For several years, Columbia had two top-knotch action stars, Bill Elliott and Charles Starrett, but apparently, the studio desired some singin' cowboy talent to compete with Republic's Autry and Rogers. The pairing of Tex and Bill Elliott seemed to be a natural.
KING OF DODGE CITY (Columbia, 1941) was the slam bang series opener, with Bill against Tex in the early footage but both winding up as buddies to mop up the gang in the closing reel. ROARING FRONTIERS (Columbia, 1941) had Bill save Tex from a lynch mob. The pair had to outwit military guerillas in LONE STAR VIGILANTES (Columbia, 1942). BULLETS FOR BANDITS (Columbia, 1942) involved the control of a ranch. Changing styles, NORTH OF THE ROCKIES (Columbia, 1942) was a rousing adventure with RCMP mountie Elliott rescuing Tex from a fur-smuggling gang, while PRAIRIE GUNSMOKE (Columbia, 1942) was a slow-mover about cattle thievery and mortgage shenanigans. The exciting THE DEVIL'S TRAIL (Columbia, 1942) had Bill and Tex against a band of secessionists led by Noah Beery Sr. And VENGEANCE OF THE WEST (Columbia, 1942) included another style and mood change that didn't work well for me, with Elliott playing a moustached Joaquin Murietta, and escaping at the end thanks to Ranger Tex.
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Above - Tex has the drop on Bill Elliott in KING OF DODGE CITY (Columbia, 1941), the first film in the Elliott-Ritter group for Columbia.
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Above from L-to-R are Tex Ritter, Dub 'Cannonball' Taylor and Bill Elliott in another still from KING OF DODGE CITY (Columbia, 1941). After this film, Taylor became the saddle pal to former Hoppy sidekick Russell Hayden who was in a new series at Columbia.
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above - Ed Cobb has the drop on Tex Ritter and Eileen O'Hearn in THE DEVIL'S TRAIL (Columbia, 1942).
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above from L-to-R are Dick Curtis, the moustached Wild Bill Elliott, sidekick Frank Mitchell (standing), Tex Ritter and an unidentified player in a scene from VENGEANCE OF THE WEST (Columbia, 1942), the weakest of the eight Elliott-Ritter adventures. In this one, Elliott played Joaquin Murietta and escapes at the end thanks to Ranger Tex.
Veteran Lambert Hillyer handled the directorial chores on most of the series. Supporting players included baddie Tristram Coffin for five appearances. Even though Tex and Bill were friendly, the story goes that neither were happy with their new roles at Columbia --- i.e., Elliott felt that he should continue to carry the load as a solo, while Tex wasn't happy playing second lead.
The problem was resolved when Elliott joined Republic Pictures for a long stay that included the Red Ryder features. And Ritter jumped over to Universal as co-star in the Johnny Mack Brown series.
The teaming of Brown and Ritter looked really good as they represented a nice screen partnership even though their styles were totally opposite. DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS (Universal, 1942) had Tex singing the title tune, and the series was off to a good start. Stolen gold shipments was the plot for LITTLE JOE, THE WRANGLER (Universal, 1942), while THE OLD CHISHOLM TRAIL (Universal, 1942) involved a lost river and valuable water hole. TENTING TONIGHT ON THE OLD CAMPGROUND (Universal, 1942) is one of the longest oater titles and the plot was about road building to win a stage contract. A land-grab scheme was the basis for RAIDERS OF SAN JOAQUIN (Universal, 1942).
Probably the best were: LONE STAR TRAIL (Universal, 1942) with Robert Mitchum in an early role, a marathon brawl, and a search for stolen express loot; and CHEYENNE ROUNDUP (Universal, 1942), with lawman Tex trying to apprehend baddie Brown (playing a dual role).
Sadly, the Brown/Ritter series concluded after only seven efforts, as Universal was in one of their 'on again/off again' moods or continual financial crises, and their B western productions were among the first to feel the effect. Brown's contract wasn't renewed, but he signed on with Monogram as the replacement for the defunct Rough Riders.
Left in the lurch was Tex, who was given star status and the biggest budgets of his career. MARSHAL OF GUNSMOKE (Universal, 1944) had former Hoppy sidekick Russ Hayden as Tex's range pal, and Dennis Moore Joined Tex for ARIZONA TRAIL (Universal, 1943) and OKLAHOMA RAIDERS (Universal, 1944). Russ Hayden had the lead in FRONTIER LAW (Universal, 1943) because Tex had injured himself in a fall at home and was unable to work.
The Ritter movies at Universal, with Brown as well as the solo efforts, were the best of his career. Supporting casts included William Farnum, Kenneth Harlan, William Desmond, and heavies Roy Barcroft, Harry Woods, Slim Whitaker and Jack Ingram. Comedy talents were left to Fuzzy Knight. The Jimmy Wakely Trio (Wakely, Johnny Bond, Scotty Harrell) provided the musical assist in the Brown/Ritter pairings, while Bond and his Red River Valley Boys did the music duties at the end. The dominant female interest was Jennifer Holt, the daughter of action star Jack Holt and sister of Tim. A variety of directors were in charge: Lew Collins, Vernon Keays, Ray Taylor, and a veteran named Elmer Clifton, who would cross Tex's path the following year.
As for Universal, they decided on a new cowboy hero named Rod Cameron, leaving Tex to saddle up faithful White Flash and slowly trot over to Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC), a slipshod B programmer outfit that aptly fit the 'Poverty Row' negatives. PRC's series included the Buster Crabbe Billy the Kid/Billy Carson work with Al 'Fuzzy' St. John, and the Texas Rangers with Dave O'Brien, Jim Newill and Guy Wilkerson. Replacing baritone Newill (who had earlier been the star of the Renfrew mountie films), Tex added some needed zip and style to O'Brien, a bland screen personality who looked good in fist fights, and Wilkerson, the tall stringbean called 'Panhandle Perkins' whose comedic approach was rough hewn at best.
Tex also 'owed' a feature appearance to Columbia, and he did that in the patriotic musical COWBOY CANTEEN (Columbia, 1944), which starred Charles Starrett and a variety of musical acts.
(From Old Corral collection)
(Courtesy of Les Adams)