September 30, 2008
Sabotage on the railways! Chickens trashed! Produce set on fire!
Charles gets a telegram: “STEVE TRAVIS, PRAIRIE JUNCTION. ACCEPTANCE OF APPOINTEMENT RECEIVED. CASE FILE AND DATA IN MAIL NOW. GOOD LUCK. UNITED DEFENSE INDUSTRIES”
But first, a song by Jimmy Wakely and His Saddle Pals.
The sheriff says “…you’d think it was back in days of Jesse James, instead of 1943.” And you sure would. The film is shot on the same sets that were supposed to be 1870 in the last picture. Everyone wears the same outfits they would in a film set in the wild West just after the Civil War, not during World War Two. They all ride horses everywhere and carry six-shooters in their gun belts. And, of course, it’s the same cast of stock characters.
This leads to jarring moments where you’ve just about forgotten that this is modern day, and then someone carries something from the saloon to a car, or the deputies huddle in the sherriff’s office and compare fingerprints with those sent by the FBI, or Steve is late for a town meeting because he’s making a long distance phone call.
Of course, as my friend Rodney pointed out to me the other day over sandwiches in the Warner Brothers cafeteria (not far from the old site of the Columbia Ranch where they probably shot this thing), in 1943 the year 1870 was about as close in time as 1943 is to us today.
Charles plays Steve Travis, the famous rodeo performer who is “doing such a swell job selling War Bonds.” Apparantly, he’s also some sort of secret agent for the Military Industrial Complex.
The stakes: “Well boys, this valley supplies our Southern coastal cities with most of their beef, grain and dairy products. If these ranches were wrecked, it’d throw a monkey wrench into our cities’ defense industries because workers must have food. We’re going to need our graineries and packing houses crammed to the rafters to feed our people.”
“Steve, you make it sound goddarn serious.”
“It is serious, Davis. Food is an essential weapon.”
It’s not a very sexy premise, but it works.
Better villains than in “Sundown Valley” at least. In that film, the bad guys were merely opportunists who were hoping to make a buck off the work effort. I kept hoping they’d end up being Nazi spies. No luck.
But here, in “Cyclone Praire Rangers”, I get my wish. Sort of. The bad guys are local folks who are working for a foreigner whose country of origin is unnamed but who talks about the “inferior race” and pronounces his “W”s like “V”s.
There’s more actual mystery, riding and fighting than in “Sundown Valley” and less rah-rah speechifying.
Though the film does end with Charles hawking War Bonds to a crowd and speaking more or less directly into the camera.