Lullaby and Tucson have speeded up their pace and are approaching the last wagon. Coming abreast they swing from their horses onto the wagon seat, toss the two bad guys into the dirt and free their partner. From this point until the final curtain, there is a continuous flow of high-speed action.
Some of the bad guys realize what has happened and give chase. In an exchange of gunfire, a stray round ignites the monium in the rear of the wagon bearing our heroes. In typical western tradition, each leaps from the wagon onto one of the team horses. Pulling the coupling pin, Stony lets the wagon careen off a cliff where it explodes. The pursuing bad guys, believing that our heroes have been incinerated in the burning wagon, resume that original course one wagon shipment short.
Out in the middle of nowhere on a unpaved, dusty trail, a large sign proclaims INTERNATIONAL BORDER. Did you ever wonder, who but the movie viewers, would pass that way to see the sign? Just above the sign in the cliffs, the boys take up firing positions to prevent the wagon train from entering Mexico. A prolonged firefight follows after the wagons approach. Another wagon explodes in flame. Speaking of firefights, did you ever look at the number of rounds that a typical 3M western holster carries versus the number of rounds that are actually expended? It appears that the number of rounds snuggly held in their bullet loops never decreases. It almost as if they were permanently affixed to the gun belts. Did these pseudo six guns carried by our heroes actually fire more than the usual 6 rounds without reloading? As I well remember from many years ago, carring a lot of ammunition is a chore and can be very tiring. Your thoughts?
Judge Hastings finally orders the remaining wagons to circle the pass and take another route. Undaunted, our heroes track the movement of the wagons by traversing a paralleling cliff until the wagons are passing directly below their vantage point. The boys again leap from the rocks onto the last wagon. In turn, they capture the remaining two wagons before the border crossing.
At that moment, as if they were really needed, a platoon of cavalry in line formation appears on the horizon with Ann in the lead. I might add the cav was correctly dressed in contemporary 1930s military uniforms with web equipment, 45s and Springfields. Too late to participate in the battle, the troops take charge of the prisoners. After riding a short distance with an impressively large formation of troops, wagons, and bad guys (probably the largest single group of actors to appear in a single 3M movie scene), the 3M bid adios and make their customary departure by riding into the hills toward their ranch.
A great movie with an unequivocal message! A warning had been sent to America's enemies. Don't mess with us! If needed, the average citizens, as if the 3M were average, are ready to take you on and grind you into powder. That's the message I see in PALS. Those Pals are the country's pals! A rather large group of 'ordinary American citizens', almost 16,000,000 strong, would surface in a few years to form the military force that would wipe the Axis Powers from the face of the earth.
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above is a 1953 re-release lobby card showing, from L-to-R, John Wayne, George Plues, George Sherwood and Ray Corrigan.
Our last review covered PALS OF THE SADDLE, among the pre-World War II westerns pitting cowboys against the evil Axis powers. We know who won that battle.
We are extremely fortunate to be at the juncture of the two greatest 3M action films. PALS OF THE SADDLE and OVERLAND STAGE RAIDERS. It does not get any better than these two! These two are the pinnacle of the series and set a touchstone that is hard, if not impossible, to top. Though the best of the many 3M trios has ridden into the western sunset, for the moment, there is adequate compensation for that regrettable loss with PALS and RAIDERS being released back to back. RAIDERS sustains the same level of action as PALS, but with a few novel twists. Credit the Republic writers! Superb job guys! Too bad it could not been with the great trio of Livingston, Corrigan and Terhune.
In OVERLAND STAGE RAIDERS, we have a different kind of confrontation, one fought on a 1930s socio-economic level. We meet the chief bad guy who owns a bus company, apparently the only means of transportation serving Oro Grande, and he is fighting to maintain his monopoly. Not unlike today, no one seems to pay much attention to the railroad which offers service somewhere near Oro Grande. How vital was transportation to this town? Listen closely to Stony's words as he tries to convince the townsfolk of the importance of investing in the airline given that Oro Grande was usually snowed in for 6 months out of the year. Why wasn't the railroad, an all weather transportation mode more reliable than the airline, just as worthy an investment option? Guess the screen writers did not see it that way. Maybe monopoly busting had a special appeal to the movie goers of the 1930s?
Set in the 1930s, the movie could have been aptly entitled TRAINS, PLANES AND AUTOMOBILIES. Well ... scratch autos and replace with BUSES. We don't even see a car in this movie. Transportation seems to be the subliminal theme. The opening scene reveals a 1930s bus with Yakima Cannutt at the wheel. The bus is being pursued by mounted bandits straight out the 1880s. The 3M, or should I say Stony, decide to become partners in a small rural airline. There is a spectacular running gun battle between bad guys perched on the top of a railroad box car like hobos and pursuing mounted good guys. Stony, probably being doubled by Yak, rides ahead of the pack jumping on the locomotive and, from the maze of levers and gauges, manages to pull the correct one bringing the train to a halt. The only mode of transportation left out was watercraft.
With Duke completing his second stint as Stony, the changes he brings to the character, the role, and the trio are most noticeable ... and disappointing. On the positive side, he has added skydiving to the long list of Stony Brooke accomplishments. He could now qualify an apprentice engineer on the Southern Pacific Railroad. He has been a secret agent and now a financier. As we progress over the next few films, this list will grow until he is no longer the average cowboy that we loved.
Among the other changes he brings --- in both PALS OF THE SADDLE and OVERLAND STAGE RAIDERS, Wayne's version of Stony Brooke seems to be all business with no manifestation of the fun and the light heartedness we anticipate and enjoy with Robert Livingston in that role. Was this the Wayne persona or a change ordered by the Republic gods? Was Duke so focused on achieving stardom in this series that he forgot the lighter side? As a result, the relationship between our 3 heroes has undergone a major negative shift.
What effect did this phenomenon have on his partners? Unlike their interaction with Robert Livingston, neither Lullaby nor Tucson questions any of Duke's schemes and plans. Whatever he says goes. His partners meekly accept whatever he says. No resistance is offered. How many times did they bring the Livingston version of Stony back to reality with some sound advice or friendly coercion when he voiced some hair brain idea? Weren't these group dynamics and the interplay between these diverse characters and personalities one of the most entertaining aspects of the pre Wayne 3M? They were for me. I always looked upon the three as being equals. No more. Things have changed.
I like to compare the Livingston-Corrigan-Terhune trio to the characters in the Magnum PI series. That series was entertaining as much for the plots and the lush Hawaiian scenery as the chemistry between the major players. Livingston as Stony and Sellick as Magnum portray their characters in a surprisingly similar fashion --- i.e., serious when they had to be, sometimes light hearted, and sometimes light headed but always fun loving. As TC, Rick, and Higgins steered Magnum back to reality on occasions, so did Tucson and Lullaby for Stony with entertaining consequences. This is the element which is now sorely missed in the series. Lullaby is still the funny man with but with fewer opportunities for his down home comedy. He no longer directs any digs or fatherly advice toward Wayne's Stony Brooke. Tucson will not assume the big brother Dutch uncle role that he did with Livingston. Other than for faces, it's difficult to distinguish between the Wayne Stony character and the Corrigan Tucson character because they appear so similar. Don't take this in the wrong way. I am a great Duke fan and never miss any of his movies on AMC. But for me, Stony Brooke is Robert Livingston.
Getting to the story, this film deserves a 3 and one half six guns. Republic really loosened the purse strings for a larger cast, air plane rental and a train rental as well. Wise investments! Were they made because the Duke was now Stony? Whatever the reasons, we are reaping the benefit with interest! I bet the bus bearing the title ORO GRANDE BUS LINES was a Republic-owned vehicle which was probably used to ferry actors and support folks around the lot. Does anyone remember if this is the same vehicle used in Gunsmoke Ranch?
Gold shipments carried by these buses are being regularly high jacked by a gang of mounted bandits. Imagine a gang of bad guys chasing a 1930s bus? Mr. Mullins, the CEO of the bus company, is also the CEO of the bad guys. Such bus with Yak at the wheel is slowly making its way down a dusty trail.
On a tranquil Monday afternoon, we encounter Tucson and Lullaby casually riding to town on a paralleling road on the other side of the mountain. Listening to their conversation, we hear bitchin' about the low price of beef and the high price of feed. Tucson's biggest complaint was complying with an "order" from Stony to withdraw all their money from the bank for a yet undisclosed investment. In the sky above, a parachutist leaps from a plane owned by Ned Hoyt who also operates the local airport. To their surprise, when the canopy is removed from the grounded jumper, Stony stands before them. He had observed the bus under attack and took the fast way down to thwart the robbers. Riding to the rescue of the imperiled bus, the boys chase the villains and for their efforts earn a $1000 reward. Not bad for an afternoon's work. I mentioned Yak at the wheel. This is the first time in many moons that we have seen him in a 3M movie, though in an uncredited role. Where are all the other sorely missed classic bad guys like Bob Kortman, Harry Woods and Al Bridge?
Little do Tucson, Lullaby and the local townsfolk know that they will shortly be "coerced" by Stony into making an investment in an airline which will help to break the transportation monopoly that Mullins currently holds. To fund the venture, the local cattlemen round up their herds and drive them to the loading pens at Benson's Draw. There, a steam powered Southern Pacific freight train will take them to market.
The people responsible for the air operations are a mysterious brother-sister pair. The brother, Ned Hoyt, is a pilot and a reformed ex con, and hopes that no one will learn of his checkered past. His sister, played by Louise Brooks, is a distant love interest for Stony. Notice that the Duke Stony does not have the aggressive amorousness that the Livingston Stony had? But another change in the Stony Brook character. Joe Wadell, the radioman, is rejected in his bid to become the copilot and becomes Mullins' inside man at the airport.
Back at the cattle pens, after the steers have been loaded and most of the cowboys have ridden off to the airport to celebrate the arrival of the new plane, the bad guys strike! They literally highjack the train. However, a wounded cowpuncher has ridden off to sound the alarm.
A large posse with Duke in the lead pursues the train. Perhaps, the most spectacular scene in the film is the running gun battle between Duke's posse, riding hard and fast along the speeding train, while the bad guys are shooting at them from the catwalks. How many times as a young child did I replicate this very scene with my Lionel steam engine, four yellow cattle cars and a dozen or so plastic horses and riders which we purchased at Woolworth's. Funny how the things which fascinated us as children have never loosened their grip no matter what age we are lucky enough to attain.
With his cattle train plan derailed, Mullins recruits some eastern mugs to perpetrate the first airline hijacking in B western history on the premiere flight of the new airline. These thugs are among the passengers on the first flight. In mid air, they take over the aircraft, force the passengers to hit the silk and then ordering Ned to fly to a secret location. Thinking quickly and foiling their plans, Ned dumps his fuel forcing an emergency landing close to Oro Grande.
When word of the hijacking gets out, the neighbor-investors are in a tailspin looking for Ned's head. It's Duke to the rescue with a plan which I thought local law enforcement should have followed. The law is strangely passive in this movie and I would have preferred to see Roscoe Ates, Tom London or Jack Rockwell portraying the sheriff. An interrogation of the passengers reveals that some overheard an emergency call to the airport, which Joe Wadell conveniently overlooked. His true colors have now been revealed.
Thanks to Tucson-initiated radio chicanery, the 3M learn the location of the plane. This spy, however, has also informed Mullins who sends a mule powered pack train loaded with gasoline to the aircraft. It's a race as the 3M try to get to the airplane first. Along the way, they manage to subdue the men accompanying the pack train and bring the gas to the grounded aircraft.
The Mullins mob arrives shortly thereafter and a fire fight erupts. Another first --- the use of smoke grenades in a western gun battle. Stony heaves one of those pineapples to get the drop on the half dozen or so bad guys. Wouldn't you know it --- though out numbered, the 3M manage to beat up the bad guys and have them ready for the sheriff's posse in no time flat.
With a twist of irony, the movie ends as Ned and Louise Brooks are off to St. Louis because the now profitable airline has been purchased by a much larger company. We hear Elmer make a remark about a flyer named Wrong Way Corrigan. If my memory serves me correctly, he was a pilot who planned to fly to California but wound up in Ireland. Was this a reference to Tucson?
Tidbit from Les Adams: Douglas 'Wrong-Way' Corrigan's intention was to fly solo across the Atlantic to Ireland, but he couldn't get the flight plan approved and couldn't take off without one. So, he filed one for a flight to California, got airborne, and headed for Ireland. Arriving there, he allowed as how bad weather confused him and he 'went the wrong way'. Has to be one of the great "oops!" excuses of all time. And that was his story, and he kept to it. RKO's 1939 THE FLYING IRISHMAN starring Texan 'Wrong-Way' Corrigan and Paul Kelly was semi-based on the flight.