December 29, 2008
It was with high hopes that I prepared to watch the last Durango Kid film.
In this final installment of the epic 65 film series, all questions would be answered, all mysteries revealed.
What is the origin of the Durango Kid?
Who does he really work for?
What is Steve’s true name?
What is his relationship with Smiley?
Where is his hide-out?
How does he change outfits so fast?
I expected big things. I expected that the Kid would probably die. Or Smiley would die! That’s it, Smiley would die! Durango would take off the mask and Smiley would die! What a finale!
It was not to be.
The opening titles of this 1952 film are over a card I’ve never seen before in the series. It is of a lake with a tree on the distant shore. A small fire burns in the foreground. A single, thin column of smoke dissects the frame, pointing out, perhaps, the duality of the Steve/Durango schism.
Also, a first in the series: two writers. Barry Shipman and Ed Earl Repp, both veterans of the Durango Kid gig. The “Kid From Broken Gun” is directed, fittingly, by Fred S. Sears, who began playing a villain and ended up directing a good number of the films.
Prologue reads: “‘If a man be proven guilty of murder, let him hang by the neck until dead.’ So read the law West of the Pecos (they couldn’t resist getting in one last set of vague directions) in the late 1870s.”
The film is set almost entirely in, groan, a courtroom. Jack Mahoney is on trail. Jack is the “Kid From Broken Gun”, his old boxing alias. It’s odd that in a film featuring a “Durango Kid” there would be room for another “Kid.”
Steve Reynolds and Smiley are friends with Jack. No job titles in this one. They’re just FOJ: friends of Jack.
The trial set-up is a bit to allow flashbacks to actions from previous films, especially the poorly titled “Fighting Frontiersman”. This is a cost-cutting technique that the filmmakers have used before, and used with more and more frequency as the series got longer and the budgets got smaller.
When Steve finally gets involved in the story (maybe 20 minutes in), he does a few things. He remarks to Smiley about the female defense attorney having “a certain family resemblance.” As Durango, he discovers a familiar looking coin. He also discovers that the mysterious owner of the missing gold shipment is someone named “CD.” He tells Smiley that their lives are in danger “if it’s the CD I think it is.”
CD turns out to stand for “Cimmaron Dobbs”, the old prospector from the film that should have been titled “The Curse of Santa Ana’s Gold” or something cool like that, but is, in fact, entitled “Frighting Frontiersman.” The defense attorney (Angela Stevens) is the sister of the crooked showgirl in that picture.
The best line in the film comes when Steve is sworn in to testify. The prosecutor objects, saying that the trial won’t get anywhere if they stop to listen to “every Tom, Dick and Harry.” In the gallery, Smiley scoffs: “Aw, his name ain’t Tom, Dick or Harry! His name is Steve!”
Yes it is, Smiley.
The weirdest moment occurs when Steve, on the stand, reveals the coin which Durango discovered. The prosecutor: “If the Durango Kid found it, how is it you have it?” Steve (with a wink): “Maybe Durango dropped it.”
What are we to make of that?
Charles looks long in the tooth. He squints a lot, maybe a sign of the advancing diabetic condition which would ultimately leave him blind. He’s still slim and athletic. He does seem to move a little slower, a little stiffer.
The recycled footage in the flashbacks is long on Durango, and short on Steve. Unfortunately, Durango is primarily played by stuntmen (including co-star Jack Mahoney), so there is very little Charles in this major part of the film.
In the actual narrative, Steve, having testified, leaves town and the movie for over 1o minutes. Like I said, very little Charles in this. Which is a shame for his swan song.
Smiley has a weird dream where he plays all the members of the trial — the judge, jury members, prosecutor, the accused. Also, we get more of the tough guy routine from Smiley: “Durango will shoot you so full of holes you’ll whistle in the wind.”
And with that, the fat man headed back to Gene Autry for six pictures, then became a regular guest on “Green Acres” followed by a reoccurring role on “Petticoat Junction.”
Jack Mahoney is acquitted, thanks to some gunpoint justice in the courtroom. Though Columbia seemed to be grooming him to take over the series, it never happened. The next year he began his 77 TV episode run as “The Range Rider.”
And Charley? He rode off into the sunset, traveling the world with his wife and splitting his retirement between Laguna and Borrego Springs.
And now we must say goodbye to the Durango Kid. He’s been a part of cinema history, and a part of the audience’s lives for eight years and sixty-five films.
The final lines of the film, and thus the series? Here they are:
Steve: “Jack, I guess the next time you’ll think twice before you look at a pretty face again.”
Jack: “There isn’t going to be a next time, Steve. I’m never going to look at a pretty girl again as lo….”
Girl passes. Jack preens and follows.
Smiley: “Now that’s what I like, a man of his word.”
Steve and Smiley laugh. Fade out. The End.
Not exactly the poetic summation I was waiting for. (see blog entry: The Last Durango Kid Film). But Jack’s right. “There isn’t going to be a next time, Steve….”
December 22, 2008
|Title||Release Date||Charles’ name|
|Kid from Broken Gun||1952||Steve Reynolds|
|Junction City||1952||Steve Rollins|
|Rough, Tough West||1952||Steve Holden|
|Laramie Mountains||1952||Steve Holden|
|Hawk of Wild River||1952||Steve Martin|
|Smoky Canyon||1952||Steve Brent|
|Pecos River||1951||Steve Baldwin|
|Kid from Amarillo||1951||Steve Ransom|
|Cyclone Fury||1951||Steve Reynolds|
|Bonanza Town||1951||Steve Ramsay|
|Snake River Desperadoes||1951||Steve Reynolds|
|Fort Savage Raiders||1951||Steve Drake|
|Ridin’ the Outlaw Trail||1951||Steve Forsythe|
|Prairie Roundup||1951||Steve Carson|
|Lightning Guns||1950||Steve Brandon|
|Frontier Outpost||1950||Steve Lawton|
|Raiders of Tomahawk Creek||1950||Steve Blake|
|Across the Badlands||1950||Steve Ransom|
|Streets of Ghost Town||1950||Steve Woods|
|Texas Dynamo||1950||Steve Drake|
|Outcasts of Black Mesa||1950||Steve Norman|
|Trail of the Rustlers||1950||Steve Armitage|
|Renegades of the Sage||1949||Steve Duncan|
|Horsemen of the Sierras||1949||Steve Saunders|
|Bandits of El Dorado||1949||Steve Carson|
|South of Death Valley||1949||Steve Downing|
|The Blazing Trail||1949||Steve Allen|
|Desert Vigilante||1949||Steve Woods|
|Challenge of the Range||1949||Steve Roper|
|Quick on the Trigger||1948||Steve Warren|
|El Dorado Pass||1948||Steve|
|Trail to Laredo||1948||Steve Ellison|
|Blazing Across the Pecos||1948||Steve Blake|
|Whirlwind Raiders||1948||Steve Lanning|
|West of Sonora||1948||Steve Rollins|
|Six-Gun Law||1948||Steve Norris|
|Last Days of Boot Hill||1947||Steve Waring|
|Buckaroo from Powder River||1947||Steve Lacey|
|Riders of the Lone Star||1947||Steve Mason|
|Stranger from Ponca City||1947||Steve Larkin|
|Prairie Raiders||1947||Steve Bolton|
|Law of the Canyon||1947||Stave Langtry|
|West of Dodge City||1947||Steve Ramsey|
|Lone Hand Texan||1947||Steve Driscoll|
|South of the Chisholm Trail||1947||Steve Haley|
|Fighting Frontiersman||1946||Steve Reynolds|
|Terror Trail||1946||Steve Haverley|
|Heading West||1946||Steve Randall|
|Desert Horseman||1946||Steve Godgrey|
|Two-Fisted Stranger||1946||Steve Gordon|
|Galloping Thunder||1946||Steve Reynolds|
|Gunning for Vengeance||1946||Steve Landry|
|Roaring Rangers||1946||Steve Randall|
|Frontier Gunlaw||1945||Jim Stewart|
|Texas Panhandle||1945||Steve Buckner|
|Lawless Empire||1945||Steve Ranson|
|Blazing the Western Trail||1945||Jeff Waring|
|Outlaws of the Rockies||1945||Steve Williams|
|Rustlers of the Badlands||1945||Steve Lindsay|
|Both Barrels Blazing||1945||Kip Allen|
|Return of the Durango Kid||1945||Bill Blayden|
|Rough Ridin’ Justice||1945||Steve Holden|
|Sagebrush Heroes||1945||Stave Randall|
|Saddle Leather Law||1944||Steve Carlisle|
|Cyclone Prairie Rangers||1944||Steve Travis|
|Cowboy from Lonesome River||1944||Steve Randall|
|Riding West||1944||Steve Jordan|
|Sundown Valley||1944||Steve Denton|
|Cowboy Canteen||1944||Steve Bradley|
|Cowboy in the Clouds||1943||Steve Kendall|
|Hail to the Rangers||1943||Steve McKay|
|Robin Hood of the Range||1943||Steve|
|Frontier Fury||1943||Steve Langdon|
|Law of the Northwest||1943||Steve King|
|Fighting Buckaroo||1943||Steve Harrison|
|Pardon My Gun||1942||Steve Randall|
|Riding Through Nevada||1942||Steve Lowrey|
|Overland to Deadwood||1942||Steve Prescott|
|Bad Men of the Hills||1942||Steve Carlton|
|Riders of the Northland||1942||Steve Bowie|
|Down Rio Grande Way||1942||Steve Martin|
|Lawless Plainsmen||1942||Steve Rideen|
|West of Tombstone||1942||Steve Langdon|
|Riders of the Badlands||1941||Steve Langdon|
|Royal Mounted Patrol||1941||Tom Jeffries|
|Prairie Stranger (a Medico film)||1941||Steven Monroe|
|Thunder Over the Prairie (a Medico film)||1941||Steven Monroe|
|Medico of Painted Springs (a Medico film)||1941||Steven Monroe|
December 12, 2008
1950’s “Frontier Outpost” is the last Charles Starrett film that I have been able to find. In fact, it is the last of the 115 films currently available on DVD or VHS or any other format. I know. I’ve looked.
In the coming months, TCM has promised to add at least two more films to that library.
Never fear, dear reader, I will review them as soon as they air!
December 12, 2008
Over lunch with my friend Rodney Ascher the other day, I was complaining, as I often do during our lunch meetings, about the lack of continuity in Charles Starrett’s character in the Durango Kid series; you know, how he’s always got a different last name, a different job, a different relationship with Smiley.
I was shaking my head with familiar frustration when Rodney pointed out something that had never occured to me: that the only constant, in fact, in these films is the Durango Kid himself. That, therefore, the Durango Kid was the true identity and the Steve character was the mask that he put on.
115 films and I never once thought of it that way. But then, that’s why we call Rodney “The Doctor”!
I will now attempt to discuss 1950’s “Frontier Outpost” from that perspective. It’s going to be tough, but here goes nothing:
The Durango Kid is masquerading this time as Steve Lawton, who has some unstated military relationship with a Major Copeland (played by Fred Sears). In the opening sequence, Durango robs a stagecoach of a shipment of gold, then appears in Steve disguise to return it to the Major.
Later, Copeland and the other passengers on the stagecoach discover a mysteriously deserted fort. He tells the rest of the riders that “Steve and Smiley have been assigned to me” to help find out about more gold shipments that have been going missing.
The Major doesn’t know that the Durango Kid is posing as Steve. Smiley seems to know. When the Major is killed, Durango, in the guise of Steve, reports Copeland’s death to Colonel Warrick who says “you’re not only an outlaw, you’re a crazy outlaw.” Durango, still disguised as Steve, is arrested for the Major’s death.
The obese Smiley with his OCD involving food consumption tries to free Durango in a number of half-assed ways that generally include singing.
Once freed, Durango is able to shed the Steve disguise momentarily and ride to the rescue of the folks at the fort. In the end, he adopts the Steve persona one last time to receive a well-deserved apology from the Colonel. With that behind him, he sheds the Steve Lawton persona forever.
And off Durango rides, off to another adventure, where he will don another disguise, with a completely different identity, job, and name.
Except that his first name will again be “Steve.”
December 4, 2008
William S. Hart’s retirement home in Newhall, which he occupied from 1926-1946, is now home to the museum bearing his name. From the literature present we learned that Hart left a sizeable endowment to insure that the spread would always be open to the public.
And the public does seem to come by. We arrived before noon (the museum has odd hours, call or check their website first) and were surprised to find a half-dozen folks leaving and another half-dozen waiting on the next tour.
And neither group seemed to be particularly cowboy fans. A mix of out-of-towners and local folks. A mystery.
Bring your walking shoes. The tour itself is short, but the walk to the museum is a HIKE! It’s up a steep “nature trail” past the animal cemetery where Fritz joins Hart’s dogs in their everlasting slumber. And if you are planning on pushing a baby carriage up there, I’d think again. I was fortunate enough to have my burly buddy Josh along to help me carry the thing over loose gravel.
The house itself is very nice, and well preserved. The docent knew a lot about the fixtures, but very little about the man himself, and next to nothing about his films. A security gaurd followed us the entire time.
They also have a gift shop. They sell a lot of general western-themed stuff and a few books on WSH. A couple of his DVDs too. They also have DVDS for Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Ken Maynard, Johnny Mack Brown, Hoot Gibson…just about everyone but Charley Starrett. Which doesn’t seem fair, seeing how CS was his biggest fan.
The museum’s website has all the information, including directions. They host some summer films under the stars as well. Nicely maintained place with some fun stuff to see.
And somebody I happen to know had a great time.