April 19, 2008
I once asked my friend Todd to turn on his gay-dar and give me a report on Charles Starrett. He said the findings were inconclusive.
More thoughts on Charley’s sexuality in later entries, but let me just say this: the guy can convincingly, and consistently, play a man with a double life.
Intentional or not, “Blazing Across The Pecos” contains one of the gayest scenes in cowboy movie history. It even rivals the scene in “Red River” (also 1948 ) where Montgomery Clift and John Ireland compare gun sizes.
Charley meets the handsome newspaper editor Jim Traynor (Paul Campbell) in a bar. At one point, Charley very deliberately puts his hand on the table, “So you’re on Ace Brockway’s payroll?” Traynor very deliberately puts his hand next to Charley’s, “just because I take his money, doesn’t mean I always do what he says” and rubs his hand against Charley’s. Then the bad guy arrives and pulls a gun on Charley. He tells Traynor to take off Charley’s belt. Cut to Smiley shoving a gun inside a chicken. Then the bad guy tells Charley to feed him. Charley gets the drop on him and says “Now, you feed me.”
It’s not the pieces. It’s how the pieces add up.
My guess: the filmmakers were having a little fun. As the old saying goes, when the cats away, the mice will play. The studio clearly wasn’t paying much attention to these films, as long as they got done on time, and on budget. The big-wigs most likely never watched one; let’s remember that it was left to the secretary pool to name the things.
A little fun on the set, a poke in the eye to the uncaring studio, a veiled gag that maybe some of the adults in the crowd would get. And if anyone in the cast, or on the crew, was gay — all power to them, I says.
Anyway, this is Charley’s fifth of eight films in 1948. Plot-wise, the bad guy is giving rifles to the Indians in exchange for attacking his competitor’s trading posts.
A voice-over tells us that the Durango Kid has been on their trail for three months. This announcement and some other clues in the film seem to imply that the Durango Kid is an independent sleuth wandering the West seeking out bad guys. I’m still not sure who he’s supposed to be. And I’m not sure if there was ever much of a consensus among the many writers of the different films.
He’s named Steve Blake in this one. And he doesn’t know Smiley when the picture starts. Smiley is a cook/Marshall.
Some fun bits:
Durango Kid is friends with Indians. He sends a smoke signal and the Chief says, “Durango!” They sit cross-legged and Charley says, “Durango friend to Bear Claw.” Chief says “Durango friend to all Indians.” I didn’t know that.
The Villian loves to laugh. He’s always paying his sidekick to do stuff like get drunk and go shoot up a saloon, shoot a milk jug off of Smiley’s head, rough up Charley and “make it real funny.” It even seems like his strange sense of humor is driving the plot — he might be tormenting his competitor just because it makes him laugh.
Charley gets in on the sadistic humor, tossing a handful of dirt on a window Smiley is cleaning, then sticking a broomstick in his back.
Then he makes him jump into a bucket. “Why Smiley, this is no time to take a bath.” Ha ha ha!
Some good stunts and stunt-riding.
Henchmen all have great names: Buckshot, Gunsmoke and Sleepy.
I enjoyed this one, despite the obvious budget restrictions. Re-purposed footage, sparsely populated town scenes and that sort of thing.
Singers are Red Arnall and The Western Aces.
In all, Paul Campbell did 10 pictures with Charley. That’s a lot of cold Canadian nights….