July 30, 2013
YEARS have passed since a lost Charles Starrett film has surfaced on DVD. For we, the few & the proud Charles Starrett fans, this is akin to the discovery of the original, uncut “Metropolis” in Argentina or the recent un-earthing of Buster Keaton’s film “The Blacksmith” with an entire reel of alternate scenes.
It is with honor and humility that I present a “new” Durango Kid film.
“The Hawk of Wild River” is one of the six Durango Kid films made in 1952, the final year of the series. Charles Starrett is only months away from hanging up his black garb and white hat forever.
Fittingly, Clayton Moore is a co-star. The Kid passes the black scarf to the Ranger who makes of it a mask!
Like many of the films from the last years of Durango, this one borrows heavily from the footage from another film. I don’t know which film it is, but I’m guessing it’s not a Durango Kid film — I’ve seen all four of the films in which Clayton Moore appears and this isn’t one of them. (For those who wish to search — Moore’s character is an outlaw who uses a bow and arrow as an assignation weapon.)
Charles plays Steve, of course, and this time he’s Steve Martin.
A new twist on the always confusing relationship between Steve and Smiley; this time around, Smiley knows Steve, but Steve pretends not to know Smiley. Like this.
Smiley: “Hi Steve!”
Steve: “I’m afraid you’ve got me mixed up with someone else, stranger.”
Why Steve denies his “ever lovin’ buddy” is never clear. It does create an existential crisis for Smiley. “If that ain’t Steve Martin, then I ain’t Smiley Burnette. And if I ain’t Smiley Burnette, who am I? I might be someone I don’t even know, not even like maybe.”
Ergo, he could be me!
Confusion abounds in this film. We learn that Jock (here “Jack) Mahoney is driven to track down the Hawk because he killed his father, the Sheriff. However, Jock’s father was alive in the previous scene and no significant time has passed.
With Charles heading towards retirement, his stunt-double and frequent co-star Mahoney gets a fair amount of screen time, but not as much as some of the other final Durangos. In “Kid From Broken Gun” (also 1952), Charles disappears for a good 30 minutes of the 54 minute running time. Here, he is involved in almost all the action.
There’s a nice bit where Durango sticks some bullets in a fire to confuse an ambush party, then ambushes them himself. Good, inventive bit — often missing from these latter films.
Another good one, Durango tells Jack to lock up “that stranger that blew into town.”
Jack: “Steve Martin?”
Durango/Steve: “That’s right.”
This is the only time I can remember that Durango uses his alter ego as a pawn in his game, or, maybe better put, the Durango/Steve entity manipulates one of its components by proxy. (As steady readers of this site well know, we have discussed this schism before, often and at length. Things get a little heady over here at “Charles Starrett – a Fan’s Journey.” Boy O Boy!)
In this sequence, Steve poses as a swaggering outlaw which allows Starrett to use his gangster voice, which is a mash-up of Edward Robinson and Bogart.
Most of Smiley’s “comedy” in this film involves him doing insulting impressions of Mexicans and Native Americans. Oh, and also being tricked into unnecessary and painful dental surgery. Which I would, personally, rather endure than one more minute of his insipid clowning.
At the 32 minute mark of this version of “Hawk of Wild River,” stuff changes. And it’s not just the poor quality of the print going even further south.
The final reel is in Portugese! So my review will be a little spotty from here in. *
I gotta say, it’s a HOOT to hear my familiar friend Charles Starrett speaking like a rough and tumble bandito. The guy they have dubbing him has a much deeper voice and really spits out his words. The end effect is that Charles comes off a whole lot tougher than I’ve ever seen him.
And it’s almost embarrassing how easy it is to follow the film despite the language problem. Being jailed was a ruse for Steve to befriend the Hawk, escape and infiltrate his gang.
What is surprising is that Starrett does a lot of his own stunt work in this film. At this stage in his career, and at 48 years old with advancing diabetes, Starrett was relying on Jock to do most of his fighting. The films from the last two or three years of the Durango series find most of the action landing on the shoulders of the Kid, who, behind his black mask, could safely be Jock. But Steve fights a long bruising fight sequence which is clearly Starrett every punch of the way.
Not that you could tell from this picture…
So, they overhear the gang planning something, Smiley rides to town to warn Jock, and Steve slips into his Durango get-up. The Kid kills The Hawk and Jock rounds up the rest.
It was fun to see mi amigo Charles Starrett in one of his last films, still holding his own against an up-and-comer like Clayton Moore, the next great masked man of the West.
*Complete disclosure: the company which sold me this DVD was very upfront about the quality and audio challenges of this film. I appreciate the honesty and also the chance to see this lost film, even in this less than pristine form.
UPDATE: My friend Harry sent me a better copy of this all the way from Down Under. It’s cool to see the rest of the film in English and I thank him! Thanks, buddy.