Not Mickey’s finest hour
Western, nearly two decades before, which was his part as the boy monarch (he was 12) in My Pal, the King, one of the great Tom Mix’s finest pictures, tragically no longer available. My Brother, the Outlaw. My Pal, the King. They go together well. Actually, Rooney generally avoided the genre until later life but did this one in a (failed) attempt to make money when he was in dire financial straits. After this picture Rooney would do no Westerns until a cameo in a 1970 comedy, Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County.
Rooney produced the picture with Benedict Bogeaus. Bogeaus was well known in Hollywood for the likes of Captain Kidd and Christmas Eve (both with Randolph Scott) but he did do some Westerns: Silver Lode with John Payne, Cattle Queen of Montana with Barbara Stanwyck and Passion with Cornel Wilde, all in 1954, and Tennessee’s Partner with Ronald Reagan in 1955. My Outlaw Brother (let’s call it that) was the only one Bogeaus made without the enormously experienced Allan Dwan as director.
Instead, it was directed by Elliott Nugent, whom the IMDb bio describes as “An American minor leading man of early Depression-era talkies who played earnest, boyish leads”, adding that he “would earn more distinction as a writer, producer and director.” As director he specialized in Harold Lloyd, Bob Hope and Danny Kaye comedies; in fact his autobiography was entitled Events Leading Up to the Comedy. This was his only Western. And it shows. Really, Rooney and Bogeaus should have got someone a bit more experienced in the genre. Nugent also plays the Ranger captain.
It was released by Eagle-Lion so did rather risk sinking without trace. I mean, Paramount it wasn’t. Eagle-Lion Films was a British film production company owned by J Arthur Rank which was intended to release British movies in the United States. In 1947 it acquired PRC Pictures, the Poverty Row B-movie production company. They did a couple of Westerns, such as High Lonesome and this one, but the company didn’t last and soon went under.
The story was based on the novel South of the Rio Grande by Max Brand and written up into a screenplay by Gene Fowler and Al Levitt. Rooney plays a New York dude come out West to find his brother, and he plays up the Eastern tenderfoot jokes to the full, rather overdoing it. He is befriended by Texas Ranger Robert Preston and together they go down Mexico way where investigator Preston is tasked with arresting the evil bandido El Tigre who has been robbing banks north of the Rio Grande – in fact we see such a raid in the first reel.
Unlike Rooney, Preston was used to the saddle. Apart from his leading role in The Chisholms on TV he would do fourteen feature Westerns, often playing the charming rogue. He started in Union Pacific in 1939 and North West Mounted Police in 1940, and was especially memorable in Blood on the Moon and Whispering Smith (where he easily outshone the lackluster star Alan Ladd) in the late 40s, and later he was excellent in Best of the Badmen and, as an older man, Sam Peckinpah’s Junior Bonner, in which he was absolutely superb. Always watchable, as a goody or (more usually) a baddy, Preston was a credit to the genre.
The brother that Rooney’s character is seeking is played by Robert Stack. For me (and many people, I guess) Stack will always be Elliott Ness but he did the occasional Western. He only made six, not a great number for the era, but he wasn’t bad in Badlands of Dakota, Men of Texas, War Paint, Conquest of Cochise and Great Day in the Morning. None of these was what you would call a top-class Western but he was reasonably convincing in them. Of course he was blond and blonds can’t be goodies.
It has a Mexican setting and in fact had Mexican locations and crew. The picture has a 1940s B-Western vibe to it, with the evil El Tigre marauding and eventually being unmasked and ranger Preston firing his seven-shooter at the bandidos and shooting one off his horse on the distant horizon.
There’s a gal, obviously, the Señorita Carmel Alvorado, Stack’s fiancée, who soon finds she prefers brother Mickey, played by Wanda Hendrix, former Warner Brothers vamp who became Mrs Audie Murphy (for a time) and who did seven Westerns including this one.
Don ‘Red’ Barry is an uncredited Ranger, soon written out.
About the best actor on the set after Preston was José Torvay as the blacksmith Ortiz. He had been Pablo in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
There’s an unlikely finale/dénouement/shoot-out in a ruin when a deus ex machina in the shape of a troop of Federales arrives to save the day.
In all honesty this one is a bit of a dud but Preston makes it just about worth a look.