Our esteemed colleagues over at The Old Corral, in their fine biography of Bill Cody, note that Cody never broke into the top 10 list of Western stars.  Maybe, in part, that’s why he only made forty seven films.  By comparison, Charles Starrett, who consistently placed in the top 10 of that list, made 167.  132 of those were Westerns.

Of course, by today’s standards, 47 films would be a hell of a career.

“Outlaws of the Range” was number 43 and it was also the 3rd of 4 films he would make with his son, Bill Cody Jr.  The elder Cody often worked with kids as side-kicks.  He joins the many actors who played Red Ryder as cowboys who shared the screen with young boys.

Does Bill Jr. play Bill Sr.’s son in these films?  Not in this one; he’s Jimmy, the kid brother of the love interest.

Steve Hopper (Cody Sr.) saves the rancher’s daughter from a runaway horse and gets a job on the ranch.  There’s trouble with rustlers.  The writers of “Outlaws of the Range” hold with the proud tradition of B-Western storylines and deliver another plot complication that doesn’t deepen the narrative, only annoys.  The rustlers aren’t stealing the horses to sell them, no, they let ‘em loose.  See, they’re doing their rustling to bankrupt the rancher and get the land rights.  Why?  Oil.  Who’s “the boss” behind this scheme? That’s question isn’t it.  It’s always the question.

The rancher gets dead and Steve is unfairly accused and must clear his name, which involves a lot of eavesdropping.

Like father like son.

At this point in Cody’s career (late), he’s less jovial than he once was.  He’s still eager and honest.  And he remains forever like-able.

Is there a special screen chemistry between real-life father and son?  Not that you’d notice.  It’s a pretty one-sided relationship.  It’s all about Jimmy saying how much he likes/respects/trusts Steve.  When there is trouble, he laments “I wish Steve were here.”

How’s “Outlaws of the Range”?  There’s a pretty cool jail-break scene and the pacing is decent.

Pick a Durango Kid film.  Any Durango Kid film.  It’s almost certainly going to begin with some variation on the following legend, either appearing on a title card or read aloud:

“During the gold rush of 1871, most prospectors dug in the ground for the precious metal, some sought it over gaming tables, others chose to get theirs by outlawry.  But, when the focus of violence became a flaming menace of the law — there appeared a mysterious masked rider known as THE DURANGO KID!”

Here is the opening of 1934’s “Border Menace” starring Bill Cody.

Under this final image Bill pats his horse. “Hey Buddy, it’s great to be back on the old home range again.”

Unlike the Durango Kid who clocked in 48 appearances between 1940 and 1952, the “Shadow” didn’t take off.  Bill Cody would play many “Bills” over the years, but never again would he play Bill the “Shadow” Williams.  It’s not clear if he even played the “Shadow” here.  Cody is never referred to as the “Shadow” in the film.  No one mentions the “Shadow.” The general idea of shadows doesn’t even come up.

This is a remarkably bad film.  It’s pure Poverty Row.  It sinks below the generally poor quality of those films.  More on that later.

We meet “Shadow” on the run from a posse of lawmen.  It’s a ruse to allow him to get in with a gang of outlaws.  He’s a Texas Ranger, see.  There’s a ticking clock of a former confederate on his tail.  It all ends with a damsel in distress and an explosion.

Bill Cody is Mr. Sunshine, once again making with the smiling and the chuckling, even when he’s trying to impress the bad guys that he’s a bad ass desperado who is out for bloody revenge.  Cody was a minor silent cowboy star and he brings a jaunty Douglas Fairbanks style of mirthful bravado to his later films.  At this point in his career, he split his time between stints in Hollywood and performances with traveling Wild West shows.  “Border Menace” marks his return to the screen after a three year absence.  He was 43.

This Aywon Films production is my number one contender for the “Plan Nine From Outer Space” of B-Westerns.  Clumsy tracking shots and jarring cuts are the tools of this genre’s trade, but “Border Menace” finds new ways to confound and confuse.  The plotting is bizarre, featuring an oddly-placed series of flashbacks told from a jail cell by a mumbly-mouthed narrator.  Stock footage repeats again and again while never quite fitting the action of the film.  The damsel in distress struggles to make her poorly tied shackles seem believable.

This picture is just weird.

Despite this, the director Jack Nelson, (who helmed one of the worst-ever horror western hybrids, “The Rawhide Terror“), seems pretty proud of his work on “Border Menace.”  Check out how he signs his name.

I had just finished William Wyler’s epic “The Big Country” when I slid “The Montana Kid” into the DVD player.  Needless to say, it’s a much smaller film.

Some drunk’s kid is coming home by the stagecoach.  Drunkie gets swindled out of the deed to his land and ends up dead.  Bill (played by Bill Cody) sorta adopts the kid and they become a (surrogate) father/son bank robbery team.  In the end, they get the land back.

Here’s his disguise.  Look like anyone you know?

Bill Cody smiles in the face of most tragedies.  He laughs a lot.  Even when he’s being tough, he often pauses to break the tension with a laugh and smile.  He sure busts himself up!

Like most cowboy stars, Bill Cody mainly plays characters with his real-life first name.  This film gave me a new thought about what we like to call around here “The Mystery Of Steve.”  Namely, why is it that Charles Starrett is almost always named “Steve” in his films?  Different last name, but nearly always the same first: Steve.

My new theory is that Charles was trying to follow the tradition of cowboy stars going by the same name in every picture.  However, he (or his handlers) didn’t think that “Charles” was tough enough? rough enough? heroic enough?  Ergo, they went with “Steve” and stuck with it.  This theory, of course, doesn’t explain the occasional “Jeff” or “Kip.”

Bill Cody worked with kids a lot.  Here his freckle-faced co-star is Andy Shuford, who retired from the screen two years later at the age of fifteen.  Cody would make four films with his own son, Bill Cody Jr.