“Rio Grande”

June 20, 2008

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Before Charley settled into his “Steve” roles, the studios tried a number of other names on him in the 30’s. Jud, Tom, Bill, Larry..and here in 1938: Cliff Houston.

This has the least manly opening of any western I have ever seen. The Sons of the Pioneers are singing as they hang laundry. The mail carrier comes and they excitedly crowd around. Charley comes bursting out of the house and rushes into medium close-up: “Anything for me?!”

It gets worse. He runs up and jumps up and down, eager as a school girl. “Here’s a letter for ya, Cliff.” “Give it me! C’mon!” “Must be a girl.” “Naw, this isn’t a girl’s handwriting!” Cliff rips it open. “It’s from my old friend Bart Andrews.”

C’mon. This is not the rough tough stuff we’re all looking for here.

Turns out Bart is writing for Cliff’s help. “Must be a lot of smoke in the air for Bart Andrews to need help.”

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Plot: Dick Curtis kills Bart for his ranch. But Cliff and Bart’s sister decide to try and make a big cattle run and save the ranch. Cliff sends for the Sons of the Pioneers down in Texas (“my boys”) and they show up riding along, singing a song, with bassist carrying a full bass in one hand and reins in the other. I’d think that would get real old, real fast.

A bunch of firsts in this one: 1) Charley sports a Roger Moore haircut. 2) Charley gets injured – falls from his horse, foot caught in stirrup, and dragged at a full gallop. 3) Charely is in a relationship – yep, after the first reel, he and Bart’s sister are arm-in-arm and cuddling throughout the picture.

Bob Nolan (of the Sons of the Pioneers) has a large role. He goes undercover in Dick Curtis’ gang and pretends to hate Charley. He’s a good looking, fit, young guy, maybe just a little too short to play a cowboy hero.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Dick Curtis is great, as usual. What a great villain. He’s especially creepy when he’s pretending to be a good citizen.