Upbeat Cynicism

what do you mean i lost my mind?

Sagebrush Trail, 1933

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PosterSagebrush Trail is something like a good movie, and damned interesting to watch. It isn’t actually good, but it knows what a good movie is, and makes more efforts in that direction than a modern cheapie.

It’s a Lone Star picture, which was a Poverty Row studio that made westerns and released them through Monogram Pictures. ((See also this IMDb bio of producer Trem Carr, which gives further information on Monogram.)) And it stars John Wayne, six years before his star-making turn in John Ford’s Stagecoach. It also features Yakima Canutt, the man responsible for Stagecoach‘s legendary stunts, and who gets a few neat stunts into this picture as well. (As an actor, here at least, he is distinctly forgettable.)

John Wayne plays John Brant, a man convicted of murder on purely circumstantial evidence. We meet him already on the run, as a train is being inspected by a sheriff looking for him. Brant makes a run for it, there’s a horse chase, ending with the sheriff thinking Brant is dead and leaving, and another man offering him work in “the gang”. The other man, “Jones”, calls Brant by the name of Smith, and Brant goes with it. They go to the gang’s hideout, and I kept looking for Ro-Man, because the hideout is the Bronson Caves.

The gang keeps trying to pull jobs, and Brant/Smith keeps secretly thwarting them. He learns that the guy who brought him, Jones, is really the only man who can clear his name. He further learns that Jones has no idea that Brant was convicted of the crime, as he’s been on the run even longer. Brant doesn’t enlighten him, but does go out of his way to protect and defend him.

Anyway, things come to a head, Jones unknowingly sends his best friend into a trap (because he learns that Brant is the one messing up the gang’s plans), the girl fills Jones in on his error, and there’s horse-ridin’ and a big old shoot out at the cave-hideout. And things, of course, work out to happily ever after for the young Duke and the girl.

The whole thing takes fifty-four minutes or a bit less. The mechanics of the story all work together, however squeaky the gears might be. The performances are mostly what you would expect from a Poverty Row picture shot in probably two weeks or so. The whole thing doesn’t quite work, but not for lack of story construction or effort from the cast. It would play a lot more smoothly in a slightly longer running time, so that the characters could have been fleshed out a bit more and the story could have flowed a bit more naturally.

But I was entertained. There was no point at which I didn’t enjoy myself.

Oh, and there was something in this movie that I never thought I’d see. John Wayne on screen with not one topless woman, but two!

You might have to look at the screen captures full-size, but check out the art on the walls. This was made in 1933, so the Hays Production Code was technically in existence, it wasn’t being actively enforced yet. But even after it was, it seems that Poverty Row pictures got passed without much review, as we shall see tomorrow.

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Written by [IMH]

25 June 2008 at 3:48 pm

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