“Desert Horseman”

July 7, 2008

If you were riding along on the trail, and you saw a runaway buckboard, would your first instinct be to draw your gun? Well, that’s Steve Godfrey‘s thinking, but then this is a man who thinks dressing up intermittently in black will help you deal with your problems.

Smiley recognizes Steve right away, “Steve Godfrey, why just like old times.” Steve snarls, “You’re mistaken, mister.”

Later, when they are alone. “Just what’s the idea of not recognizing an old friend?” They’ve known each other from the Cavalry, where Smiley was Steve’s orderly.

There’s another wanted poster with Steve’s picture on it, just like in many of these films before. Only this time, it’s for real. Captain Steve Godfrey is wanted for desertion, he’s out to clear his name for a payroll robbery that happened on his watch. That’s not quite noble enough for him, so he’s actually doing it to clear his former Sergeant, Tom Jarvis, the man who was killed on the buckboard.

Steve wants to explain to Tom’s niece, but he’s afraid she won’t believe him. But “there’s someone she might listen to.” Smiley nods, “Durango?” They both smile.

To Restate: Steve and Smiley know each other from the Cavalry. Smiley knows that Steve is Durango. Therefore, Steve must then have pulled his little Durango number while he was serving. (That seems like quite a trick to me, hiding the black outfit and white horse and all that.)

And yet, 20 minutes later, when Smiley meets Durango during a shoot-out, he’s afraid and stammers and calls him “Mr. Durango.”

Look, I know that I harp on these inconsistencies, but come on. This level of inattention to the basic elements of storytelling (who is who, and who knows what) not only between films, but within a film itself, is just puzzling. How much less could the writers, producers, directors and cast care about these films?

People often point to Ed Wood as one of the worst filmmakers of all time. The production value in the Durango films is better (despite some laughable lighting in this one where a match illuminates an entire room, and a moment where the villain looks directly into camera.) But sometimes I’m sure that Ed cared a lot more.

The title in this actually applies, even if it’s a little lacking in poetry. There is a mysterious horseman riding around the desert shooting at people.

There’s also a fake Durango.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Of note: the driver of the buckboard up top, and of a stagecoach during the big chase finale, is the legendary stuntman/actor Bud Osborne. This guy performed in traveling Wild West shows in his youth, and became famous for his tricks with a stagecoach. He carried this skill over to Hollywood. Here’s a neat tribute page.

Another bit player in this had a long career in B-Westerns. He played the duplicitous ranch hand Eddie, and his name is Riley Hill. And here’s a nice tribute page for him as well, from our friends over at indispensable The Old Corral.