Great title. Great opening — a gravestone marker reads “Here lies the Durango Kid” and we pull back to find Smiley giving a tour of the grave. A stranger in the crowd asks how Durango was killed and Smiley says he tried to rob a bank. The stranger — Steve Waring.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

This promising opening quickly loses it’s punch. Turns out Smiley made up the whole thing to make a few bucks.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Steve starts a bar fight by insulting Smiley’s music. “You cowhands are easily satisfied if you call that good music.” Our old friend Robert J. Wilke shows what a fine actor he is by playing a character who would fight to defend the idiot’s singing.

Smiley is the deputy sheriff in town, but actually he’s a US Treasury Agent, just like Steve. He knows Steve and they work together. He doesn’t appear to know that Steve is the Durango Kid.

In a jail cell, Smiley asks what’s up. Steve sits down and begins to talk. He stops 15 minutes later after he’s told us the entire story of “Both Barrels Blazing.”

The bad guys are trying to keep Lucky Thorpe’s daughter from inheriting his ranch and finding his hidden money.

Steve finds her in a hotel room with Paul Campbell. He sits down and talks. It takes him 15 minutes to tell us the story of “Blazing the Western Trail.”

Aside: when I began this journey, I assumed that it was only late in the series before they began making these films made up almost entirely of footage from older films. But this is 1947; this is only the 26th film. Perhaps the producers had an equation, they figured they could get away with it every x number of films.

The new footage is mostly people sitting around listening to Steve, tossing in such sparkling lines as “so, did they get the mail contract?” and “what happened then, Steve?”

Smiley’s bit is that he has a flyswatter. Oh joy. You have not lived until you see what he can do with that flyswatter!

Cass County Boys provide the tunes.

And yes, that’s Western comic staple Syd Saylor doing a quick turn as Hank.

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“Laramie”

May 26, 2008

Courtesy of Les Adams

— image courtesy of Les Adams – Abilene, Texas

My daughter Briar has been watching these films with me. She is one month old today. In her life experience, Charles Starrett stars in 9 out of 10 movies. In fact, he’s the biggest movie star of all time.

We’ll have to see if this experience has lasting effects on her, perhaps a penchant for fellas named Steve…

“Laramie” (1949) is not to be confused with “Laramie Mountains” (1951). The film is set in or near Fort Sanders, in 1868. Steve Holden has been sent to the fort by Commissioner Briggs, “he’s head of the Government Peace Commission.” He (with Durango’s help) discovers that gunrunner are stirring up trouble between the soldiers and the local indians.

Fred Sears plays the Colonel, in a rare good-guy role. Bad-guy duties fall to Robert J. Wilke who played a lot of great villains over the years.

Sergeant Duff (another familiar face, George Lloyd) gives Smiley a run for his money as comic relief. He’s got an over-the-top Irish accent, a big ol’ temper, and he drops things a lot. Classic. You get these two together in a locked jail cell and watch out! Pure comic gold!

Joking (and hatred of Smiley) aside, the Smiley beats work well in this film, mainly because they are part of the plot. Smiley and Duff figure out the bad guy, and Smiley rides to Steve’s rescue.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Charley is good in this one. He does his own fighting and shooting in at least one well-choreographed fight scene. It’s interesting. Since seeing “Laramie Mountains” where Jock Mahoney plays a central role, I now know what Charley’s stuntman looks like. It’s really easy to spot when it’s Jock.

He’s also let off the hook on having to act like Smiley is funny. Must have been a good shoot for Charley.

In the final action sequence involving a stagecoach attacked by Indians, Charley is wearing a black shirt and white hat. For a moment, I thought it was some interesting synthesis of the Steve character and the Durango Kid character. Then I realized that it was so he would match the hero in the recycled footage they were using. It’s from the John Ford / John Wayne classic “Stagecoach.” (Great scene, BTW. I gotta see that film again, pronto!)

Funny bit: a new low in production value, a FLASH from the on-set photographer DURING a scene where Smiley is surrounded by Indians while making a smoke signal fire. I’d love to see that photo.  Update 7/11/08 — Here it is:

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Best line: Charley has been captured and Smiley is trying to get inside the office where they are holding him. A tough hombre says he ain’t inside and roughs Smiley up a bit. Smiley backs away saying, “I’m sure you’re right, Mister. I just remembered his name ain’t Steve anyhow!”

This is a Durango Kid film, Smiley. His name is always Steve!