“Lawless Plainsmen”

July 16, 2008

1942 film is the third pairing of Charles Starrett and Russell Hayden. Both names appear above the title, yet Charles is first and that’s not how the alphabet would have it.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

I wonder how Charley felt about this pairing. Here he was, 7 years and nearly 50 films into his cowboy career at Columbia. And the Powers That Be decided that he needed a partner! This kid Hayden who barely had 30 films under his belt!

I don’t know if it’s a sign of their feelings about one another, but they are hardly together in this film. I count like a dozen scenes at most.

This is a Wagon Train picture. The first 20 minutes of this film is a series of convoluted events to get the pair on that Train. Steve Rideen and Lucky Bannon (as we know Charley is always Steve and Russell is always Lucky) are completing a cattle drive from Texas. Steve is the Foreman; Lucky is the boss’ son.

In town, Steve ogles the ladies. “Still looking ’em over, eh Steve?” “Two lovely ladies in two blocks, that ought to be against the law!” You’re trying too hard, Charley. Meanhwhile, Lucky gets in bar fight, shoots a gun, is injured and spirited out of town on a wagon. Steve rides after him to bring him home, but when the leader of the train gets shot, he must lead the group to Arizona.

After this, it’s a high-paced greatest hits of Wagon Train flicks — they get attacked by Apaches, circle the wagons, search for water in the desert, get captured by Indians, escape, meet Kit Carson, defend a fort and get saved by the Cavalry.

I’m often puzzled by the insertion of the lame “mystery” element into many of these films. I don’t know enough about the B-Western genre to know if this is a staple. I mean, do Buck Jones, Bill Elliot, Tex Ritter, Autry, Roy…do these guys have to “solve a mystery” in their films? It’s always stupid and Steve always “has a pretty good idea who’s behind it, but I need proof.” He has a pretty good idea, and so do we, because we already know who’s behind it. Because the filmmakers showed us!

The “mystery” here is who shot the Bill Mason, the leader of the Wagon Train. It’s Seth McBride. He dresses all in black. For good measure, so do his henchmen.

Funny bit where Charley gets in fistfight and afterwards compliments his opponent, “you got a pretty good left” as he rubs the left side of his face. Unless the guy back-handed him when I wasn’t looking…

Harmony (Cliff Edwards) provides the comedy and tunes.

Kit Carson is played in a brief scene by veteran character actor Forrest Taylor.