May 24, 2008
“The latter days of the 19th century saw the West torn by turbulence and strife, invaded by desperadoes and bandits. Before this onslaught, Justice faltered and the Law stood helpless. Life was filled with terror and no man could trust another. Then, into the turmoil and havoc of lawlessness, a mysterious figure rose up and came to the people’s aid. They called him…The Durango Kid!”
I like this opening narration, recited with great gravity over images of gunfights and wagon attacks, a montage ending with the rousing image of The Kid atop his rearing white stallion.
Starrett plays Steve Langtry, a citified “dude” who says things like “unhand me” and “fight back? why, someone might get hurt or even killed!” We meet him traveling by wagon to Jackson City to open a store.
When the wagon is hijacked at Skeleton Pass, he is winged in the hand and passes out at the sight of his own blood. Smiley comes upon the bound victim and greets him with a familiar “Steve”, but Langtry doesn’t know him and calls him “stranger” repeatedly. (Pssst. Don’t worry, it’s just an act…)
It’s fun watching Charlie play a stuffed shirt coward. When he runs from a fight shouting “save me! save me!” in his deep baritone — it’s just beautiful. Not only does this evoke the Clark Kent/Superman dynamic, it’s just nice to see some distinction between Steve and Durango other than the color of their duds.
Juicy plot. Thematic narrative right out of “Morte D’ Arthur” or T.S. Elliot’s “The Wasteland.” Ya know, the whole ‘the king is sick, the land lies fallow’ stuff. Fred Sears as Doc Middleton takes the opening narration at its word, especially the ‘Justice falters and the Law stands helpless’ bit. He is doping Sheriff Coleman so he seems sick, allowing his Hood Gang to run amok on Skeleton Pass.
Doc Middleton gets the best line in the piece, “Go find me the Durango Kid. I never went to medical school, but I think I could do a little surgery on him.”
The whole wimpy Steve routine turns out to be an elaborate ruse. But why? And who is bank-rolling this pricey intervention? Smiley answers it all in the last scene with one line: “Steve is a Government Secret Agent. I knowed it all along!”
I’m certain you all recall American History 101 where we studied the Post-Confederate Government Agency that sent Secret Agents into the western states to clear up local problems. In case you were sick that day, here’s how it worked:
“Durango, get in here. I hope you brought your black mask, cuz we’ve got a hot one for you this time. We need you to clean up a mess outside of Jackson City. You’ve got to clear Skeleton Pass!”
“Right, Control. Here are my requirements. I’ll need two wagons stocked full of store supplies, $2000 in ransom money, another three wagons to arrive in 2 weeks. And, of course, complete immunity for any crime I may commit along the way.”
“One question. What’s my name this time?”
“Langtry. Steve Langtry.”
Smiley endeavors to make comic magic with an uncooperative water pump. Also a Gold-finding machine. In another time, he might have founded a religion. Here, he’s just dumb.
Music by Texas Jim Lewis and his Lone Star Cowboys. Texas Jim is about as big as my thumb.