This 3M movie surrounds the one of the traditional conflicts from the world of the silver screen range (and the real range, as well) --- the confrontation between sheep herders and cattle ranchers. Did you ever wonder why these two factions never saw eye to eye unless it was over the barrel of a Winchester? Any information I possess as a western historian could certainly use the assistance of some of you more knowledgeable range riders. But I believe the source of the conflict was the manner in which grazing sheep would actually extract the entire plant from the soil. (For a view from the sheep herder perspective, see the Errol Flynn movie MONTANA). As a consequence with no ground cover, the range would be subject to erosion and eventually become a wasteland useless for any purpose. One can understand the cattlemen's concern for the condition of open ranges when sheep were grazing in the area. Our heroes are soon to be involved in a potential range war situation as they battle to save Stony's ranch from the clutches of arch villain Harry Woods.
RANGE DEFENDERS was filmed in the beautiful Kern River valley of southern California with some parts shot on Republic's familiar western set in North Hollywood.
Along that lovely rushing river we learn that Tucson has a reputation as a fast draw and that Stony has an impetuous, younger brother. The river side confrontation resulted from a middle of the street bumping incident between Tucson and Lullaby with a young stranger who wanted it settled with a gun fight. Just as Tucson skillfully shoots the pistol from the hand of the young stranger, up rides Stony. He identifies the stranger as his younger brother George and informs George of how lucky he was that Tucson merely shot the weapon from his hand. The youngster is in awe --- that he faced the famous fast draw Tucson Smith in a dual and lived to tell about it! Stony also learns that his younger brother has been falsely accused of murder and the Lazy K, a ranch which he co-owns with his younger brother, is about to be seized by the Woods criminal empire. As true friends, Lullaby and Tucson accompany Stony and his brother as they head north to the town of Green Valley to sort things out.
George has been falsely accused of killing Mr. Ashton, a local sheep herder whose daughter Sylvia, as you would expect, becomes Stony's love interest. Operating behind the scene is John Harvey (Harry Woods), nominally the administrator of the Ashton estate but in reality Ashton's murderer. He covets all the land in Silver County and Sylvia as well.
By the way, Bobby Copeland recently reported that Eleanor Stewart, the actress portraying Sylvia, is the only cast member from this movie still alive. Harvey's criminal empire includes the dishonest sheriff 'Honest' Dan Gray played by Earle Hodgins. Earle was another 3M/ Hoppy regular cast, here in a comical role and not his normal characterization as a snake oil salesman. Other easily recognizable cast members are Jack Rockwell as an unsuccessful bidder on the Lazy K and John Merton as a middle management bad guy over a gang of nameless but familiar Republic players, including Yak Canutt, demoted to common gang member status.
Interestingly Harvey's hoodlums seem to be wearing the same distinctive uniforms that the cattle police wore in ROARIN' LEAD even to the black hat (bearing an idiosyncratic emblem on left side) that Yak wears in this and other 3M Movies. Did Republic have problems with costume availability or was it just saving money by recycling previously used clothing? Probably the later. A closer examination of the plaid pattern shirt worn by George Brooke reveals a similarity to the one worn by Stony in RIDERS OF THE WHISTLING SKULL. Is it the same shirt? Was this another example of Republic's parsimonious wardrobe policy? You bet.
Employing the routine tactic of so many trio western heroes when about to enter a strange town for the first time, the 3M decide to drift into Green Valley individually so to avoid attention. But how can these three stalwarts remain anonymous for long?
Lullaby is the first to arrive at the Bonanza Cafe where Stony's ranch is on the auction block. Through some comedy and ventriloquism, he succeeds in stalling the proceedings until the arrival of Stony and Tucson. With his habitual gracefulness, Stony manages to collide with Sylvia and her trunk spilling its contents, including her intimate apparel, all over the street. He only realizes as he enters the cafe that her night gown is caught on his six gun.
Inside the cafe as the auction reaches a conclusion, Lullaby empties his pockets under the scowling eyes of Harry Woods since he must now ante up for his winning bid on the Lazy K. His only items of value are a harmonica and $3. Luckily his two partners appear. Who is surprised when a brawl ensues? The outcome is never in doubt as the 3M pummel at least 9 members of the opposition force. Adding to the fast paced action are strains from the tune of 'She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain'. When the dust settles, Woods and 'Honest' Dan Gray may not know it yet but their days are numbered. Exiting the Bonanza, ferret faced Ernie Adams, another 3M/Hoppy regular, identifies our heroes as the Three Mesquiteers to the astonishment of other onlookers.
A short ride out of town brings the 3M to the Lazy K. After a brief scuffle, the boys evict some Ashton wranglers who, along with some sheep, had prematurely occupied the premises. In a strategy session they decide to have Tucson challenge 'Honest' Dan Gray in the upcoming sheriff's election. They realize that George can only prove his innocence in a fair trial under an impartial jury and sheriff. In support of their cause, they organize the local cattle ranchers into a 'Tucson voting (and fighting) block'.
As Stony casually rides over the Lazy K, he happens upon a distressed Sylvia whose life is threatened by a pursuing massive bull. In true cavalier fashion, he (or is it Yak?) rides to her rescue by bulldogging the huge critter. After that encounter, the bull seeks greener pastures elsewhere. I guess he did not care for tangling with Stony (or the stunt man). Now its time for Stony to throw some more bull as he moves in on Sylvia. As of yet she is unaware that he is the brother of the man accused of killing her dad. He graciously offers her a ride back to town by doubling up on his horse. Stony could do some comedy when the script demanded. And here he did. As they slowly ride along, Stony is in the rear holding both the reins and Sylvia who is seated in the saddle. Shortly after they begin, Sylvia's horse starts to follow whining loudly as if to call her attention to his presence. To shroud the noise, Stony fakes a cough or two and frantically waves the horse off. As if he could fool Sylvia whose facial expression belies her knowledge of exactly what is going on.
Back in Green Valley, Tucson's campaign, managed by Lullaby 'Dick Morris' Joslin, is in full swing with an election headquarters and posters all over town. Most elections, whether on the screen or in real life usually include some comedy and occasionally some fisticuffs. The comedy is provided by Elmer and Lullaby interacting with Earle Hodgins. Tucson demonstrates that he is physically qualified to do the job when he makes short work of some harassing Ashton sheep herders.
After Sylvia and Stony arrive in town, the jealous Woods informs her that she has been riding with Stony Brooke, George's brother. With this news, she rebuffs Stony a few moments later when he offers to accompany her on the ride back to her ranch.
Woods is now beginning to realize the genuine threat posed by the 3M in the upcoming election. He orders his gang to ambush the 3M when they return to the Lazy K after a hard day on the election circuit. As the 3M ride unhurriedly along, they are set upon by Merton and the rest of Harvey's thugs. They demand that Tucson sign a document withdrawing himself from the sheriff's election. Luckily Tucson seems to have a problem with getting his fountain pen to write. As he shakes the pen so that the ink will run to the nib, it winds up in Merton's face. Other than for those expensive Mt Blanc pens, who still uses a fountain pen? As a student, I always remember them leaking in my pocket. There is nothing like a ball point pen!
After a brief scuffle, the boys run off toward a cliff overlooking the Kern River and there they take a dive into the refreshingly cool water. From the cliff, Merton and company rain down a hail of lead on the swimming 3M. While most thugs would have given up and returned to the saloon for a cool one or two, the determined Harvey gang goes to the river's edge to finish their job. But the scales have now tilted toward our heroes. Using a ruse with Lullaby emerging from the river 'begging for mercy', Stony and Tucson, swinging Fred Flintstone styled clubs, subdue the entire gang which had conveniently come to the riverbank in ones and twos. Like certain of today's politicians, the boys don't miss a golden opportunity to show that the opposition has been 'converted' to their platform. As the 3M return to town with the thugs bound hand and foot, Merton and company are adorned with 'Vote for Tucson' signs infuriating Harvey to no end.
By trickery using some of his men dressed like Stony and riding white horses, Harvey has managed to lure George from his mountain hiding place with 'Honest' Dan Gray taking him into custody. Sylvia happens to be in the sheriff's office when George is brought in for booking. Like a true heroine, her sense of justice and fair play will eventually get her into trouble and bring her to realize the fact that Harvey is evil to the core. She strenuously objects to Harvey's desire to try George directly on the spot with a jury composed of his minions. Her objection makes Harvey delay the trial until the morrow which is also Election Day. Harvey's bushy eyebrows take another turn upward when Sylvia states that she wants to hear George's side of the story.
Knowing that Election Day is a wakeup away, both the 3M and Harvey issue the 'round up the boys call'. For the 3M, it's the ranchers who have been suffering at the hands of the 'Mutton Mob' and Harvey. For Harvey, it's his full crew of evil doers. The pieces are starting to fall in place for one of the larger shoot outs, in terms of men and horses, that was ever featured in a 3M movie. Some of it, I am sure, was stock footage from previous films. Republic seemed to be able to expertly craft their film-ending battles by melding the 'hard riding' scenes (consisting of new or stock footage shot in dusty, arid locations) with shoot-outs filmed on their western town backlot (which had some lush Southern California vegetation).
With Tucson and Lullaby gathering the ranchers, Stony realizes the immediate danger to his brother. He sees no other alternative but springing him from jail at least until the election is completed. However, Stony himself is caught when Sylvia unknowingly interferes in the jailbreak.
With the dawn, a large body of riders led by Lullaby and Tucson is headed for Green Valley not knowing at this point whether they will fight or vote, or both. Meanwhile Harvey is barricading the town to insure that only Gray supporters cast their ballots. When Harvey gets word of the approach of the ranchers, his men armed to their fillings man the barricade and await the arrival of the ranchers.
Sylvia continues her objections to the Election Day mayhem, voter intimidation, and street violence. Harvey, having had enough of her complaints, locks her in a room behind his office. While being held in this confinement, she overhears conversation in which Harvey admits to Merton that he murdered Sylvia's father and that Stony and George are also to be killed. Courageously she smashes a window and escapes to encounter Tucson on the street just outside the jail.
As the battle rages on the main street in Green Valley, Tucson decides to navigate a roof top route to the downtown area as he searches for Stony and George. His 'second story journey' ends when he (or probably a stunt man) leaps from the roof on to Merton. This villain, carrying a home made hand grenade of a half dozen sticks of dynamite, was just about to level the jail housing the Brook brothers. Putting the TNT to good use, Tucson relights the fuse and heaves it at the barricade.
In his office, Harvey was doing what most chief bad guys do when the tide has turned against him. He is emptying the contents of his safe into a getaway bag (was he taking cash and documents which would be incriminating in a court of law?). Since he did not want to escape alone, he goes to the rear room seeking to abscond with Sylvia who long ago escaped. Guess he probably wanted company on his flight! He doesn't get very far. Suffering from the concussion of another dynamite blast and a right to the jaw from Stony, Harvey throws in the towel. At that moment the sheep herders run up the white flag!
All's well that ends well. George is back on the Lazy K. Sylvia is a cattle women. Harvey is in jail. But who is the new Sheriff of Green Valley? Harry Woods is a great villain but he did not seem to have his heart in his role. Haven't we all seen him meaner elsewhere? Tucson was again featured in many action sequences. Did he complain that he was not given enough exposure as a hero?
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above from L-to-R are Black Jack O'Shea, Earle Hodgins, Harry Woods and Bob Livingston in a duotone re-release lobby card from the Three Mesquiteers adventure, RANGE DEFENDERS (Republic, 1937).
I rate RANGE DEFENDERS as three six guns.
'Looking closely', will be a regular feature in each 3M review highlighting or discussing the unusual, the not so obvious, other observations and any cinematic idiosyncrasies:
- The Republic cameramen must have just been delighted to make their shots capture the large outdoor Mail Pouch Tobacco thermometer nailed to the side of the western set. Look for it by scrutinizing the building behind one of the few combined shots of Stony, Harvey, and Sylvia in Range Defenders. It appears in many 3M and other Republic western movies. Note it again in Trigger Trio with a shot of Ralph Byrd subbing for Bob Livingston, Tucson, and the leading lady.
- What happened to Yakima Canutt? Was he demoted from bad guy middle management status to just being one of common, run-of-the-mill thugs? In most of the past 3Mers, he was right up there with the best of bad guys that you really loved to hate. Maybe stunt work in this and other movies under production at the same time placed a burdening demand on his time. Does any one have any ideas?
- In many scenes, brawls, for example which would normally require a stunt double, you can actually discern our heroes doing things that might have made the director nervous. In other cases a stunt double was used. Note carefully the stunt double for Tucson as he climbs up the side of a building as the siege of Green Valley begins. Unlike Tucson, the stunt man is stockier, not as tall, wears a different hat pulled farther down on his head, and wears a two gun holster much closer to his waist. However, in the next scene, we actually see Tucson walking precariously close to the edge of what appears to be a high building.
- Perhaps the most interesting observation is that of the large billboard visible on the side of a set building. Look for it when the 3M escort the Harvey's thugs to the sheriff's office after the river scene. On the billboard are large posters advertising two 1937 Republic westerns. One was GUN LORDS OF STIRRUP BASIN starring Bob Steele and the other was for GUNS IN THE DARK starring Johnny Mack Brown. Was this a time warp issue? Was this sort of advertising common on a movie set? Something that Republic intentionally did hoping to catch the eye of the audience? I doubt it strongly. I had to rewind and pause at least four times, in spite of my bad eyes, just to read the billboard. It certainly must have been just as difficult for 1930s theater audiences. Was this information for Republic employees and the camera men did not care at all if it was captured in a supposed 1880s movie?
- Very few western movies ever sided with the sheep herders. Hollywood seemed to be cattlemen's country and content to remain so. In contrast, however, in Range Defenders, there is a sign on the wall in the Bonanza Cafe visible during the fight scene. It clearly states: 'Cattlemen and Beggars Keep out'. This sign was probably a further indication of the low status of Cattlemen in the Green Valley and their willingness to support Tucson in his election bid. Say ... no one provided the results of that election! At the very end of the movie as the cattlemen have prevailed, Sylvia evens agrees to trade in her sheep for cattle! Another successful convert!
- There were other indications of time warp in Range Defenders. Note specifically the dapper three piece suit worn by Harry Woods. Why didn't he wear more typically western attire? How about the crank operated, wall mounted telephone in his office? I am sorry --- even after working for Ma Bell for almost thirty yearS, I cannot give your any more specific information on that communications dinosaur. How about the swinging electric light with the 'inverted funnel shade' hanging from the jail ceiling? By the way, while we are in the calaboose, also note how the cell opens before a key is actually inserted in the lock!
- Though Fred 'Snowflake' Fred Toones is listed on the cast of characters, he does not appear in my version of RANGE DEFENDERS. My RANGE DEFENDERS, one of the The Three Mesquiteers Collection Western Classics from VCI Classics, is a Hollywood Television Service version slimmed down to 52 minutes running time so that it was marketable to TV. My guess is that Snowflake's appearance was cut. Can anyone tell me what his role was? Was he an employee at the Lazy K? (Webmasters note: the original running time listed in Shoot-Em-Ups is 56 minutes. Toones portrays the ranch cook.)
- One last minute comment on haberdashery --- Stony has been sporting a new outfit for the past two pictures. Pockets on his shirt and trousers and the cuffs on his trousers are offset by material of opposing color. The others still wear the same old clothes. Was this style of clothing meant to set him off from his partners?
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above from left to right are Max Terhune (as "Lullaby Joslin"), Ray 'Crash' Corrigan (as "Tucson Smith") and Bob Livingston (as "Stony Brooke").
From a title like HEART OF THE ROCKIES, most people would infer that this film was shot in mountainous mid America. I could not find a filming location for this movie, but I would bet the bunkhouse that it was filmed in California's Kern River Valley. The rolling hilly terrain, dotted with boulders the size of a covered wagon and tall evergreen trees speaks more of California. Would penny-wise Republic have spent the money to film in Wyoming? We know better! So we find our three heroes in the 'California' Rockies baffled by the killings of some of their cattle. Is it rustlers? Is it bears? Are these predators taking refugee in neighboring Blackstone (Yellowstone?) National Park after committing their dastardly deeds?
At the outset, two aspects of this film make it much better than an average 3M film, as if one were indeed average. Firstly, the music is outstanding. Each piece of music was crafted to the particular scene. As a matter of fact, my personal favorite 'action/chase music' is heard in opening scenes as the boys are pursuing a suspected rustler. When there is a 'soft and mellow' scene, the music follows suit. The man behind this splendid arrangement was Raoul Kraushaar. I believe that some, but not all, of the music heard in HEART OF THE ROCKIES and other 3M movies has been recorded by James King and the Cinemasound Orchestra for Varese Sarabande Records 1846 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, California 91604. I purchased one of his CDs at Tower Records in New York City, but it does not contain the 'chase action music' from the opening scenes of HEART OF THE ROCKIES.
Secondly, there are the spectacular fight scenes between Yakima Canutt and Bob Livingston. Without getting too much ahead of myself, their 'knuckle drill' at the lakeside cabin seemed so real that I imagined it to be so. Did they really go at each other? There have been many Livingston-Canutt fights but none with the intensity and duration of this encounter. No stunt man for Livingston. He held his own in both fights. That battle was a prolonged, knock down drag out affair. Their later fight starting in the driver seat of a moving covered wagon and winding up on the wagon tongue is something I have never seen duplicated in another western movie.
Returning to the opening scene, hard riding and a few short cuts finally bring the fleeing rustler within the range of Tucson's lariat. His accurate toss brings the suspect to the ground as the 3M press the interrogation. They discover the hog-tied perpetrator to be Enoch, an animal trapper, and member of a local mountain clan. Though caught in the act, Enoch deflects suspicion from himself by showing the 3M one of their dead steers whose carcass is surrounded by animal tracks. He manages to convince the boys that wildcats and bears that take refuge in the national park are actually killing the cattle. In reality Enoch and the rest of his mountain clan are killing the cattle and selling the beef to the hotels in the park.
Apologizing to Enoch, the angered 3M decide to go hunting. They see their livelihood as ranchers threatened by these wild animals. Unfortunately, their wanderings and shooting taking them on to National Park property where they confront a group of Park Rangers under an unsympathetic Captain Brady. He summarily confiscates their weapons and levies a severe fine for possessing and using them on Park property.
More discouraged than before with their livelihood in jeopardy, the 3M can BEARLY restrain their frustration and anger as they seem to be between a ROCK-ies and a hard place. How can they deal with ever-increasing slaughter of their cattle and avoid trouble when they attempt to hunt down these bears? Nonetheless, their resourcefulness generates a plan, which they feel will get rid of these ursine predators legally. Why not pay Enoch and his mountain men a bounty for each bear they kill? Let them bear any risks involved. Little do they know at this point that Enoch and his crew are in reality the 'ursine predators'. After putting the final touches to their plan, the 3M ride over to clan headquarters which is located in a lake side cabin. I think this was the same cabin used in the Roy Rogers movie TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD with Jack Holt. The 3M arrive as a wedding celebration is getting underway. It seems that Yak, known as Charlie Coe, with his hair parted down the middle and slicked down with bear grease is poised to marry his under aged and reluctant cousin Mary Hart, playing the part of Lorna. Assuming his usual role as the group moralist, Tucson affirms that underage marriage is not permitted and that Lorna cannot be forced to marry the drooling Charlie Coe. So the nuptials are dissolved before any walk to the altar. To assuage any hard feelings, the 3M reveal their plan to Big Ed Dawson.
A few interesting observations at the wedding celebration. Stony seems to enjoy the mountain music. He grabbed little Sammy by the hands and starts dancing around with him. Again the moralist and big brother, Tucson reminds Lullaby that he 'is on the wagon' and to stay away from the moonshine. I guess he remembers Lullaby's drunken shenanigans in COME ON, COWBOYS ! (Republic, 1937). We also learn that young Sammy McKim, playing the role of Davey, the stepson of the abusive clan leader, Big Ed Dawson, runs a small menagerie caring for injured animals. His star patient is a gargantuan bear named Nero. Unfortunately, Enoch --- who is the most vicious member of the clan --- periodically abuses Davey.
Tempers are calmed when the clan leader accepts the 3M plan for animal control. As the boys mount up and ride away, the clan men are laughing in their moonshine. Not only will they get money for selling the 3M's slaughtered cows but also some of the 3M's money, a $50 bounty for each bear they kill. It doesn't take long for the clan to get into action killing bears, mostly on the Park grounds and collecting the bounties. The Park Rangers believe that the 3M are responsible for the bear murders.
In the next scene the mountain men, including Davey, are checking their trap lines. However, instead of some large bounti-ful beast, one of the traps has caught a small mountain lion cub. Also riding just over the surrounding ridges are the 3M and a group of Park Rangers under a stern Captain Brady. The number one item on their agenda is tracking down the 3M.
As movie luck would have it, the small cub had been under the watchful eye of his mother who now stalks Davey. As Davey, cub in arms, attempts to elude the mother, he falls over a precipice breaking a leg but safely landing on a ledge a few feet down. By now the 3M and the Rangers are aware of the danger and gallop to the rescue. Tucson levels his rifle and with a single shot downs the mountain lion. This is the first time in the series that we see any of the 3M using a weapon other than a pistol. While other cowboys, especially the Hoppy crew, were always equipped with a rifle boot and a Winchester, though they might have used them infrequently, the 3M were armed only with side arms. With the help of the Rangers, the 3M start rescue operations.
Who steps into the hero's shoes to bring Davey up from the ledge? None other than Lullaby. He was more than a comical sidekick, but was able to become a 'hero' when he had to. And so we continue to see other aspects of the character of this wonderful Hoosier. As we have come to expect, Lullaby is a kind and compassionate person especially where children are concerned. Don't you get the impression that off-screen he was the same way? Another observation about the ledge rescue, the actual rescue from the ledge seemed to be shot on a sound stage while the actions before and after that scene were filmed outdoors. I don't remember any other 3M scenes so far meant to be 'outdoors' that were filmed indoors. Shooting outside on location in the 'real outdoors' was something I always appreciated in Republic westerns.
After the rescue and the indulgence of the Park Rangers (now almost seeming human) who looked the other way when the mountain lion was shot, hot headed Stony gets into an argument with Captain Brady over the animal murders. With the Robert Livingston portrayal of the Stony Brooke character, we have come to expect this type of behavior. In marked contrast, John Wayne's Stony Brooke character is under control at all times with no spontaneous outbursts. Is that why Livingston's portrayal of Stony is so appealing? His Stony character is not different from you or I. He is a guy we can readily identify with.
Being kind and generous souls, the 3M ride over to clan headquarters bringing gifts of ponies for Davey and Lorna. On the way, they come across the remains of a slaughtered calf. Around the carcass are bear tracks and small holes in the ground that looks like crutch marks. Finally lights start to come on! Lullaby takes an impression of the bear print to be compared to Nero's.
While Davey is delighted with his pony, a troubled Lorna tells Stony that a concupiscent Charlie Coe is still bothering her. At that moment Charlie merged from the cabin and in perfect King's English yells, "You ain't taking presents from no one".
The bell rings for Round 1 and one of the greatest cowboy fights begins. There were no stunt men standing in for Livingston. He gave the battle his all from tumbling over the porch railing to taking a knife away from Charlie Coe. The fight was long, involved rolling in the dirt, falling off the porch and the exchange of many simulated punches, some of which might have actually struck home. This movie is worth viewing if only for the fight scenes. Both men earned their pay that day. During the fight Lullaby surreptitiously confirmed that the bear print was Nero's. If you look closely at this donnybrook, you will notice that in some shots Livingston is wearing his gun belt while in others he is not. He also must have changed his shirts a few times. Mid brawl, his shirt was dirty and sweaty while at the conclusion it was just dusty. It sure was a hard day's work for both men.
The clan decides to conduct one more bear hunting caper before pulling up stakes. As the mountain women pack their junk, Big Ed, Davey with Nero in hand, and the rest of the mob head out. Now aware of whom the real rustlers are, the 3M are trailing at a short distance. In a flash the boys surprise the clan and a firefight erupts. You already have an idea of Enoch's fate. He confronts Davey and accuses him of tipping off our heroes. This time Nero comes to Davey's rescue as he gives Enoch a crunching, well-deserved bear hug.
The firefight has evolved into a chase as Stony now pursues Charlie. Tucson and Lullaby are concentrating on the rest. Big Ed and few of his cousins make it back to the cabin and are getting ready to high tail. As Stony and Charlie are set for Round Two of their fisticuffs, up gallops Captain Brady. In the process of arresting Stony, Charlie shots the Ranger in the back and takes off. Obviously Stony is blamed for the murder as the remaining group of Rangers approach. Off rides Stony with the Rangers hot on his trail.
Stony arrives at the lakeside cabin and takes refuge in one of the clan's covered wagons. Lorna has over heard Charlie tell Big Ed that he was the one who shot Brady. As the clan starts to move out. Lorna sets out to the locate Tucson and Lullaby. A short while later, by a strange coincidence, Charlie is at the reins of that wagon.
Stony and Charlie are literally entwined on the wagon seat, punching, kicking, struggling, as the wagon accelerates. Faraway shots of the fight make it difficult to discern actual faces but close ups definitely reveal Livingston and Canutt. For those distance shots, there was probably a stunt stand in for Livingston since Republic would not want to endanger someone they believed to be an upcoming star. Tucson and Lullaby arrive on the scene and take part in the pursuit of the fleeing bad guys. As Big Ed returns fire from his horse, one of his rounds nails Charlie.
As you have come to expect, the wagon separates from the team of horses and crashes. When Tucson finally brings the runaway team to a halt, out pops Stony. Was he being dragged or was holding onto the wagon tongue for dear life? Seems he has made a marvelous recovery from his recent ordeals. He does not appear any the less energetic after the grazing ranger bullet or are his clothes anything but dusty from his wagon ordeal!
The confession of Big Ed and the supporting testimony of Lorna clear him of the murder of Captain Brady. All is well that ends well!
Most 3M movies end with a comic scene and this is no exception as Lullaby gets caught in a spring loaded rope trap and is catapulted into the air upside down. No riding off into the sunset this time!
HEART OF THE ROCKIES, according to the IMDB, was released in September of 1937 and was supposed to be 56 minutes in length. My version timed out at 52 minutes indicating a shortened version probably for TV. Does any one have the full 56-minute version? Like many 3M movies this one crosses the time periods from the 1880s to the 1930s. Listen to Captain Brady when he states that he will phone a doctor to be at the lake side cabin to treat Davey's broken leg. The uniform of the Park Rangers is further proof of the 1930s.
Character wise, Lullaby was given the opportunity to perform heroics in rescuing Davey. Will Yak ever play any character but a bad guy? (PS, later on in a John Wayne 3M, you will see him as a bus driver.) Tucson is still his usual moralistic, big brother self. He never seems to have any fun nor does he laugh. When will he loosen up? I sometimes get bored with his role. Like the Wayne portrayal of Stony, Corrigan's Tucson is always under control. Compare that with Bob Steele's approach to the role when he became Tucson later on. Are we seeing the actor's personalities showing in their roles? In contrast, Lullaby and Stony are more normal, everyday people, just like you and me. Like us they have the ups and their downs, their outbursts, their occasional drinks (at least for Lullaby) and sometimes a temper tantrum or two. Maybe that's why the group was so popular in the 1930s and to this day.
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above, from L-to-R are Corrigan, Terhune, Buck (the dog) and Ralph Byrd, who was subbing for the injured Bob Livingston. This is a "duotone" title card in the lobby card set from the 1950 re-release of THE TRIGGER TRIO.
If we were watching a baseball game instead of a B western and if we were in a stadium rather than a studio, the voice from the public address system would resonate 'NOW PINCH-HITTING FOR BOB LIVINGSTON IS RALPH BYRD'. What you would not hear was that Bob was on the disabled list (DL) as a result of a serious injury. But we are doing 3 Mesquiteers and not baseball. So what happened?
We have the second line up change in the trio, if only for one picture. Remember the first change with Max Terhune replacing Syd Saylor for the second 3M movie? How did Bob wind up on the DL? A special thanks is owed to Minard Coons. We have an answer as told to him by Crash Corrigan. Apparently Bob was in the 'Lineup' when shooting got underway for THE TRIGGER TRIO. In between takes, Bob decided to go from a swim, probably in the Kern River, diving off a bridge. Crash warned him that the water was too shallow, but we know 'Stony' had a mind of his own and he jumped in anyway sustaining a serious scalp injury. Crash came to his rescue pulling him out of the river. Ralph Byrd, later of Dick Tracy fame, commendably filled, and did an excellent job, in the role of Tucson's brother Larry Smith. He even exhibited the same impulsive, hot headed temper that Stony did on so many occasions. Too bad that Ralph was not available when Bob Livingston left the series. For my pesos, he would have been a much better replacement for the Stony Brooke character than Tom Tyler.
The music for THE TRIGGER TRIO is as good as it was for HEART OF THE ROCKIES since musical director for both flicks was the able and talented Raoul Kraushaar. If I can be permitted a brief aside. Over the past ten or fifteen years, I have come to enjoy and appreciate classical music, especially Mozart. Like most youngsters growing up in the 50s and 60s, my music of choice was rock 'n' rock. I tuned out of rock specifically and music in general, however, after 1970s until I saw a Flash Gordon serial. Little did I realize that the music for Flash and Ming was the New World Symphony. Seeing those B westerns and early TV shows like SGT. PRESTON and enjoying their music must have had a latent impact on me much deeper than I realized. My mind drifted back to the early 50s when I first saw this serial and how much I enjoyed the music. My musical interest was rekindled but taking a different trail --- the classical trail. How much music from the 1930s westerns, and I must also add the 1980s movie TRADING PLACES, was just pleasant classical stuff, if only heard during a scene or two.
Let's pull the trigger and see what the new trio is up to in their latest cinematic caper. The opening scene is appealing. We are treated to a zoom-in shot of the 3M Ranch in which we see the familiar 'Hoppy' cabin near Lone Pine, and finally a setting, which was probably somewhere near Hollywood. Here Tucson and Lullaby, perched on a corral, are reminiscing over the fact that Stony has pulled out for a trip to Mexico and that Larry Smith, Tucson's brother, has arrived for a visit. He must have borrowed some of Stony's gear because his outfit, white horse and gun belt look VERY FAMILIAR. Tucson is sporting a badge. Seems he has been appointed as deputy inspector for the State Agricultural Service. Tucson has also acquired a love interest as well. Way to go Tucson! It's about time. Her handle is Anne Evans, the daughter of a local rancher who also serves as a technical investigator for the State Agricultural Service. Making his fourth 3M appearance is Sammie McKim in the role of Mickey, Anne's younger brother.
A galloper arrives at the corral with a message from Evans warning of an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease. Immediately our boys swing into action. After warning their neighbors to keep their animals quarantined, we see them manning a canopied quarantine checkpoint, built by the Republic carpenters, in the middle of the western set, which we have seen in countless movies. We are also treated to a few scenes framed against the background of an old Mail Pouch Tobacco Thermometer on the town wall near the barber shop, again a familiar 'landmark' in some many Republic westerns. The presence of so many vehicles and folks in 1930s clothing leaves no doubt that is a 'time warp' western.
Approaching the quarantine checkpoint is an open topped depression era car with a horse trailer in tow. Behind the wheel is Brent, bad guy supreme, 100% evil to the bone. Riding shotgun is Luke, his chief lieutenant. Luke will show strains of decency in contrast to his boss. So we can say that Luke, played by Wally Wales/Hal Taliaferro, is 50% bad and 50% good. You know the type. He turns out to be decent when the time comes. Keeping them company in the backseat is Buck, a huge St. Bernard. Their discussion, to which we are privy, discloses their nefarious deeds, killing diseased cattle they found on their own range and severing a telltale link to their spread by destroying their brands. When Tucson denies them passage through the checkpoint, they break through any way. Pursued by Tucson, who headed them off at the pass, they return to town where Brent places his horse in a stable guarded by Buck.
In real life and 'reel' life, small boys and dogs attract each other and this movie is no exception. Along comes Mickey who sees Buck and figures that this stalwart sentinel could use some water. On the footsteps of Mickey comes Brent who is angered because Buck has deserted his guard post. As Brent starts to manhandle Mickey, Buck comes to the rescue. On the heels of Brent comes Larry who breaks up the confrontation. The issue is brought to a head when Larry agrees to race his horse against Brent's racehorse. The stakes are simple. If Brent wins, he gets Larry's horse. If Larry wins, he gets Buck.
Larry wins the race (was there any doubt that he would lose?) with the help of Lullaby who has 'adjusted' the position of a race marker. I guess a little subterfuge to help our hero was not so bad even for a late thirties movie. Larry turns Buck over to Mickey for safekeeping.
Meanwhile, Mr. Evans has located diseased cattle on Brent's ranch and confronts the rancher with his findings. Brent fears bankruptcy (the solution, as stated in the movie, was to destroy all cattle) and shoots Evans in the back as he rides away. The good side of Luke surfaces when just before the shooting he tells Brent that he is not a killer (just an accessory as a lawyer would say) and wants no part of the shooting. This is a first for the 3M series. Previous bad guys were 100% evil. I wonder why Yak Canutt was not in THE TRIGGER TRIO? He seems to have been in almost everyone so far.
Evans' instructions to the 3M were unequivocal ... to lift the quarantine if they did not hear from him by 4:00 p.m. which they did. Returning to their ranch after closing down the checkpoint, the 3M come upon the lifeless body of Mr. Evans. For weeks the 3M conduct a fruitless search for his murder. Correctly, they believe that the individual who owns the infected cattle murdered Evans.
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Above, Mesquiteers Terhune, Corrigan and Byrd in a strategy session from THE TRIGGER TRIO (1937). The bearded one on the far right (sitting) is Hal Taliaferro (Wally Wales) and the slick dude between Byrd and Taliaferro is Cornelius Keefe.
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above, same photo used in the Title lobby card at the top. Ralph M. Byrd (1909-1952) is best remembered as the star of the several DICK TRACY serials at Republic. He died of a heart attack while working on the DICK TRACY TV series.
After a hard day on the trail, the boys are enjoying a home cooked dinner at the Evans house. In a hushed conversation, Tucson reveals that he has found some diseased cattle on the Evans spread. These hapless cows were planted by Brent to deflect suspicion from him. A heated discussion ensues as Anne listens to every word from behind the kitchen door. Over Larry's strenuous objections, Tucson's suggested corrective action is to destroy the entire herd. But no sooner has he made that statement then he is hit with a double whammy, a major argument with his brother and a 'boot' from his sweetheart. Larry is concerned that destroying the Evans herd will add financial ruin to the woes of the family still grieving from the loss of their father. Larry rides off to cool his anger. As a consequence of the discovery, more stringent quarantine measures are implemented threatening the livelihood of the 3M's neighbors.
The response of the neighbors is swift. A meeting is held at Brent's ranch to review the options available which under the circumstances are very few. Many believe that only the healthy cows should be sent to market while the diseased cows should rightly be destroyed. Tucson's approach is that all cows healthy or otherwise must be quarantined and most likely destroyed. More friction surfaces between the Smith Brothers. Larry sides with Brent who wants to begin moving the healthy cattle to market, or so he says.
We must acknowledge Republic Pictures for including many contemporary (at least for the 1930s and possibly today for some areas of the country) social and human issues in this series. We have seen problems with resettling WW1 veterans on new ranges and, in GUNSMOKE RANCH, a similar situation with flood victims. Perhaps the problem of hoof and mouth disease was just as real, though a less publicized 1930s issue, as the problems associated with resettlement.
After the meeting, Brent convinces Larry to take part in the cattle drive by assuring him that only healthy cows will be herded to market. But we know the real truth! During the meeting Lullaby overhears Brent and Luke discuss the murder of Evans and the planting of diseased cattle on the Evans' range. He also discovers the murder weapon in Brent's car. With this critical evidence he rides off in search of Tucson or Larry.
His first stop is the Evans' ranch. We already know that Tucson is 'persona non grata' there. Lullaby does get company as he leaves. Buck, who has been under the care of young Mickey, is tethered to the front porch of the Evans' ranch as Lullaby rides up in search of his partners. His canine instincts must have told him that something was up. Maybe he knows that its time for him to be center stage. As Lullaby rides off, Buck breaks away and trails Lullaby.
Rather than locating Tucson, Lullaby stumbles across Brent's cattle drive where he informs Larry of what he has learned. The two friends ride off , hotly pursued by the Brent bunch with their pistols firing. Larry informs Lullaby to ride on for help. He dismounts and plans to take cover in the rocks to provide covering fire as Lullaby, like Paul Revere, continues his marathon ride. Buck has changed course. He is now following Larry who is threading his way through rock formations to find a suitable firing position.
Among the pursuers, Luke, among the first bad guys to dismount, trails Larry through the rocks but at a higher elevation. At a point where Larry appears directly below him, like Clark Kent, Luke makes a spectacular leap bringing Larry to the ground. However, as he contacts Larry, both slide down the hillside causing a small avalanche which buries both of them when they reach the bottom of the hill. While Larry's wounds appear superficial, Luke's are fatal. A contrite Luke asks Larry for a smoke, and in subsequent conversation, clears his conscience by confessing his sins and seeking Larry's forgiveness. As Luke takes a puff, he quietly expires. I always liked Wally Wales. He was an excellent character actor and seemed to enjoy western movies. He was creditable because he looked, talked and acted like a cowboy. Could he have been an acceptable 3M substitute to fill the Livingston void in THE TRIGGER TRIO had Byrd not been available? Absolutely!
Lurking in the area observing the happenings is Buck. Like a faithful St. Bernard, he licks Larry's face. Happy to see the animal he saved, Larry gives his bandana and instructs him to go for help. Movie animals always seemed to have a genius level IQ, much more responsive than your average family pet. They understand English perfectly and follow orders on the first command. How many times have I given my wonderful Lab the simple command of 'Come' and been greeted with a blank stare as she remains frozen in place? Buck must now navigate his way to Tucson and the posse while evading guards who are under orders to not let any animal pass through their control points.
The major obstacle confronting Buck is crossing a swinging bridge --- the same one we saw in the John Wayne movie NEW FRONTIER. Remember the scene where Glenn Strange is standing on the bridge, Winchester in hand, and is unable to hit the Duke who is fording the river below? This time the guard at the bridge fires at Buck wounding him in the backside. Nonetheless, the valiant dog continues on his mission.
Heroes in Hollywood movies are also known for their rapid, miraculous recoveries from otherwise devastating injuries. THE TRIGGER TRIO is not an exception. Following Buck, Tucson and the posse approach the location of the avalanche. Tucson removes a large tree, which had pinned his brother to the ground. Larry manages to stand up, dusts himself off, and rides off after the cattle drive. If you really follow this scene closely, you will note Luke, who was supposed to have expired a few scenes back, is still breathing normally. Maybe he fell asleep in that warm California sun!
After some hard riding, the 3M and the posse catch up to the cattle drive. In the ensuing battle, Tucson (probably stunt doubled by Yak), duplicating Luke's earlier feat, leaps from a high rock to bring down not one but two mounted bad guys. The real interest is in Larry pursuing Brent back to the swinging bridge. Rather then being caught alive, in an exchange of gunfire and after taking a round, Brent nose-dives into the river far below not to be seen again. Was there any kind of movie code which determined whether a bad guy, at the end of movie, was to be taken alive or meet his maker by falling off a cliff, or taking a shot meant for the hero? Did his dastardly act of shooting Evans in the back seal his fate?
The happy ending, spiked with some comedy from Lullaby, which we have come to expect, inevitably occurs. Buck is recovering. He probably got the canine Purple Heart. And Larry is back to normal. Lullaby makes 'funny'. Any diseased cattle are replaced, probably at the taxpayers' expense. The only thing left unresolved is Tucson and Anne. Are they reunited? Do they continue their affair? Does love loom again in Tucson's future? Will Larry return in the next movie in the next 3M adventure? Stay tuned!
If you look closely at scenes of Larry bronco busting and riding hard across the range, you will notice the person in the saddle is wearing a loose fitting white shirt with a white hat pulled down tightly on his head. Larry, in contrast, wore a rather tight fitting white shirt and a differently shaped hat. A small detail, but noticeable nevertheless.