May 3, 2008

“They aim to dynamite Milford’s horses at Blackwater Canyon!!!”

That’s the note on the rock that shatters the window. It is plucked from the jailhouse floor by Carson, aka Charles Starrett.

“Where’s Blackwater Canyon?”

The man behind bars, Milford himself, answers “Go straight down Main street. Keep bearing left and you can’t miss it.”

Despite this sort of dialogue, this 1936 film, Charley’s seventh as a cowboy, is pretty darn good. A year before, Charley was playing Proffessor Reginald Q. Jones in “Make A Million”, and here he is — Carson! Cowboy! Tough and fair! Avenger of his brother’s death!

It’s funny to see Charley in a real movie. I mean, this one has close-ups and interesting camera angles, inventive lighting (lots of shadows in interiors) and plot-twists that (mostly) work.

And a few original ideas. On top of the perverse notion of BLOWING UP a whole bunch of horses (can you really imagine that? do you want to?), there is a cool bit with a gal distracting the bad guys by earnestly explaining her plan to distract them.

The plot feels somewhat historically plausible. Like this story could actually have happened (except for the exploding horses. I mean, really!). It’s a gritty idea. A ruthless cattle baron needs a competitor’s land because his waterholes have all “gone akeline.” His men waylay and kill all buyers who come to the area. Sounds like something out of “Deadwood.”

Which makes the White Hat Hero character even more ridiculous. When Charley rides into this situation, in his spotless white hat and gloves, with a flowing scarf around his throat, it’s like: what planet did you come from? And how many showers and dry cleaners do they have there?

But, all in all, “Stampede” is a good show.

And Charley gets to act. Not well, mind you. But he gets to deliver a dramatic line directly into the camera in a tight close-up. The line: “My brother!” The question: “Who is that guy?” The situation: He’s just pulled back the tarp covering the corpse in the back of the buckboard.

Close-up: “My brother!”

— all images courtesy of Les Adams – Abilene, Texas