANGER TV show and films, Clayton Moore was never shown without the mask, but I don’t know that most kids would have recognized Moore without it.

    I wonder if perhaps it wasn’t Starrett that day, for some reason and the scenes were shot with a stuntman? The films were shot on the cheap and they might not have wanted to waste time or film on a reshoot.

    Guess we’ll never know.

  2. Mike Newton said

    Fighting Frontiesman was the first DK film that Smiley Burnette made. You can see how prominent he is to the series because he always got a whole screen for his screen credit. Starrett has mentioned that he and Smiley didn’t get along too well at the beginning because Smiley thought that he was carrying the whole series. Starrett learned to tolerate Smiley’s attitude. It was also the first DK film that Barry Shipman even scripted.

  3. Mike Newton said

    I just saw that I made an error on this post. Roaring Rangers (1946) was the first DK film Smiley Burnette made and it was also Barry Shipman’s first DK script. Starrett had been using Dub Taylor as a comic and Taylor went over to Monogram for the Jimmy Wakely series.

  4. Peter Valenti said

    Very interesting comments. Was Jock Mahoney under contract at Columbia when this film was made? I used to think it was Jocko in that rooftop ramble.

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