(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").
A characteristic of some 3M movies, this one and WYOMING OUTLAW being prime examples, is the presence in the film of someone or something, which almost eclipses the role of our heroes. In WYOMING OUTLAW, it will be the introduction of Don Barry to western film audiences. In WILD HORSE RODEO (WHR), the eclipser is not a person but an animal, a wild horse named Cyclone. As a matter of fact, the trials and tribulations of that stalwart steed parallel those of our primary hero Stony Brooke. At the beginning of the movie, both are running free to do as they please. Stony, who probably should be working on the 3M ranch, is participating in a rodeo while Cyclone is roaming the range. Stony gets entangled in, what else, a romance with the girl Tucson would like to marry. Cyclone is impressed into a rodeo. At the conclusion, Cyclone returns to free running on his home range. Stony manages to escape his romance while still maintaining a close relationship with both Tucson and the young lady. Only in the movies could this happen!
The 55 minutes of WHR is overflowing with numerous themes, cross currents, interesting people and other stuff to capture the imagination of 3M fans. All contribute to making this a three six gun plus feature. Let's get into it!
The movie elevates each of the 3M, including Elmer, to rodeo star status, but we always knew our heroes could do anything. Even ligneous Elmer gets a chance to ride a bucking bronco. Not being as successful as the others, Elmer had to be rescued by his 'human' father.
Ranchers and farmers, like many of their fellow American citizens in December of 1937 when this film was released, were having trouble making ends meet. Our heroes, as ranchers, were no exception. Remember the frantic wire seeking $1000 to buy cattle feed from Tucson who was tending to ranch business while Stony and Lullaby were at the rodeo. I would call this audience bonding. Moviegoers of the era only too well understood how critical an incident like this could be to survival. No cattle feed --- no cattle. No cattle --- no ranch. With the ranch not able to generate cash, repossession by a finance company was likely.
Speaking of the 1930s, this picture is an enduring time warp. Throughout, we see 1930s cars, hear voices from loud speakers at the rodeo, and see an aircraft, which at the end of the movie actually strafes Tucson. Typical clothing (outrageous female hats and flower print dresses) and colloquialisms of that period (swell, doe, grand, etc.) permeate the movie. Paradoxically we still see our heroes living in a 1930s setting, but armed with six guns and wearing 1880s gear.
As far as filming locations are concerned, most of the outdoor action scenes are undoubtedly Lone Pine. I am still trying to figure out where the rodeo scenes were shot. If you look closely, behind the rodeo grandstands, there are rather large mountains in the background. Was this in southern California? Could it be the site of the Salinas Rodeo? Possibly the Republic backlot? Does Lone Pine have a rodeo grandstand? Another interesting observation --- the 3M never seem to have enough money. No wonder! They never work! They are fun loving, free floating guys who ride through the countryside doing good but are basically poor. Were it not for the rodeo prize money from this picture and CALL THE MESQUITEERS, they would probably be on welfare. Who managed their ranch, keeping it economically viable, when they out adventuring? Was it Willie Fung or Fred Toones? It was the deal to cover ranch expenses that Stony made with Colonel Nye (Walter Miller) --- for $1000 he would turn Cyclone over to Nye's fiscally failing rodeo to become its primary attraction --- which gets this movie in gear.
Stony and Tucson are in love ... with the same girl. This is Tucson's second fling at romance. I have lost count of Stony's being in love. Since this is the 11th 3M movie, then it must be at least eleven affairs. What makes this more unusual, or, as Emril, the New Orleans cook would say, kicks it up a notch, is the seriousness off the relationship highlighted by another first, an actual kiss. More noteworthy ... this is the young lass that Tucson would like to call his wife. How many women have caused the breakup of longtime male friendships? Will this be the case here?
What about Colonel Nye and his crew? At the start of the film, we see the familiar faces of Jack Ingram and Ed Cobb among his mob. In other movies, these guys would have been immediately identified as black hats. Yet, at the outset, they seem to be good guys. Don't fret. As things get desperate for Colonel Nye, the color of their hats will quickly darken. At least in Hollywood, leopards never change their spots!
When it comes to interesting people, we find the future 'King of the Cowboys' in a minor role, as a cafe crooner providing romantic western music for the intimate rendezvous where Stony and Alice share a smooch! In his tenth movie appearance, according to the IMDB, Roy is billed as Dick Weston. A closer look at his group of supporting musicians reveals that it is not Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers. Roy and his group will also provide background music at the 3M ranch when Tucson's engagement party gets into full swing.
Remember Fred 'Snowflake' Toones? He seems to alternate with Willie Fung as the chief cook and bottlewasher at the 3M ranch. Along with Willie, he contributed some much-needed, solid humor to the series. I look forward to any film appearance of either of these talented actors. Many have criticized the roles they were given as demeaning and stereotyping. In their given roles as comedians, they were great. They made me laugh, almost like today's politicians.
The plot of the film is basically straightforward. The 3M need a grand to buy cattle feed. With empty pockets, Stony approaches his current employer with a deal. In exchange for $1000, Stony will capture the famous wild horse Cyclone for whom a brand of whisky supposedly has been marketed and turn him over to Colonel Nye's financially troubled rodeo. With Cyclone as his star attraction, Nye correctly feels that his show will turn around (which eventually it does).
Stony and Lullaby return to the 3M ranch accompanied by Colonel Nye and his men who are along to insure their investment. Arriving home, Stony learns from Snowflake that Tucson has a girl friend named Alice. He also hears that Cyclone frequents Alice's ranch making him her property. To his dismay both Alice and Tucson are dead set against Cyclone being conscripted into rodeo service.
When Alice appears on the scene the next morning, Stony's infatuation with her is obvious. With the reluctant support of Tucson, the 3M captured Cyclone after he almost trampled Stony. Stony now seems to be wavering in his original deal. It should be evident that any time you want to change Stony's mind, the first step in the conversion process is a pretty face. However, a deal is a deal and Cyclone is on the way to the rodeo. To attract crowds, the rodeo has a standing challenge to all --- $1500 to anyone who can remain in the saddle for 30 seconds.
The scene shifts to the rodeo grandstand where Stony begins to move in on Alice. Maybe he has not yet realized that this is Tucson's true love. However, after learning that Tucson had a date with Alice that evening, he manages to convince her that he is the stand-in for his buddy who now has other plans. At the local cafe with Roy crooning away, they steal a kiss and seem to fall in love. This is Stony's first on screen kiss which is a surprise. Hard to believe that this is the first time for someone who considers himself such a great lover! The topic of conversation is still Cyclone. Isn't there something more romantic, which should be the topic of their conversation?
The next day, for some unexplained reason, the ante to ride Cyclone has been upped by Colonel Nye. Anyone who remains in the saddle for 30 seconds has a choice of either receiving $2000 or getting Cyclone. Stony wins hands down. With the wild bronco and with his pals in tow, he heads back to the 3M ranch.
As they are slowly riding along, we are pleasantly surprised by another 3M musical interlude with Lullaby supplying the bird whistles, Tucson and Stony provide their voices or were they dubbed? It's little magical moments like this which make this a great film. Too bad there weren't more.
Colonel Nye must have realized the stupidity of his challenge. With hats now changed to black, his mob ambushes the 3M in an attempt to recover Cyclone. During the ensuing brawl, Cyclone escapes.
Leaving Colonel Nye's man in their union suits and bootless in the middle of the Alabama Hills, the boys continue their ride home. It's party time! Tucson drops another bombshell. He's having a party at the ranch that evening to consummate his engagement. The only problem is his inability to come up with the nerve and the right words to frame his proposal. He asks Stony to make the pitch for him. Stony's face drops a mile when he learns that Alice is the lady in question. I was surprised that he did not already know that. One would think that close friends would have already shared those details.
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Terhune has the quartet of baddies down to their long johns. From L-to-R are Henry Isabell, Edmund Cobb, Jack Ingram and Art Dillard.
At the party that evening, Roy and his musical helpers are providing the music. As the scene opens, we see Lullaby reluctantly dancing with a plump Kate Smith look-a-like. Another familiar tune is heard. Remember the tune that Stony and Rita Hayworth sang as a duet in HIT THE SADDLE? Tucson is anxious to have Stony make his pitch. Upstairs in the sleeping quarters we see a warm moment between Stony and Lullaby. Stony, apparently feeling he has wronged Tucson, asks Lullaby to make Tucson's pitch. Like the true friend and gentleman he is, Lullaby agrees. This intimate scene between the two friends as one tries to help the other extricate himself from a difficult situation is the best in the movie in my opinion. We see both men plagued by the problem and each tries to the help of the other. Seeing a tender, personal side of our heroes is another item making this a great movie. They actually appear human! As one would expect of a good friend, Lullaby agrees to make the pitch. Stony starts to pack for an imminent departure to Mexico so that Tucson will have Alice to himself.
Another aside ... Lullaby is the glue that binds the Three Mesquiteers together. The crew of Livingston, Corrigan and Terhune had synergy and come across on the screen as true friends and a real team. Stories and rumors abound about the friction between Corrigan and Livingston and that fact that Terhune was placed in the Lullaby role as much to provide comedy as to be a Dutch uncle to both of his fellow co stars. In this role he did an admirable job. He was the heart of the 3M. I never got that impression from any of the subsequent comic members (Raymond Hatton, Rufe Davis, and Jimmie Dodd) of the trio. The departure of Terhune from the series left a void, which no one could fill.
Meanwhile, downstairs, Tucson awaits the arrival of Stony. Instead in walks Lullaby who corners Alice. Despite his best efforts to build up Tucson, it's apparent that Stony is her man. A moment later Tucson sees Stony saddling up and asks him to speak to Alice. Alice is no more receptive to Stony's words ---- knocking himself as a rover and some one who will never settle down. After a few words building up Tucson, Alice wacks him across the face just as Tucson enters the room. At that point Mr. Smith is not a happy rancher! After a few angry words with his partner, Stony rides off into the night.
While all this was transpiring, Colonel Nye was developing plans for recapturing Cyclone. Nye, flying in a small plane, will herd Cyclone to the point where his men on the ground will spring the trap. Other nocturnal discussions were also underway, but at the #m Ranch. In another quiet moment, Tucson learns from Lullaby that Stony really loves Alice and that the harsh words he dealt to his companion were unwarranted. I am not sure I would be as forgiving as Tucson was if one of my best friends stole my girl. Would you?
At dawn's first light, Tucson and Lullaby are on the trail riding after Stony. A few miles away Stony is packing his saddlebags after spending an evening under the stars. In the skies above he quizzically see Nye's aircraft circling above the range At that very moment the ground element pursuing Cyclone conveniently passes close to his camp site. Now aware of what is happening, Stony brings them under fire. The shots attract the other 3M and a full-scale firefight erupts. Realizing the situation, Nye begins firing at Stony from the air with a Winchester. This has to be a first in a western movie. Like the cavalry, Lullaby and Tucson charge onto the scene. Even though outnumbered by Nye's force the 3-M triumph. With two rounds, mind you, Tucson nails the pilot of the plane which subsequently crashes to the ground ending Colonel Nye's career as a strafer. Stony and Lullaby corral the remaining bad guys.
In the final scene, the 3M are reconciled with each other and with Alice. We learn that Alice will be leaving for New York to return west in the springtime. I guess if Stony could not run away from her, she would run away from him. Cyclone is back on the range. So no one got the girl and no one got the horse!
I strongly urge all 3M fans to buy this movie and see it many times over.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
THE PURPLE VIGILANTES, or "Criminals in Capes", is another 3M adventure where the title bears a direct relationship to the theme of the movie. As we have observed many times in the past and probably will into the future, a meaningful link between the film title and the story was usually non-existent. This was true for most B westerns, not just the 3M movies. But why PURPLE?
Purple is a color customarily connected with high office, possibly a ranking church official, like a bishop, or even, royalty. Isn't it odd to see the color linked to a group of hooded criminals? Since the movie is in glorious black and white, who can discern the actual color of the capes anyway? On second thought, what other color could have been invoked? How about the Chartreuse Vigilantes? The Magenta Vigilantes? I don't think so. All things considered, maybe Purple was the best choice.
I finally figured out why it was purple. There was royalty in this movie in the presence of two earls --- Earl Dwire and Earle Hodgins. Similar first names, yes; but different characters.
Dwire had portrayed bad guys in early Bob Steele and John Wayne movies. He portrayed a Mexican bandit and, with the Duke and Noah Berry Jr., an outlaw French Canadian fur trader. In the autumn days of his career, he turned to character roles, as we see him in Vigilantes. As David Ross, he is a leading citizen of the town of Trail's End and official in the local Loan Company. I last remember seeing him as a surgeon in THE AMAZING DOCTOR CLITTERHOUSE with Edward G. Robinson and Bogie. He passed away in 1940.
The other earl was Earle Hodgins, a veteran of many westerns where he might have been seen in the role of a medicine show barker. But not in this episode. As Dwire's partner in the Loan Company, Hodgins, as father of the leading lady, played a straight role. Until the very end of Vigilantes, all clues pointed to him as the mastermind behind the Purple Vigilantes. My last film recollection of Hodgins was a bit part in THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE.
Present in the background, but hardly noticeable was the mysterious Robert Fiske. Fiske is known mostly for his bad guy roles in the Hoppy movies. In Vigilantes he was the loan company attorney. With knowledge of that fact, many viewers are not surprised when he is later unmasked as the chief fuhrer of the Vigilantes. Seems to me that the villains he portrayed were not the ordinary run-of-the-mill bad guys, but the type who were evil and cruel to the bone. In the Hoppy movies, he murdered some of his own henchman in cold blood as he does in Vigilantes to George Chesebro who had been his chief lieutenant until that point.
No 1930s B western would be complete without the presence of the ubiquitous George Chesebro with his unmistakable face and squeaky, whinny voice. The IMDB credits him with 347 movies throughout his career lasting from 1915 to 1959. Was there ever any B western hero who did not trade shots or punches with George? Along with Roy Barcroft, Glenn Strange, Harry Woods, Charlie King and John Merton, George Chesebro ranks as one of B western's most beloved bad guys. God bless them all !
Released on January 24, 1938, almost 63 years ago, THE PURPLE VIGILANTES features the usual lineup of heroes. This time, however, they turn away from the side of law and order. No one, including our heroes, in the town of Trail's End is happy with the criminal activities and corrupting influence flowing from the Bonanza Saloon, the local Sodom and Gomorrah. Stock footage from previous 3M films featuring gun battles is used to illustrate the point. The Bonanza itself has evolved into a place of extreme debauchery, gambling, loose ladies, and flowing liquor. (Sounds like an interesting spot.) Apparently, local law enforcement is either ineffective or uncooperative in dealing with the problem.
So Dave Ross, a Loan Company official, decides to issue a written statement calling for the formation of a group of vigilantes to rid the town of this place of iniquity. Little does he know at this point how that piece of paper will boomerang. After the vigilantes accomplish this task, Ross disbands them. However, a few members, the 'notorious' George Chesebro among them, like the swage of vigilantism and decide to form a new group of vigilantes to ravage the countryside.
The mysterious leader of the new mob, known only as 'Number 1', requires each member to exchange his name for a number and swear an oath of loyalty and obedience under pain of death. Was the inclusion of a group like the Purple Vigilantes influenced by world events and the presence in Germany of a leader demanding similar loyalties from his subjects? A more in-depth study of B westerns would reveal the influence of contemporary national and international events on western movies.
Permit me another aside. As a student of world and American history during the period of 1920s and 1930s, I would appreciate hearing your comments on Republic's employment of this scene and how it might have related to contemporary world events. Were they trying to awaken Americans to the dangers of Nazism or did these hooded hoodlums represent some domestic hate group? I have been seeking a copy of the movie CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY, a 1939 spy thriller with Edward G. Robinson, well ahead of its time in revealing the presence of foreign spy rings in America prior to Pearl Harbor. Do we have the same basic attempt at revelation here?
By this time, Republic must have concluded that audiences were numb to the mixing of time periods. It's been in every 3M movie so far and in many, but not all, of those we shall yet visit. As usual, we are treated to a mix of 1930s courtrooms and hotel rooms complete with electric lights and art deco furniture, 1930s double breasted men suits, print pattern ladies dresses blended with 1880s horses, six guns, and canopied town sidewalks with unpaved streets.
Let's get to the story.
While Ross is preparing his written statement calling for the formation of the first group of Vigilantes, Fiske strongly advises him against doing so. Nonetheless the group forms up at Twin Oaks and prepares for an assault on the Bonanza. A strategy session discloses another disagreement between Stony who favors an all out frontal assault and Tucson who prefers a more indirect approach, which will conserve lives. In the shooting which followed it's hard to tell whose plan won out. But like true night riders, in the next scene with our heroes in the lead, a large group of horseman carrying torches and wearing bandana masks, but without capes, is headed for town. How many times as a kid did I try to recreate those ever-flaming torches? Luckily, for the people living near the woods where we faithfully acted out our fantasies as 'cowboys' and 'soldiers', we were never successful.
Normally the showdown gun battle between the forces of good and evil was reserved for the film's climax, usually at its conclusion. In Vigilantes, the process has been reversed with the good guys battling the bad guys in the first 15 minutes of the film. After discarding their torches, the vigilantes surround the Bonanza, which had been warned of their coming and was prepared for the ensuing firefight. Republic did an outstanding job of staging the nighttime battle and provided some excellent background music to further enhance viewer enjoyment. Many 1930s special effects which pale when compared to 2000 special effects are in evidence; lights being shot out, bottles breaking on shelves, etc.
In order to break the standoff, Tucson and Stony tread a roof top approach to the Bonanza, which they conveniently enter after finding the usual unlocked roof door. That trek over the rooftops in the dark must have been perilous event, even for the stuntman. Getting the drop on the Bonanza boys, and, with the help of Lullaby who entered the building via ground level side door, the 3M bring the battle to a speedy conclusion. All the bad guys are corralled and escorted across the county line. Why weren't they incarcerated and tried for their crimes? After a major firefight with men being killed and wounded, the Bonanza boys are let down very easily. Maybe they will move elsewhere and re-establish another house of sin so that a different western hero can chase them out of town.
Some members of the Vigilantes, as noted earlier, were eager to continue their activities but for personal gain. Chesebro and some other nameless bad guys are coveting the valuable personal possessions --- watches and cash --- they lifted from the Bonanza boys and hoping to continue their evil ways.
From this point forward, THE PURPLE VIGILANTES becomes more of a detective drama as the 3M, with great difficulty, try to get a lead on the malevolent mob. The very next day, with Chesebro and Ernie Adams as recruiters, a new and evil band of vigilantes is being organized soliciting its members from the criminal underground in Trail's End.
The first meeting of the newly formed vigilantes is really scary. All are garbed in purple (I guess) capes with faces hidden by hoods. Torches line the wall of the cave where the meeting is being held. Looks like the same cave setting from RIDERS OF THE WHISTLING SKULL. The hooded men are huddled awaiting the arrival of the new leader. Like the vigilantes themselves, the leader, only identified as Number 1 but spoken of amongst the gang as "one of the biggest men in the county", presents himself to his mob. He assigns each a number and administers an oath of obedience --- or death. There is no turning back. Death is the only way out !
Soon after the initial meeting, a reign of terror engulfs Trail's End as the newly formed group terrorizes the countryside. To direct the blame at David Ross, one of his original notes is found at the crime scene. Understandably, his personal safety in Trail's End is coming into question. A rowdy mod of local citizens demonstrates its displeasure with Ross by stoning his loan company office.
Believing his innocence, the 3M and the Sheriff , played by Ed Cassidy, come up with a plan to move David Ross to a safe environment. With the concurrence of the sheriff and the reluctant agreement of Tucson, Stony prepared papers charging Ross with vigilantism and murder. They believe that these trumped up charges, prepared but not legally filed, will result in Ross's move to the safety of county jail until further investigation into the terrorists can prove his innocence.
Number 1 must have an excellent spy system in Trail's End because some one, lurching just outside the window of the sheriff's office. is taking in this plan . The scene shifts to the loan company where a shadowy figure is informed of the plan. Its scenes just like this and the fact that Hodgins, Ross's partner, has a $100,000 life insurance policy (maybe the motive?) on Ross, point the audience toward Hodgins as being Number 1.
With Ross in custody and riding out of town with the sheriff, a rifle barrel protruding from a window puts a round in the sheriff's back. The deputy examines Cassidy and finds the papers. Not believing the story of the trumped up charges, he takes Ross to the county jail. A trial is scheduled for the following day and the 3M must present their testimony in order to save Ross' life. A late night conference at the loan office with the Mesquiteers, attorney Drake, and Mc Allister emphasizes the importance of the following day's testimony in the Marlin County Court house.
On the way to the trial, the boys encounter some Purple Vigilantes. As a result, the firefight delays their arrival and derives the court of their testimony. Ross is sentenced to death. To further implicate Ross, the PVs --- I guess they must have had a press agent --- put out the word that unless Ross is pardoned, they will kill the governor.
Two additional facts come to light. Stony learns from an insurance investigator that McAllister has a $100,000 life insurance policy on Ross and the loan company is in serious financial difficulty --- more 'dope' pointing the incriminating finger at Mc Allister.
The boys finally come up with a plan that will break the case. Tucson is seen leading a handcuffed PV (actually Stony) to the town jail. They believe that the rest of the gang will rescue their captured brother. In this scene, listen closely as Robert Livingston refers to Corrigan as 'muscle-bound' . Part of the script? Or was this a manifestation of the Livingston-Corrigan feud?
Some of the bad guys in town at the time are wondering which of their members has been captured. So they assemble at their hideaway to count noses. They decide to ride to town that evening to see exactly what is going. With Tucson and Lullaby in hiding around the jail, a group of Vigilantes approach the calaboose. Just then another note is cryptically passed from the loan company window ordering Chesebro to cancel the operation and return immediately to the cave. Chesebro seals his fate by disobeying orders and trying to kill Stony. Look closely when the vigilantes dismount. One is riding a white horse which strangely resembles Stony's.
In the chase that follows, Stony, who is still in his cape, pursues the fleeing vigilantes knocking Number 7 from his white horse. He finally catches up to the group and , they, believing that he is one of their number, admit him into the cave. However, Number 1 is already there. He delivers the coup to Chesebro for disobedience. Knowing that there are spies among his troops, Number 1 orders all to unmask and identify themselves. We are surprised to see that among the unmasked is an insurance investigator who presents books purported to have damning evidence on vigilante activities. In a flash, Stony grabs the books and safely escapes the criminal lair.
Back in town in the company of Tucson and Lullaby with what he considers will be the key evidence to free Ross, Stony opens the book only to learn that the pages are blank. Disheartened by the false hope, it's Lullaby who pulls the bacon from the fire. He outlines his plan. The bad guys don't know it's blank so lets use it as bait.
A short while later, Tucson and Lullaby pay a visit to McAllister at the Loan Company. They explain that Stony has evidence in his possession that will clear Ross and that they would like McAllister to accompany them. Their plan is to meet Stony at Twin Oaks where is he is hiding with the evidence. Then they will ride to the county seat to free Ross. McAllister reluctantly decides to go but must first take care of a few business details. Again that mysterious hand passes a note from the window ordering the vigilantes to go to Twin Oaks and retrieve the book.
Meanwhile at Twin Oaks, the vigilantes attack Stony. Who comes to his rescue but attorney Drake who happened to be riding in the area. Getting the drop on Stony, Drake grabs the book. Before he has had a chance to turn to the first page, he admits his guilt and in casual conversation exonerates McAllister and Ross. After he grabs the book, Stony grabs him for a brief scuffle. Just as the vigilantes are closing in, Tucson and Lullaby arrive on the scene with a posse. Ross is saved from the electric chair and the movie ends with the comedy scene involving Stony's romances we have come to expect.
I can't go any higher than a rating of two six guns for this movie. The ending was a big let down. Didn't you expect a major shoot out between the posse and the vigilantes? Instead the PVs folded like a cheap camera and threw in the sponge. Sure the movie had a lot of suspense, but was light on the action I have come to expect from 3M movies. If I wanted to watch a detective movie, I would have popped THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS into my VCR. I wanted real western action, not gumshoes in wide brimmed hats. Let's look forward to the next 3M adventure.