“Western Caravans”

June 30, 2008

Courtesy of Les Adams

Jim Carson is the Sheriff of Powder River. He’s caught between a fresh wave of homesteaders and the ranchers who want to keep them out.

“Western Caravans” has an obvious pro-immigration message. Jim cries out to the xenophobic cattlemen, “Can’t you see, there’s room enough for everybody?!” I don’t know enough about US domestic policy in 1939 or attitudes about immigration at the time to know if this film was expounding a popular sentiment or not. I imagine that we as a nation were casting a nervous eye at the developments in Europe, though.

Of course, rustlers (with mean Dick Curtis in the lead – so mean in this one that he shoots a 12 year old kid in the back) are behind all the unrest — they want to start a war to cover up their rustling.

Film is very short on action. In fact, the whole conflict comes to an end around 30 minutes in — both sides shake hands, the Sons of the Pioneers feel like singing, Charley shouts “well, sing then!” and everyone dances in the street. Fade out.

It’s also short on Charley. He’s absent from the action for nearly 10 minutes as the film reinvents some tension and plot. Even then, he’s mostly the long-suffering type, on the side of good and knows it and won’t lower himself to his enemies’ level. (He does have two great brawls with Dick Curtis.)

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

The real hero of this film is Iris Meredith. She stands up to her father, to the angry cattlemen, to everybody. She puts herself in harms way consistently through the film.

I’m glad to see her get a chance to shine in a stronger role. She has credited roles in 45 films, nearly half of which are Starrett vehicles. As the pretty heroine, she fills the part quite well, but she’s got something more to her and I’m glad she got a chance to exercise that in this film. Hopefully, we’ll see more of this strong side of her as we continue to watch these films.

Here’s a webpage dedicated to Iris.

“Western Caravans” ends with a big shoot-out, like 40 guys shooting at each other across a western town street. Then the action moves to the rocks outside of town, and more shooting. After the intimacy of the action in the Durango films, I enjoyed a bigger spectacle.