Other Cowboy Stars — Bob Steele in “Law of the West”

February 15, 2011

When Bob Steele starred in this Mascot picture in 1932, he was twenty-five and already a veteran actor of twelve years and three dozen films.  He’s your classic Hollywood Kid — his father was a director, he was a child actor, he grew up in pictures, he went to High School in Glendale with John Wayne.

“Law of the West” is directed by his father, Robert N. Bradbury (Bob’s real name is Robert Adrian Bradbury.)  The film is pretty high-concept for a B-Western.  Check it out.  An embittered rustler steals a marshal’s toddler son.  Seventeen years later, he’s Bob, the youngest member of the Morgan Gang.  He thinks his abusive kidnapper is his abusive dad.  He’s planning on escaping with his gal and her father to California.  But “dad” has a sick plan, to pit Bob and his real pa in a shoot-out!

It’s a classic Mascot film — shot and staged like the serials the company was known for.  There is plenty of fuzzy ADR and some odd off-screen action within scenes.  Not the worst production I’ve seen, but far from the best.

Bob Steele is the Anti-Starrett.  He’s 5′ 5″, fit and barrel-chested.  He’s got a roundish face and a curly mop of black hair.  I like him.  He reminds me of Mark Wahlberg.  Folks say about this sort of guy, “he can take a punch.”  And Bob can and does repeatedly.

And he rides.  A lot.  Cool stuff too, up steep slopes, down impossible scrub-covered bluffs.  He knows a lot of cool tricks on how to get into a saddle.

He’s also fast on the draw.  A real cowboy’s cowboy.   His voice is maybe an octave too high, but he’s a sturdy lead.

The remarkable thing about this film happens in the last shot.  It’s a wonderful and rare emotional moment with a close-up of Bob holding his mom who he hasn’t seen in seventeen years.  He speaks one word, “Mother.”  FADE OUT.

We should not take this lightly — not many western stars would touch a moment like this, let along know how to handle it.  Not only can Bob Steele ride convincingly, he can act, as evidenced by the raw emotion he brings to this final image of the film.

Bob Steele would go on to have a long career, mainly as a western star, but with the occasional solid character roles in films like “The Big Sleep” and “Of Mice And Men.”  He also had small roles in later films like “Charley Varrick” and Martin and Lewis’ “Pardners.”

I like Bob Steele.

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