Last night, I was watching George Marshall’s Texas and it all felt eerily familiar and I couldn’t put my finger on why.  Then it hit me — it’s “South of the Chisholm Trail!”  The boxing match at the beginning, the big boss who has just brought the railroad to Abilene, our heroes robbing some stagecoach robbers so as to return the money and nearly getting lynched for their effort, trouble in Bearcat Kansas… it’s all the same!

Columbia had clearly recycled the plot of their 1941 William Holden/Glenn Ford A-picture in one of the nine Durango Kid films they churned out in 1947.

I wondered, had I discovered some unknown fact?  Some cherished bit of trivia from Durango lore?  Would I have bragging rights forever?

Naw!  Our old friend Les Adams had already figured it out years ago.  To quote his IMDB notes in their entirety:

“No studio reworked stock footage from their other western films more than Columbia Pictures, other than Warners/Vitaphone did when making a new Short out of footage from three other shorts, or a Short from a feature western. Vitaphone and the Warners’ shorts department sold exhibitors the same footage as many as five different times under a different title.

And Columbia re-used their plots over and over again as plots in all of their early series-westerns , starring Buck Jones or Tim McCoy, were made over again (and again) in the series starring Ken Maynard, Bob Allen, Charles Starrett, Bill Elliott and Russell Hayden. The only Columbia western series that didn’t rely on dusting off previously made films was the Ken Curtis-Hoosier Hotshots series.

But for this film, Columbia did a re-work of one of their A-westerns, 1941’s “Texas” that starred Claire Trevor, William Holden and Glenn Ford. They, of course, dumbed it down, simplified it and altered it to fit The Durango Kid character, but bottom line the primary plot was essentially all “Texas”, with similar characters and professions among the bad guys, and also inserted a few incidents and some of the dialogue from that film. And the climatic cattle-stampede through town from “Texas” was used in full.

Of course, subbing George Chesebro for the Edgar Buchanan and Frank Sully for the George Bancroft characters does tend to lose a lot in transition.”

I think Les has it all figured.  Except for one question:

Which one’s Smiley?

Compelling opening!

We’re in Abilene. There’s lots of people and a booming railroad business and Big Jim Grady runs it all.

Wrestling ring. Big crowd. Smiley is warming them up with a song and his pitch for a miracle tonic. He demonstrates by bending a horseshoe.

Big Jim shows up. His wrestler is hurt. They need someone to fight the BoneCrusher and soon or this crowd will turn violent. They recruit “strongman” Burnette as their fighter and things get real ugly, real fast.

A stranger arrives on the scene. He sees the ensuing carnage and volunteers to take Smiley’s place . Before you know it, he’s made quick work of this BoneCrusher.

His name? Steve. Steve Hayley.

His work done, Steve rides out of town.

Cut to: Many weeks later. Smiley and his boys are riding along when they
witness a stagecoach robbery. They jump the robbers and recover the loot. Bad news: the sheriff and posse jump Smiley, and he’s headed for a long fall and a short rope.

Just then, a masked man dressed all in black attacks the posse and makes off with the loot.

In town, they are getting ready for a hanging, when who should show up but Steve Hayley. He’s wrestled the money from the grasp of the masked man – the Durango Kid himself. Money returned, Smiley is cleared. Steve is the bad ass of the county: he beat BoneCrusher and the Durango Kid!

WOW! Questions, questions! How will all these pieces fit together? When will these two actually team up?

The bummer about these films is that there really is a formula. Actually, it’s more like an equation.

x amount of plot

x amount of action

x amount of singing

x amount of clowning

So when you get a bunch of plot and action right away, you know you’ll end up paying later with back-to-back Smiley scenes and a misplaced song right in the middle of the climax.

The 1946 film is set in Bearcat, Kansas, population 429. There is so much rustling in Bearcat that the cattlemen can’t get their herds to market in Abilene. They want to fight “fire with fire” and “hire gunslingers, killers, like Hawk Fisher, King Martin or even the Durango Kid!”

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

As for Steve, he does a lot of sitting and listening to speeches during the first half.

The whole thing leads to a big cattle drive to Abilene. Since the title has “Chisholm Trail” in it, we can surmise that they took this well-traveled route to Abilene. Since the title also includes the words “South of”, one might be tempted to conclude that Bearcat is somewhere down around Laredo or Corpus Cristi (see map below.)

However, since Bearcat is in Kansas, and the town sign testifies to it, along with some prominent dialogue, we must conclude that the cattle ranches in question are South of some portions of the Chisholm Trail, and North of other portions. Some might say, after studying the map above, that a more appropriate title for this film would be “North of the Majority of The Chisholm Trail”.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

The big finale is a shootout between Steve and Big Jim, right? No, it’s a bank robbery! I’m telling you, this one keeps you guessing.

Of note: there’s a great moment where Steve is in a gunfight in which he is seriously out-gunned. He takes refuge behind a bush. He looks down. There’s a black hat! He lifts the hat. There’s a black scarf! Cut to: Durango charging around a corner, guns blazing.

Really like this one. Up there with “Cowboy Star” and “Lawless Empire.”

Music by the improbably named Hank Newman and his Georgia Crackers.