The Hitching Post

February 17, 2011

Steve Harvey has a great piece on a “Westerns Only” movie theater on Hollywood Blvd in the 40’s.  It was just a short ride from Gower Gulch.

Meanwhile, “Outlaws of the Rockies” remains one of the weirder Starrett films, abetted by music and acting from balladeer/murderer Spade Cooley.

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I know that when people talk of these films (if they talk about these films), they use the word formula. I think equation is a better word.

A formula suggests a strict set of ingredients and a definite order in which they are presented. Thus, when people say “formula” they often mean “predictable.”

An equation suggests to me amounts. Like, there will be x amount of gunplay, x amount of riding, x amount of singing, etc. This is predictable in the sense that one can be sure that there will be a prescribed amount of these things.

Why I make this distinction is that I feel these Durango Kid films are marked by a remarkable lack of attention to a formula. There is an incredible indifference to the rules of the game as established in previous Durango films.

1945’s “Outlaws of the Rockies” is a great example. We’re five films into the series and the one rule I am certain of is this: Steve puts on the Durango Kid identity to hide his own.

Nope.

The Lanning gang robs a bank and Tex Harding is mistaken for one of the outlaws. Steve Williams, the new Sheriff, is accused of being in cahoots with the gang. Both men are out to prove their innocence.

Dressed as Durango, Steve is helping Tex. This leads to this great dialogue when Durango comes to warn Tex, his gal and a puncher.

Gal: “I don’t know who you are or why you’re masked, but I’d like to thank you.”

DK: “Some people know me as the Durango Kid.”

Other guy: (recognition): “The Pecos gun job!”

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

During a chase, Durango is knocked from his horse. Tex rides back to help him, and when Durango gets up, the mask is gone. “Steve?! Why didn’t you tell me you were the Durango Kid?!”

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Tex wastes no time telling everyone! He tells the gal, Cannonball, the band, “Meet the Durango Kid!” And Steve laughs!

Next, the bad guy figures it out. And he tells everyone. His gang, the authorities.

It’s half-way through the movie, folks!

And yet, Steve continues to dress as Durango. And everyone still calls him Durango. “What now, Durango?” asks Cannonball. “Give my regards to hell, Durango” says the bad guy. “That Durango Kid is dynamite!” says a henchman.

Put that in your formula and smoke it, pops!

The other thing of note in this film is the appearance of Spade Cooley, “the King of Western Swing.” His record-breaking 18 month engagement at Santa Monica’s Venice Pier Ballroom established Western Swing (a big band version of the Singing Cowboy)  in the early forties, and his “Hoffman’s Hay Ride” TV show ran until 1959.

Spade’s a weird looking guy, sort of like a shorter, weirder Warren Oates. He’s also a killer. He beat his wife, Ella Mae, to death and died giving a prison concert.

He’s got a couple of lines in this film, the most memorable of which is (re. Cannonball), “That biscuit burner is getting too big for his britches.”

Speaking of Dub Taylor, he does a great little dance in the jailhouse. It’s a reminder of why he is genuinely funny and Smiley is unbearable — Dub seems to be having a ball.

Joining Spade Cooley is a great singer, Carolina Cotton.