“Down Rio Grande Way”

August 25, 2008

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

This is a different sort of Starrett Western.

First off, the canvas is much bigger.  The 1942 film starts in Washington, DC.  Two politicians in top hats conspire to “stir up so much trouble, so much lawlessness…that no right-thinking congressman would dare” to vote Texas into the Union.

They have a man in mind to do the job, Vandal, the tax accessor in Bajou Texas.  He, and his secret partner, The Colonel, are taxing the ranchers to bankruptcy to force them to violence.

The stakes are mighty high for one of these little films: statehood for the Lone Star!

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Cut to Texas Rangers HDQ (the sign tells us it’s on the 3rd floor) where Steve Martin is bringing in an outlaw.  He’s hasn’t had any sleep in 72 hours and wants a few days off.  A regal man enters the room.  “Request refused, Ranger.” “President Houston!”  Sam Houston has plans for Steve, to go undercover as a land-buyer in Bajou, and stop the threat to Texas.

An historical figure calling Steve by name!

Steve arrives in Town and finds that his big problem is the hotheaded Lucky Haines (Russell Hayden in his 5th of 8 films with Charley) who is ready to go head to head with Vandal.  A congressional committee is coming to Bajou.  It’s up to Steve to make sure the town makes a good impression.

There’s an incredibly half-assed and half-hearted attempt at a love triangle between the two guys and the Colonel’s daughter.  It consists entirely of two scenes: 1) Steve smiles at her and 2) Lucky hears Steve has gone to visit the Colonel and his mother asks if he’s jealous.  He says “naw!”  Nobody’s heart was in this sub-plot.

Neat scene where Charley and Russell fight each other to a draw.  “Think we better go on?”  “We’re not getting anywhere.”  They are friends now.

Weird tough-guy line for Steve.  A bad guy is roughing up Lucky’s cousin and Steve responds to the shouts.  “What do you want?”  “My ears are sensitive to noise.”

Vandal (Norman Willis) has a great arch bad guy voice.  He also has one of the weirder lines.  “That’s like baiting a trap with a mouse to catch another piece of cheese! Ha ha ha!”  What?

In the end, Charley earns his top billing – he kills or captures everyone of import, while poor Hayden wings a henchman or two.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Great over-the-top final shot: an American flag being raised over a Texas courthouse while a saluting Sam Houston, flanked by Lucky and Steve, recites an abridged Declaration of Independence.