“Kid From Broken Gun”

December 29, 2008

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Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

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.

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Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

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.”

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Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

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.”

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Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

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….”

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List of Steve’s Surnames

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
Laramie 1949 Steve Holden
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
Phantom Valley 1948 Steve
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
Landrush 1946 Steve Harmon
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

The Count Pauses at 115

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!

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Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

“Frontier Outpost”

December 12, 2008

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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.

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Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

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.”

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Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

william-s-hart-house-and-museum-0041William 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.

william-s-hart-house-and-museum-0021And 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.

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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.

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