Under the microscope is SANTA FE STAMPEDE, the Duke's third film as Stony Brooke. Where is the Stampede? Are there any cattle in the movie? Nary a head! At least the name of the town, Santa Fe Junction, sounds close. It almost seems like a railroad town. Are we going to chase the same freight train we pursued in OVERLAND STAGE RAIDERS? Unfortunately, not a chance. The Republic people must have scraped the bottom of the title barrel for this western movie. Yet the name does have a certain alliterative, appealing western ring to it. It kind of grows on you after a while. Maybe the stampede metaphorically represented the harsh and vile attempts by the bad guys to grab the mine owned by the 3M and their friends.
The theme of this movie is a battle for title to that mine with the 3M and their allies lining up against an 1880s small town version of a big city criminal machine ruled by LeRoy Mason, nominally the town mayor. At first glance you and I, along with every other citizen in town, know that he is the chief bad guy.
As I look back over 55 years of enjoying B westerns, I can truthfully say that there was never a problem in identifying the chief bad guy, i.e., the 'brains heavy'. If he were not of the roving bandit leader variety living in the wilds with his gang, he was usually portrayed in the film as a 'respected' member of the community. You as a fan always knew who he was because he was the quint essential actor who always played the villainous leader. Was LeRoy Mason or Harry Woods ever a good guy? Or, if not by the actor, it was his occupation. He usually owned the saloon. Saloon ownership seemed to be the tainted career path for most boss baddies. Was this an outgrowth of Prohibition? If not the owner, then maybe he was the central card shark or gambler. He could have also been the local banker who was financially squeezing everyone in town. Another Prohibition Depression feature? Maybe he had the largest spread in the area and was looking to expand his empire. We will see that in an upcoming 3M film.
Bad guys did select other career fields. In OVERLAND STAGE RAIDERS, we had Mullins, the bus company owner, who sought to maintain his monopoly over transportation in Oro Grande. In contrast, PALS OF THE SADDLE had a completely different situation where the chief baddie was a judge. In reality, he was the main domestic spy seeking to smuggle monium out of the country. Though he had an early appearance in the film when the boys were checking into the hotel, his true mission as a spy was not disclosed until the middle of the movie.
Only in a few movies did bad guys have their own love interest apart from the heroine. Usually it was good guy against bad guy for the hand of the heroine. A notable exception was MY DARLING CLEMENTINE where Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) seems to have an on again/off again romance with the saloon songstress (who was she?).
By the way, LeRoy Mason really looks sharp in his 1930s three piece light plaid suit. Everyone else, except the heroine, is garbed in 1880s western dress.
Was the theme of the movie in pitting the 3M and their allies against a city criminal machine another one of those 1930s phenomenon which appealed to movie goers? I remember reading that just before this movie was produced, the long reign of King Fish Huey Long in Louisiana was brought to an end. I think the same can be said for 'big city machines' in Kansas City and Chicago which were also rooted out about the same time. Republic was trying to keep one leg up on the competition by injecting contemporary themes in their movies. Comments?
Have you noticed that these movies are 'way stations' for stars who are the way out and those on the way up? Take the leading lady from OVERLAND STAGE RAIDERS, Louise Brooks. I read somewhere that she took the part for train fare home as she brought down the curtain on her career. She was still an attractive lady and one would think that she had some cinema opportunities to look forward to. Let's not forget the Duke --- the greatest western star of all time. After so many years in the saddle, he must have felt that his saddle sores would never be cured and experienced much frustration believing that he would never make it big. Yet the best lay in front of him. Phylis Isley, aka Jennifer Jones, plays in an upcoming 3M movie. How about those going in the other direction? Take William Farnum, an old silent screen star, still speaking in deep baritone phrases and manifesting the facial expressions and gestures that were so necessary when movies could not talk. Did we forget anyone?
We extend a hearty welcome to some new bad guys. We have Charlie King aboard his pinto, making his 3M debut. Charlie is an unquestioned plus when it comes to bad guys, be it in a serious role or as a comedy buffoon. We also have Yak returning, though uncredited, playing a good guy. I guess he deserved the chance to be good once in a while. The 'silent' bad guy, Bud Osborne, whom I always thought of as Charlie's partner, is back. Richard Alexander, who portrayed Prince Barin, a side kick of Flash Gordon in one of those early outer space yarns, is another bad guy in the Republic lineup. In an upcoming 3M movie, Ming the Merciless, played by Charles Middleton, flies in from Mongo to appear as Don 'Red' Barry's father.
My inclination would have been to expect Sammy McKim in the role as the young son of William Farnum. Wrong again. Any one have some thoughts on the cast?
Duke continues to solidify his role as the dominant member of the trio. If anything, his control and supremacy seem to increase with each movie. Stony's words are still unquestioned by his partners. No one seems to have a plan or scheme but him. Were the other 3M dumb? Heck no! Why are they being squeezed out? Continuing a pattern from RAIDERS, Lullaby has a moment of comedy at the end of the movie. Must admit that he and Tucson did have a great fight scene in cabin where they had been held captive by Mason's men ... a little well deserved recognition for two-thirds of the trio. Even in the opening credits, John Wayne's name is in larger font and much bolder that those of his partners. I guess that says it all.
The scene that most folks remember from this oater is the brutal murder of William Farnum and his young daughter. The perpetrators were henchies Joe and Mac (played by Richard Alexander and Bud Osborne), who were sent by LeRoy Mason to ambush Farnum, who is on his way to deliver a petition to Governor White. However, the nefarious pair miss their ambush opportunity and wind up chasing the wagon which is driven by the Farnum and youngster Julie is a passenger. During the chase, a rifle shot downs Farnum and the wagon plunges off the road. It is surprising that Republic would include such brutality, uncharacteristic for a 3M movie or a B-western in general. I cannot remember any previous 3M escapades where there was blatant viciousness.
The unwritten code of ethics for these movies would have dictated that for such a heinous crime, the bad guys would have paid with their lives. That did not happen. The only bad guy taking a bullet was the town judge who repents from his evil ways at the end of the movie. Strange! This seemed to be a Hollywood tradition. For the bad guy who turns good, a bullet is his fate. Yet, the bad guys who remain so seem to get away Scott free. I remember in one of my favorite big screen westerns with Gary Cooper and Robert Preston --- Coop plays a US Marshall going into Canada to corral a bad guy and he lands in the middle of a battle between the RCMP and some separatists. Preston, a rogue RCMP, also pays for his wrongful ways after repenting with a bullet. What was the name of that movie? Does any one have a copy for sale?
Duke's Stony outfit has not varied over the 3 movies. Jeans worn outside his boots with large cuffs. Bob Livingston never wore jeans. Maybe that gave a measure of class and sophistication to his Stony Brooke. Duke wears the same straight button white shirt, not the bib style he would later make famous. He sports a no frills single right hand holster gun belt slung down over his right hip. Maybe more practical but not as a appealing as the classy one worn by Livingston. I could almost say that in appearance Wayne brings Stony down to the level of the common cowboy.
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Above from left to right are Max Terhune, John Wayne and Ray Corrigan. Note Wayne's gunbelt and plain shirt, buttoned at the collar.
For what it is worth, let me share a word or two about gun belts and how they were worn. I always thought, probably from Hollywood, that the lower on your hip you wore the holster the faster the draw since your hand was closer to the weapon. Hence most movie cowboys, like Duke, had the holster slung lower on their shooting hand side. However, on my recent trip to Fort Worth, I had a discussion on that topic with some Texas cowboy re-enactors at the stock yards who put on gun fights for the tourists, and I learned the exact opposite. The preferential way according to these thespians was to wear the gun belt at waist level in a cross draw fashion. As they mentioned, this gave better and quicker access to the weapon even when mounted. I think Clint Eastwood was a proponent of that method in a few of his later western movies.
We kinda drifted off into a few related topics and away from the real theme of these articles. Let's get back to why we are here.
William Farnum, miner and father to two young children and an older daughter who could be a Stony love interest, has sent for the 3M. Not only does he want to share his good fortune with the men who grub staked him but he needs their assistance with the Mason crowd who are after his claim.
Shortly after they arrive, Charlie King and Dick 'Prince Barin' Alexander, who were snooping on the mining property, are chased away by the 3M. The unlucky Prince is caught and brought to town where a true kangaroo court frees him. The boys soon learn the flavor of justice in Santa Fe Junction. A few townsfolk recognize the 3M and are in awe that the boys are in their town. I always get a kick out of those scenes where some other faceless person acclaims "why those are the Mesquiteers" while the rest of the crowd goes through a prolong bout of uhs and ahs. I would probably have done the same if I were in that crowd! Their reputation must have been legend! Maybe those faceless folks in the crowd are nothing more than representations of us fans today who stand in the same awe!
I want to back track for a moment. Depending on where these movies were filmed, there seems to be recognizable locations where the same actions took place. In pursuing the bad guys as described in the previous paragraph, Tucson leaps from his horse tackling the bad guy and they tumble down a sandy embankment. We must have seen this rider-to-rider tackling, called 'bulldogging', at least a dozen times before at the same spot. The embankment --- and a bunch of sand --- provided the stuntmen with a softer landing (versus flat ground).
A few words about the judge. There is no doubt that he is in Mason's pocket. In a twist of justice when the 3M bring 'Prince Barin' in and accuse him of horse thievery, he winds up fining the 3M. Notice how Mason grabs the 3M fine money from the Judge's hand. You can detect the moral transition in the Judge's behavior from evil to good as the film progresses. Ultimately he is the individual who telegraphs the neighboring town for help when things get out of control in Santa Fe Junction.
Mason sends a telegram to Placerburg asking the US Marshall, played by Tom London, to arrest Stony for the murder of William Farnum and his daughter Julie. The facade of the Marshall's office on the Republic set is the building directly behind the sheriff's office itself located on the main street in Republic's western street. The sheriff's office is located on the corner where you can see an arch over the adjoining alley to its immediate right. The facade of the Marshall's office is on the same building which housed Steve's Place in OUTLAWS OF SONORA. If you look closely during the outside scene when the posse is taking Stony away, the building perpendicular to the Marshall's office still bears the name Oro Grande from OVERLAND STAGE RAIDERS. Having watched so many Republic westerns filmed on their back lot, I think I could very easily draw a map of the Republic western set and relate each building or structure to a 3M movie.
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above from left to right are prolific screen veteran Tom London, Max Terhune, John Wayne, and Ray 'Crash' Corrigan.
Unquestionably the most exciting scene of the movie occurs at the end. After the Duke has been incarcerated to await trail, Mason has whipped up a frenzy among the town people who besiege the jail with a hangman's rope in hand. In the jail building --- note the picture of a large steam engine on the wall --- the heroine has come to visit Stony. Someone has thrown an incendiary bomb onto the jail building starting a fire. As the heroine, with keys in hand, comes to free Stony, a rock thrown by a mob member knocks her unconscious, and the keys fall a few feet beyond Stony's reach. Stony struggles to snag the keys with his belt when another mob member (Ralph Peters --- remember him as the bad guy serving 'the final meal' to Robert Livingston in OUTLAWS OF SONORA?) throws a few sticks of TNT into the building.
The scene changes to LeRoy Mason's office, where Stony is holding his six-gun on the boss and henchies. Tucson and Lullaby arrive, happy to see that Stony is alive, and Wayne explains that he and Nancy escaped the burning jail because the TNT had blown out a wall. The reformed Judge confirms that Mason and his cronies were responsible for various crimes, including the death of Farnum and daughter, but he winds up being shot by Mason. The traditional fist-fight breaks out, and Mason scrambles up the stairs to a second floor balcony and crawls down to an awaiting horse. Stony follows, jumps off the balcony, knocks Mason off the cayuse, and puts him away with a solo haymaker.
Based on what we have seen above, this is a two six-gun movie, maybe just 22 caliber.
Duke will again cross that Red River in a movie coming about a decade after this one was released. The later version, in my opinion, is the best of the Duke's westerns. That is not to diminish in any way the current film front and center for review. While the actual Red River separates Oklahoma and Texas, I did not notice any body of water in RED RIVER RANGE (RRR). As a matter of fact, I did not even see a glass of water in this movie. It really does not matter a drop. Does it? By the way, the next John Wayne movie released after RED RIVER RANGE was STAGECOACH (1939).
The central theme of RRR is contemporary, one stop cattle rustling. If organized crime were to be come involved in actual cattle rustling in the 1930s, what you see in this movie was probably the method they would have employed. In one fell's swoop, they would round up the cattle, slaughter them on the spot, and haul away beef products to market in refrigerated trucks. The movie brushes over the times and mechanics that such an event required. Imagine the time, the variety of butcher tools, the residue, the need for a place to put carcasses, and there must have been one heck of an aroma! None of my reference material revealed any real life examples of this actually occurring, but the idea must have originated somewhere. Was it the brainchild child of some Hollywood writers or was it based on an actual criminal event?
Here the boys are beamed from an 1880s environment directly into the 1930s. You might recall prior reviews where we discussed how far and wide the good reputation of the 3M was known? Well, the local Cattleman's Association and the Sheriff in the town of Red River, apparently some distance from Mesquite which is the home of our heroes, believe that they need additional help to cope with these beef burglars. Consequently, they contact the Governor for assistance. Instead of sending in the State Police or, more likely, the Highway Patrol (since this has to be California), we see a mysterious hand behind the door of the state Attorney General's Office of Special Investigations extract a record from a file known as the Civilian Volunteer Reserve. On that record, we see photos of our heroes along with some narrative. So in the never ending conflict against evil, the boys have now been conscripted as special criminal investigators for the state AG.
They are not the only investigators involved in the case. On the way to Red River, they mistakenly pursue someone they believe to be a fleeing rustler. After a brief wrestling match with rider, they discover that he is Tex Reilly, apparently an old friend, but now an undercover investigator for the Retail Butchers' Association. That friend was none other than Kirby 'Sky King' Grant, but this was long before he was flying King's airplane, the 'Song Bird'. If you go back to an early Hoppy movie, I think it was the one where Gabby became a permanent member of the Hoppy trio, Hoppy used that same alias.
Reviewing the cast of characters, we welcome the return of some veteran 3M actors, like Sammy McKim. We have not seen Sammy for a while, even though the roles that he has played in the 3M movies are almost identical from film to film. We noted Kirby Grant in the previous paragraph. Uncredited but present and adding a large measure of humor is Fred 'Snowflake' Toones. Makes me wish that Willie Fung was in this movie too. Ed Cassidy, another 3M fixture, has an uncredited role as a US Marshal.
The initial discussion between Tex Reilly and the 3M sets the stage for the balance of the movie. Tex discloses that he was snooping around the Payne Health Hacienda and believes that the owner-operator of that establishment, a shady character with a sinister past, is probably the ring leader of the rustlers. Actually he is the second in command. The chief is Hartley, a respected member of the Cattleman's Association. We can add another occupation to the list of bad guys' career paths which we discussed in the previous review. Stony develops a plan. Would you expect any thing else? In the scheme, Tex assumes the identity of Stony Brooke while the Duke assumes the identity of a bad guy named Killer Madigan, a notorious murderer enjoying the government's hospitality at Leavenworth, but pretending to have recently escaped.
The plan is for Kirby Grant, assuming the identity of Stony, to ride into Red River with Tucson and Lullaby, and to announce their arrival and begin their investigation. Meanwhile Duke goes under cover as Killer Madigan to infiltrate the Payne Health Hacienda. Once again, there's the old adobe building just inside the terra cota gate on the Republic lot --- I remember it most vividly as the headquarters for the Russians and the California traitors in The VIGILANTES ARE COMING, and it's pressed into service this time as a 1930s dude ranch.
In the previous articles I discussed the ascendancy of the Duke's version of the Stony Brooke character over the other two. Listen to the Duke's own words which seem to confirm that concept. In the opening scene as the 3M are riding toward Red River, Duke responds to a Lullaby comment. Lullaby says something to the effect that the Red River folks will be surprised when they get three investigators instead of the single one they expected. In response, Duke makes a comment ... "they are getting one with two assistants". Later on, when Duke brings Miss Mason and Sammy back to the Mason ranch, he is 'introduced' to Tucson and Lullaby and inquires as to the whereabouts of Stony Brooke who is supposed to be the brains of the threesome. Were all these words meant to be the infusion of some comedy? When they are taken into consideration with everything else in the movies, I don't think so. Many a truthful word is spoken in jest!
Snowflake, making a brief appearance as a hotel employee, while unpacking the Duke's bags, conveniently sees a 45 caliber ACP and a planted newspaper article describing Madigan's escape from jail. The Duke flips him a saw buck and tells him to forget it but, as calculated, he passes the word on to Payne. The real bad guy boss is Hartley whose identity remains hidden for three quarters of the film.
Most of the following footage details the exploits of the 'reconfigured' 3M as they ostensibly go about their 1880s style investigation in a modern setting. In contrast, we have Wayne in almost film noir setting as a 1930s Sam Spade type trying to uncover leads at the ranch. By the way, where is that great action music that we enjoyed in the previous 3M movies?
Soon after their arrival in Red River, the 3M take up residence at the home of one of the town's leading citizens who just happens to have a very lovely young daughter. The bad guys, aware of that 3M reputation, decide to visit the Mason ranch and terminate our heroes. In the first firefight of the movie, Kirby Grant is shot, thus reducing the 3M to 2/3 strength. Could there have been concern at Republic that seeing Kirby Grant as a stand-in Stony Brook for a full 60 minute movie would jeopardize the position of John Wayne as Stony? He seemed to have had the flare and personality for the role. Remember the great job that Ralph Byrd did as Tucson's brother when subbing for the injured Robert Livingston in THE TRIGGER TRIO (1937)? Wouldn't he have been a great replacement or addition to the trio? Your thoughts?
Tucson and Lullaby soon learn the rustlers' game. Conducting an on-the-ground investigation after the cattle belonging to Sammy McKim's father are rustled and his dad viciously murdered, they discover cattle hides and a slaughter pit. Seeing tire tracks in the immediate area, they come to the realization that the trailers they had seen earlier and believed to be innocent vehicles are indeed the rustlers' means of escape.
The next scene is really strange and pushes credibility to the limits. Out in the middle of no where, we see Mason's daughter and young Sammy --- he has now been adopted by the Masons --- struggling to load large heavy packages on a buckboard. Who drives up in an open top 1930s roadster coup, garbed in what appears to the depression era version of sweats? None other than the real Stony Brooke, our hero the Duke! There must have been an Avis or Hertz desk at the hacienda where he rented that vehicle. The Duke lends his muscle and car to these stranded buggy luggers and drives them home. Arriving at the ranch he is 'introduced' to Lullaby and Tucson.
Duke finally manages to worm his way into the gang and is given the mission of eliminating Tucson and Lullaby. That evening in a 1930s sedan (I wish that I were well informed on vintage vehicles to give you the make, year and model, but I can cannot), Duke and some Payne thugs drive to the Mason Ranch. Some shots are heard. The next day's headlines in the local papers carry the obits of Tucson and Lullaby who are now actually in hiding at the funeral parlor waiting the word to come back to life for the final battle.
A weekly event for the dudes at the Payne establishment is a 'rustling party'. All the guests accompanied by those same Payne thugs 'round up' some cattle. The ranch guest round up is actually a ruse by the rustlers to gather steers for the slaughter.
As the movie reaches its conclusion, the level of action finally picks up. Duke's guise as Killer Madigan is compromised. Isn't that's another typical occurrence in B westerns when the good guys go undercover? The rustler's plan one last big raid at Box Canyon which requires a third tractor trailer unit. Sammy rides Paul Revere style to signal the ranchers. As the ranchers gather for the finale, note the stock footage of riders traversing the boulder strewn landscape so typical of Lone Pine.
A few other oddities! Tucson uses his lever action rifle for the second time in the 3M series as he shoots the pistol out of the hand of a thug about to do in the Duke. The 3M invoke some 'torture' to get that thug talking (locking him in a refrigerated truck and turning down the temperature so he would disclose the location of the final raid).
There are some great action scenes involving that tractor trailer bringing the 3M and the posse to the raid location. As the vehicles rides along a narrow, cliff side road overlooking a deep river valley, Hartley, riding in the front of the truck with Tucson, is thrown from the cab after he pulls a six-gun. In a well choreographed scene, perhaps the best in the movie, as Tucson moves from behind the wheel to eject Hartley, the Duke takes over the steering wheel after climbing over the roof of the truck from the rear, Indian Jones style. The vehicle does not even veer from its path! What a team effort!
There are no surprises in the concluding battle, just the typical running firefight. However, there is one great scene which might have been the handiwork of Yakima Canutt --- a single good guy bulldogs two bad guys at the same time. Duke bulldogs Payne on that same embankment that we've seen a million times before (probably well cushioned to protect the stunt men). Tucson and Lullaby double rope a pair of thugs. The 3M can report the success of their mission to the state Attorney General. Case closed!
If the entire movie was as fast paced as the final scene, it would have deserved a much higher rating. The best I can do is 1 and 1/2 six guns. This was probably the least appealing of all the 3M movies which I've viewed. It stretches credibility to the limits. I know you have to take many features of these movies with a grain of salt. But imagine the logistical requirements --- i.e., the tools and manpower to slaughter a herd of steers, butchering the steers, the dressing of the beef, disposing of any remains and being out of the area in an hour or two? I think that's physically impossible.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above from L-to-R are Burr Caruth, Lorna Gray (Adrian Booth), Bob McKenzie, Kirby Grant, John Wayne, Ray Corrigan, Sammy McKim, Elmer and Max Terhune.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
John Wayne has his dukes on William Royle, and in the background, from L-to-R, are John Beach, Earl Askam and Olin Francis.