Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Charles Starrett plays two roles in this film. One is named Steve. But the other isn’t the Durango Kid. He’s Mac Collins, leader of the notorious Collins Gang.

Steve Langdon has just been transferred to Company E of the Texas Rangers. Lucky Barton (Russell Hayden) is a fellow Ranger on his honeymoon. His wedding wagon gets ambushed by the Collins gang and his new wife is killed.

They lock Good Charley up and Bad Charley hears about it. “They got it figured that you live a double life, chasing bandits and being one.”

I repeat, this is not a Durango Kid film. It’s 1941.

Bad Charley breaks Good Charley out so he can kill him and collect the reward. They shoot the scenes between them with angle/reverse angle and the occasional split screen trick (once, I think.)

Good Charley escapes but a posse catches him and are about to lynch him when Lucky saves him, but only after thinking about it. Remember, he thinks Good Charley killed his wife.

Cut to: some time later — Lucky delivers the convicted Steve to the State Penn to hold until hanging in one week. He only wishes he could pull the trap door when they hang Steve.

Steve says, “Some day, I don’t know where or how, but you’r going to find out I’ve been telling you the truth. And when that day comes, I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes.”

Lucky is haunted by Steve — literally — a ghost image superimposition. He sets out to clear Steve’s name. He forges papers to spring Steve from the Penn with only hours to go before his hanging.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Together, they flush out Mac who thinks his doppelganger just hung. “I wonder if I should send myself flowers! Ha ha!”

Finale is, of course, the big fight between the two Charleys (or between two of Charley’s stuntmen.)

Of note, in the film I’ve seen the first and only blood in these pictures. Lucky gets “winged” and there is definitely blood on his shirt.

Interestingly, Bad Charley isn’t all bad. He’s got a teenage daughter and seems like a really loving father.

Cliff Edwards provides the funny and the tunes as “Bones.”

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

I have been in contact with the helpful people in the Dartmouth College Alumni department. I have enjoyed the assistance of Mike Backman and especially Barb Krieger, Archives Supervisor of Raunr Library.

I have learned a great deal about Charles early life, and that information will help guide my research here.

Here are some interesting facts about Charles’ life in the years leading up to Hollywood.

Before Dartmouth, he attended Mitchell Military School (from 1913-1915) and then the Worcester Academy (from 1915-1922). At Worcester, he was on the swimming, track and football teams.

He was also a member of the dramatic club. In his senior year at Worcester, he was president of the Drama Club. There goes that bit of studio created mythology — the old story that he had no interest in acting until he participated as an extra in a silent film “The Quarterback” shot at Dartmouth.

He entered Dartmouth in 1922. He was on the freshman track team and the freshman football team. As an upper classman, he played varsity football and was on the swim team.

His fraternity was Psi Upsilon. He was a member of a number of secret societies: he was a member of Green Key, a sophomore society, and of Casque & Gauntlet, a senior society.

On Dartmouth’s football team he played fullback. According to the 1926
yearbook, he weighed 180 pounds and was 6 foot 1 1/2 inches tall; “Charlie will always be remembered by us as the man who intercepted a forward pass in the Cornell game last fall, and ran for a touchdown. For three years he had been trying to make the grade, then he got his chance, seized it, and you know the rest.”

The 1925 football team was undefeated, shutting out 5 of the 8 opponents it
faced, and racking up 341 points against 29!

Charles major at Dartmouth? Philosophy!

He also attended summer school classes at the University of Wisconsin in 1924 and at Cornell in the summer of 1925.

He graduated in 1926.

I have a number of wonderful quotes from his Class Notes, which I will add in future posts.

“Lady And Gent”

July 28, 2008

When boxer Slag Bailey (George Bancroft) loses the big fight (to a young John Wayne), his weasel of a manager Pin pulls a failed robbery and ends up dead. Slag and his tough-talking singer girlfriend Puff (Wynne Gibson) discover Pin’s secret life: a cottage in the country and a young son.

The boxer gets a job in the steel mill and the dame plays house and before you know it the young orphan has grown up to be Charles Starrett.

In what must have been an inside joke, Slag wants Charley to play football at Dartmouth. Tough Puff wants him to go to State University and that’s where he ends up — where he’s an All American on the football team anyway.

In an entry into his class notes in the late fifties, Charles wrote that he “made more yardage for Paramount than for Dartmouth.” I haven’t seen “Touchdown”, but in this film most of that yardage is stock footage.

Charles plays 19 in the handful of scenes he has. He’s pretty good, bouncing around with youthful energy. In this haircut, and with his then-slender face, he resembles a young Kyle MacLachlan.

In the final scene, a crooked promoter shows up and wants him to be a boxer. He’ll bill Charley as “The College Wonder.” Dad and Charley go a few rounds and Charley figures out he’s not a fighter, but a lover.

“Dad, can’t you fix it to…to adopt me, Dad, I mean, really adopt me so that I’ll be…so that you’ll be my folks on the level!”

In reality, Charles was 28 years old, freshly arrived in Hollywood, had twin 3-year-old sons, and was under contract to Paramount, a studio that believed in him enough to give him the elevated third billing for a picture in which he only appears in the last 15 minutes.

Nice casting on the young Charley, 13-year old Billy Butts, who, interestingly, worked for a while as a young sidekick of 1920’s western stars Fred Thomson and Rex Bell.

Oh, and George Bancroft later appeared with John Wayne in “Stagecoach.”

“Texas Panhandle”

July 27, 2008

Courtesy of Les Adams

“Texas Panhandle” is the 7th film made in the year (1945) that they started making Durango Kid films in earnest. I’m guessing the studio figured they were making enough of these films starring the man in the black mask that they might as well nail down an identity for Steve. Until now he’d been a hired hand on a stagecoach, a Sheriff, a Texas Ranger, and a drifter. What they came up with isn’t bad. Too bad it only lasted for one picture.

Film opens with a series of shots of violence towards Wagons — blowing them up, crashing them into gullys, hurtling them over cliffs — and a newspaper headline reading “Federal Gold Missing In West.”

Cut to: the Capital Building in Washington, DC. A door marked “United States Secret Security. James Harrington, Chief Investigator.” Investigator Steve Buckner strides in, calls his boss James “Steve” for some reason, and says, “It’s about time I got my next assignment. I’ve been sitting around this office for so long I’ve got calluses where I never had them before.” But he’s fired! Pending an investigation by the US Department of Justice into his “rumored activities as the notorious character known as the Durango Kid.” He’s stripped of his credentials. “Give ’em to the Department of Justice with the compliments of the Durango Kid. I’m heading West!”

Like I said, a nice, clear backstory. Which they drop 50 minutes later, right after the end credits roll.

We find Steve on a wagon train posing as a lawyer. He sneaks off and slips into Durango disguise to save Cannonball (Dub Taylor) from some outlaws.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

“Well, bless my britches, it’s the Durango Kid hisself! Hi Durango! Remember me? I was up in them Black Hills when you caught Buck Monroe’s gang for peddlin’ liquor to the Indians.” This must have happened off-camera, cuz it’s not in any of the films. Durango says, “I never saw you before” so maybe Cannonball just made all that up.

Cannonball’s comic through-line involves a love affair with the local blacksmith lady, Millicent.

Okay, this is where they got the emblematic shot of Durango atop Raider, rearing and doing a half-turn. Disregard my earlier guesses, please.

Plot: some bullshit about a missing will and a complicated scheme involving faked land deeds and forced labor for the band.

Courtesy of Les Adams

Spade Cooley makes his second (and last) appearance in a Durango Kid film. There’s a creepy “comic” moment where the King of Western Swing pulls a gun on Dub and says, “should I put him out of his misery right now or let him suffer?” 16 years later, Spade beat his wife to death over a number of days.

There’s a couple of quick changes, mostly at the hotel. Steve goes in the front and Durango comes out the rear. Or vice-versa.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

There’s an unusual bit of fun where a henchman is reporting to the boss in his saloon. “That Durango Kid is strictly dynamite!” KABOOM! They run into the back and Durango has just blown the safe.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Later, the bad guys find Durango’s horse hidden in the barn. In his saddlebags they find a Presidential Citation to Steve Buckner for service as a Secret Service Agent. (Pssst, Steve, you forgot about the Secret part of that job description.) They put two and two together and announce: “Steve Buckner is the Durango Kid.”

When they come looking for him, Steve reveals to Dub, Tex and the rest of the gang that he is Durango. They help him get out of town.

And yet! Once again! The good guys know Steve’s the Durango Kid; the bad guys know Steve’s the Durango Kid; EVERYONE knows Steve’s the Durango Kid. And yet! He continues to dress up in the black get-up and wear the mask. And they ALL call him “Durango.” Are they humoring him? Like you would a crazy person?

Courtesy of Les Adams

In the end, Steve gets a letter. He’s been reinstated. He’s got to be moving on. “The Government just sent me my new assignment.” Sure they did! Right back to the nuthouse, ya psycho!

Carolina Cotton does some nice yodeling.

Charley rides Raider bareback. Does a real nice job.

“Prairie Roundup”

July 25, 2008

Very strange opening credit sequence — different/grander music, different font and lay-out on the credits. And a different painted background. It’s not the traditional lone yucca or the city lights in the valley. It features a campfire and three brands (w, o, x) leaning against a rock.

Same old crew though. Comrade Borofsky cut it, Colbert produced and our old friend, and reoccurring bad guy, Fred Sears directs.

However, differences abound in this film. The opening shot is a rare overhead view of the western street (I’ve never seen an elevated camera shot in any of these). Charely rides into town. “I’m looking for a friend of mine, Smiley Burnette.”

Another rarity, a well-executed and long tracking shot through a crowded bar. Fake Durango robs the place. Charley kills Fake Durango. Smiley says, “Steve! Hey, I thought you were the Durango Kid!” “Forget it, Smiley.”

Steve Carson “used to be a Captain of the Texas Rangers before they disabled them,” shouts Smiley. “You remember him, Steve Carson!”

Oh yeah, that Steve Carson.

They arrest Steve for Durango’s murder (is that a trip or what?) and find him guilty and sentence him to hang! Smiley pleads, “all you got to do is tell them that you’re…” But Steve will only woodenly shake his head.

The guys behind the frame-up are from down in Santa Fe, so Steve escapes and heads down there to clear his name.

He dresses up as Durango first and surprises the Sheriff. “Another Durango!”

Smiley apparently was a Texas Ranger as well. He’s also a bad ass in this!

A cowhand is messing with him, pushing him around and says, “Maybe there’s something you don’t like about me?”

Usually, at this point, Smiley would feebly attempt to pull a gun and it would fall apart, or his pants would fall down and he’d whimper. Instead…

“Yeah, your face. If I had a face like that I’d nail a board over it!”

The guy swings. Smiley moves his head. “I’m over here.”

Another swing. Another miss.

“You don’t hit nothing, do you?” Then Smiley kicks his ass. “Fun, ain’t it!”

Steve is surprised. “I never knew you could fight like that.” “I was never that mad before.”

A woman hires Steve as Trail Boss on a cattle drive because “Dad and Steve’s father were old friends.”

Steve has a father?!

More differences: close-ups, lots of moving cameras, even a dutch angle of horses jumping over the camera and kicking dust into the lens. Someone decided to put a little effort into this one. Why this film? Why 1951? Beats me.

Music is by the Sunshine Boys, who play cowhands on the cattle drive as well.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

I wonder where the “Santa Fe” set is — I’ve seen it before as a “Mexican city” in “Bandits of El Dorado”.

At one point, the bad guy hires Durango to kill Steve. Now it’s getting really trippy! Like, wheels within wheels. My head is spinning….

Charles is looking old in this one.

In the end, Steve and Smiley sit by a fire. Smiley wants to “stop all this traipsing around the country getting in trouble.”

Steve says, “You’ll never be happy in one place.”

And I’ll never be happy when Smiley is in the picture.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Courtesy of Les Adams

They made this experimental film in 1941. Get this: Charles is named “Jim”!

Jim Endicott is riding along on his white horse. He comes upon a shootout between some rustlers and some good guys. He magically knows which side to throw in on, and tosses a guy over a cliff.

Jim (I still can’t get used to it) is a man with a plan. He wants to build a railroad to connect Oil Springs with Winchester, and avoid the rustlers. “That’s a job for engineers”, sneers one detractor. “It’s a job for men“, counters Jim.

We now enter into one of the most byzantine and boring plots yet. A plot between a banker and a railroad tycoon to disrupt the work on the rails and bankrupt the ranchers. Seriously, considering all the rich history and imagery of the West, the makers of this film choose to have two guys in suits stand around in offices discussing liens on property and conditions of loan repayments.

Charley is pretty tough in this one. There’s a real good scene where he tells the bad guy to hit the road. “Maybe the next time we meet it won’t be just for conversation.”

But, at the hands of the guys who brought us this sleepy plot, poor Charley has mostly boring things to do. He tries to use “public opinion” and has a stern chat with the newspaper man. “Just remember this, newspaper type isn’t the only thing made of lead.”

There’s an entire (long) scene where he repeatedly stops a saloon brawl from happening. I like saloon brawls. The bigger the better. I like rooting for the good guys to whomp on the bad guys. I don’t like rooting for the good guys to put out fires and keep tempers at check and avoid fights!

The closest we get to seeing the building of that railroad is some hazy stock footage and the Sons of the Pioneers cooking stew for the railworkers.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

You know, Pat Brady can be just about as annoying as Smiley. There’s just not as much of him to hate.

Despite the lame stuff they give Charley to do, he’s really good in this one. He’s confident — the grinning thorn in the bad guy’s side. Some cool moves with a gun and some fancy footwork.

Though I can’t recommend the film, for the above stated reasons, it’s a good performance from our man Charley.

He also fans his gun. No time for the ladies, though.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures


“West of Cheyenne”

July 22, 2008

Courtesy of Les Adams

This 1938 film has an odd way of moving. It sort of jerks along, doubles back on itself, and then inches forward. Basically, before anything happens, the characters discuss doing it. Then they do it. Then they discuss what just happened. Repeat. If this sounds unsatisfying, it is. Add to this the fact that good guys are often listening on on bad guys’ plans, and bad guys are often listening in on good guys’ plans. This way, we get to overhear a plan, then hear it again when it is repeated to the gang, then see it, then hear all about it.

The end result is that out of 54 minutes we end up with about 10 minutes of story.

That story is this: Brad (don’t call him Steve) Buckner and his posse have just bought the Bar W Ranch. The previous two owners were “mysteriously killed” by the gang of rustlers who are hiding their stolen herd on the land. Dick Curtis and his bunch try repeatedly to kill Brad.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

There’s lots of goofing around over at the Bar W. Plenty of singing about food, chasing each other this way and that way, and giggling like retarded children. If these sequences are supposed to serve the narrative function of painting the way of life of these cowboys as worth protecting, it backfires. Especially when they attempt to hang a character named Shorty just so they can keep on playing grab ass around the dining table. Shoot em all, Dick, shoot em all.

Courtesy of Les Adams

There’s a crazy continuity problem. The gang is having dinner with the gal at the ranch when there is an attempt on their lives. They decide they better ride with the gal to town. “While we’re there, we’ll sign those papers.” And they ride off. When they arrive in town, the gal is there waiting for them and says “Good morning!”

Charles has a couple of pretty passionate love scenes in this — two long kisses and they get married in the end. In her 18 films with Charles, Iris Meredith played the gamut of love interest roles. She’s the passionate love interest in this film and “Western Caravans.” She’s the gal who’s around at the end for Charles to wave goodbye to (“Texas Stagecoach” for one). And she’s the gal who gets pawned off on his friend (in most of them.)

Charley fans his gun just like in 1937’s “Outlaws of the Prairie”. At some point, he stopped doing this.

In another similarity with “Outlaws of the Prairie”, the film ends with Charley going mano-a-mano with the bad guy. This also stopped happening.

Oh, almost forgot. Charley sings in this one! “Happy Birthday to you…”

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

“Fast And Loose”

July 21, 2008

Charles’ first film!

In 1926, Charles and his fellow teammates on the Dartmouth football squad played extras in a silent comedy called “The Quaterback.” That same year, he graduated from college.

For the following years, I have little information. I’ve read that he did some stage work, was part of a touring company on the east coast, and was in Broadway in a play entitled “Claire Adams”.

Somehow he ended up in Hollywood and acting in this 1930 film, “Fast And Loose.” It is based on play called “The Best People.” Preston Sturges provides the dialogue.

A couple of players went on to be very famous, Carole Lomard and Frank Morgan (the Wizard of Oz.)

Story concerns a wealthy brother and sister who both fall in love with suitors below their social standing. The brother wants to marry a chorus girl, and his story involves an angry society type ratting him out to his parents, a charade that his father and uncle pull to discover the chorus’ girls real intentions, and a brawl during a police raid on a club.

The sister (Miriam Hopkins) is engaged to a boring “stiff” named Lord Rockingham. She breaks it off and drives to the beach to think. She happens to park right where Charley is taking a moonlit swim. He’s dressed in a bathing suit and a towel.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Henry Morgan is a real bathing beauty and a strong man — he acts as a human tire jack to lift the car from the sand. He’s manly, uses lower-class grammar, and has a vaguely Southern accent (he’s from Missouri), so naturally she “hates” him. “You’re a mug.”

She hates him so much she comes back the next night. They talk about how much she hates him. They take a swim. They kiss. She threatens to swim away. He threatens to spank her. He does. “Stop it or I’ll give you some mo’.” It’s a sexy scene.

Of course, she’s smitten and breaks off her engagement. The next day, they discover he’s a car mechanic working on her estate. He thinks that their class differences stand in the way of love. She says, “Whatever you are is good enough for me.”

He’s rude. He quits his job. She sabotages her car to get him back. He’s hotheaded but she melts him, “I don’t see why I’m so weak.”

There’s some protracted nonsense in a judge’s chambers bailing out the kids for drunkenness, and Charley agrees to marry her, on the condition that he is the man and she obeys him. (She also has to give up her wealth.) It’s a happy ending.

Before I saw this film, if you had asked me what Charles first film role would be like, I would have thought it would be a lot like his second role, as the rich and well-bred straight arrow Perry in “Royal Family Of Broadway.”

I wouldn’t have thought he’d be playing some mug full of lower-class pride. I figured he’d be more of the gentile hunk, not in a bathing suit or covered in car grease.

More precisely: do Western movie stars go to college?

Here are the academic careers of the first generation of Cowboy stars:

Tom Mix – enlisted in the Army at 18, worked at the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch, and rode in the rodeo. He started his film career as a cattle wrangler on early cowboy pictures.

Buck Jones – joined the US Army at 16, drove race-cars and performed in Wild West shows before his movie career.

Ken Maynard – a rodeo rider and trick rider with Buffalo Bill ‘s Wild West Show and with Ringling Brothers. Served in the Army during WWI.

Tim McCoy – dropped out of St. Ignatius College, a Jesuit school in Chicago, to work on a Wyoming ranch, and then served in World War I before Hollywood.

Hoot Gibson – worked as a ranch hand during his youth, competed in rodeos and served in WW1.

Here are Charles’ contemporaries:

Johnny “Mack” Brown – football star at University of Alabama, appeared on Wheaties Cereal boxes, became an movie actor.

“Wild Bill” Elliot – grew up on a Missouri Ranch, dropped out of community college to enroll in the Pasadena Community Playhouse.

Russell Hayden – no information on his academic career, he worked as a grip before his big break.

Charles Starrett – Worchester Academy, Darthmouth College.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures