October 9, 2008
This is not to be mistaken for “Two-Fisted Stranger.” There’s a difference. In this one, he’s the Sheriff!
It seems to me that by 1937, when this film was made, many Western filmmakers had painted themselves into a corner. After creating ever bigger stunts and even crazier horse tricks, with their stars aging quickly and poorly, these filmmakers tried to reinvigorate the genre by desperately adding science fiction elements like rayguns and X-94 and underground civilizations and rocket-powered gliders.
As Charles climbed into the saddle, his films offered, instead, S.O.S. Same Old Shit. Adequate riding, adequate fistfights, some okay gunplay and familiar plots. The result was a more satisfying experience than watching old cowhands struggling to make some crazed hybrid genre work. Charles was just the man for the task — and his films generally deliver on their modest intentions.
This isn’t one of those. This one stinks. At least, the first half does.
Dick Houston (Charley) is Sheriff of Remuda Gap, where the townspeople are ready to string a guy up at the drop of a hat. I guess it takes two fists to be Sheriff in this town.
The gal (Barbara Weeks) has a father who doesn’t approve of her suitor, Bob. When the father ends up dead, Bob is accused of the murder.
It’s interesting that this early in his cowboy career, only a few years after being typecast as a “hunk”, that Charles is playing the tough older brother type, and allowing Bruce Lane as Bob to play all the love scenes. This was a pattern that would repeat more and more frequently, with Tex Harding, Paul Campbell and many others through the remainder of Charles’ career.
The worst of these films are the ones which end with a trial. This one moves the trial up to the first reel. It’s not very interesting. And it’s long — running nearly 15 minutes (that’s a quarter of the running time of the entire film.)
Maybe it’s because he’s named “Dick”, but, as a Sheriff, Charles is a real wuss. He loses a prisoner, the mob takes his gun, the mayor takes his badge, and he spends a lot of his time pleading with people to do the right thing.
But the film starts over after Dick loses his badge, with Dick and Bob going undercover in Buckhorn to find the real murderer. Charles is born again, and born again hard.
Soon he’s spouting lines like these:
Barkeep: “Slagg runs the whole county. When he says jump, people ’round here jump.”
Charley: “I’m afraid I’m not too handy with jumpin’.”
Laughing Bill Slagg is a great villain. He’s so crazy that he scares everyone. He even unnerves unflappable Charley. Enough so that he leaves.
“I’m going, Slag, but I’ll be back. And when I do come back, I’ll be walking down the center of the street with my trigger finger itchin’. If you come out in the open, come out shooting!”
He doesn’t quite fulfill that promise. He rides back into town, and he shoots Slagg in the cover of the bar.
With a six-shooter. Not a raygun.