|The Three Mesquiteers|
1936 - 1943
|Click HERE for the Three Mesquiteers filmography, a listing of the stars and their appearances, and the nine different "teams" that portrayed the intrepid trio.|
William Colt MacDonald was an author of cowboy yarns, and had even done some writing at Columbia Pictures in the early 1930s (and some of his stories were used as the base for Columbia's Tim McCoy oaters). The first of his Three Mesquiteers novels, Law of the .45's, was published in 1933, and subsequent books included The Singing Scorpion, Powdersmoke Range and Riders of the Whistling Skull.
The first screen adaptation of a Mesquiteers novel was THE LAW OF 45's (Normandy/First Division, 1935), an extremely low-budget oater starring Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams and Al St. John in his days before becoming 'Fuzzy'. Western expert Les Adams, who co-authored Shoot-Em-Ups, provided the following details about this film: Al St. John's role in THE LAW OF 45's was as 'Stoney Martin' and not Stony Brooke, and Big Boy's character was Tucson 'Two-Gun' Smith. Other than changing the character names around, scripter Robert Tansey stayed close to MacDonald's original novel.
The Rex Bell starrer, TOO MUCH BEEF (Normandy, 1936) was also based on a MacDonald 3M story, but there was no trio of heroes as Bell plays it solo as 'Tucson Smith'. BEEF was one of a half-dozen mid 1930s oaters that Bell did for Max and Art Alexander, the brother team who were bosses of Poverty Row film companies named Beacon ... then Normandy ... and finally, Colony Pictures. After Bell's brief series, Max and Art brought Ken Maynard back to the screen in films like THE PHANTOM RANCHER. In the 1940s, Arthur was in charge of some of the Texas Rangers series at Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC).
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above are Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams as 'Two-Gun Smith' and Al St. John as 'Stoney Martin' in THE LAW OF 45's (Normandy/First Division, 1935). Yup ... that's Al 'Fuzzy' St. John, sidekick to Lash LaRue, Buster Crabbe, others.
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above - Rex Bell tangles with George Ball in a lobby card from TOO MUCH BEEF (Normandy, 1936).
A much better adapation of a William Colt MacDonald Mesquiteers story was POWDERSMOKE RANGE (RKO, 1935) which was either a high grade B film or a lesser grade A feature and had a running time slightly over 70 minutes. Peddled by RKO as "The Barnum and Bailey of Westerns", it included an extremely long cast list of past and present range heroes.
RKO, 1935Republic, 1937
Harry Carey portrayed Tucson Smith, Hoot Gibson was Stony Brooke, and (surprise) Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams was Lullaby Joslin. Steely eyed Tom Tyler was the good/bad gunman Sundown Saunders, and Bob Steele portrayed the 'Guadalupe Kid'.
Overall, a pretty good cowboy film. But to RKO, it was a single feature, not the start of a new series.
POWDERSMOKE RANGE Tidbit: As noted above, 'Big Boy' Williams played a Mesquiteer in the quickie THE LAW OF 45's, and both Tom Tyler and Bob Steele would be future Mesquiteers at Republic Pictures.
In 1935, agreement was reached to create a new film company named Republic Pictures which would be born from the merger of Herbert Yates' Consolidated Film Laboratories, Nat Levine's Mascot Pictures company, Monogram Pictures, and a few other loose ends. Republic was clearly a B-programmer and serial factory, and they needed some films and talent to get the new studio off the ground.
The initial Republic branded films included some John Wayne oaters, which were basically a continuation of his Lone Star/Monogram entries, although the budgets were slightly higher. Wayne would soon leave the Republic portals to do some non-western work at Universal.
There were also some Nat Levine produced serials such as Ray 'Crash' Corrigan in UNDERSEA KINGDOM (Republic, 1936) and Bob Livingston in THE VIGILANTES ARE COMING (Republic, 1936). One of the new stars on the Republic lot was a singer named Gene Autry, and his first Republic starring effort was TUMBLING TUMBLEWEEDS (Republic, 1935). Levine was familiar with Autry and had used him at Mascot in the Ken Maynard feature IN OLD SANTA FE (Mascot, 1934) and serial MYSTERY MOUNTAIN (Mascot, 1934), and as the hero of THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (Mascot, 1935) cliffhanger. Autry had starred on the cowboy singing circuit and in particular, on Chicago's Barn Dance radio show, and coaxed a Barn Dance member to come west to sunny California. That friend was Max Terhune.
Producer A. W. Hackel (owner of Supreme Pictures) had been churning out horse operas starring Bob Steele and Johnny Mack Brown, and Republic contracted with him to release new Steele and Brown films under the Republic name.
How Republic settled on a Three Mesquiteers series is lost in Hollywood historydom, but it appears that it was Nat Levine's idea. The initial adventure, THE THREE MESQUITEERS, was released in 1936, and starred Bob Livingston and Ray Corrigan. Comic Syd Saylor (of throbbing atom's apple fame) was the third member, but was replaced by Max Terhune in film number two.
Republic's Mesquiteers series consisted of 51 films and lasted through mid 1943 when the final entry, RIDERS OF THE RIO GRANDE, was released. During those 51 screen adventures, there were many cast changes with a dozen actors handling the lead roles in nine different Mesquiteer teams. Around the mid point of the series, the characters of "Tucson Smith" and "Lullaby Joslin" disappeared and were replaced by "Rusty Joslin" and "Rico Rinaldo". But shortly thereafter, another team returned and utilized the traditional Mesquiteer names.
The early Mesquiteers' yarns were a high priority to Republic, probably because they needed them to bring in some profits for the new studio. But Republic's priorities shifted to singing westerns due to the popularity of Autry and later, Roy Rogers.
Dennis Landadio, in his Mesquiteers film reviews, refers to many as being in a "time warp" due to the mixing of horses and stagecoaches with cars, trucks, Depression era problems, etc. Probably the best example is the Wayne-Corrigan-Terhune starrer OVERLAND STAGE RAIDERS (Republic, 1938) which includes planes, buses and trains. World War II was also integrated into the plotlines such as "an escaped Nazi prisoner goes west" in the Tom Tyler-Bob Steele-Jimmie Dodd VALLEY OF HUNTED MEN (Republic, 1942). Time warping and patriotic/espionage/war themes were not unique to the Mesquiteers as Republic used those elements in storylines for Autry, Rogers, others.
By 1943, when the intrepid trio was put out to pasture, Republic Pictures had a bunch of western series - included were Rogers, Don Barry, and Wild Bill Elliott (Autry was in the service doing World War II duty at that time). And Republic was grooming a new star by the name of Eddie Dew (which turned out to be a mistake). The Mesquiteers wound up being expendable.