Red Ryder aids the US war effort
Red Ryder and his young Apache sidekick Little Beaver had first appeared in a phenomenally successful comic strip in 1938, and would move to radio in 1942 where Reed Hadley was Red and his sidekick became Buckskin (Horace Murphy). It was another hit, even beating out The Lone Ranger in the Hooper ratings. But between those two events, Red’s creator, the media-savvy marketing visionary Stephen Slesinger, did a deal with Republic Pictures and the studio put out a 12-chapter serial The Adventures of Red Ryder, starring Don ‘Red’ Barry, in 1940. Another smash hit. So it was time for a series of full-on feature films. There would be 23 between 1944 and 1947, with Rocky Lane and Wild Bill Elliott taking the part of Red, both having Bobby Blake as Little Beaver. One (another Bill Elliott one) was even titled Lone Texas Ranger, which was a bit cheeky. In 1949 and ’50 Eagle-Lion would take over, releasing four Red Ryder pictures in color, no less, with Jim Bannon as Red. But those will be for another day.
In 1943 he signed with Republic and made Calling Wild Bill Elliott, a title that, along with the Columbia serial he had done, would give him the name he was known by for the rest of his screen career. His trademark was a pair of six-guns worn butt-forward in their holsters. He was only Red Ryder for two years but it was enough to make sixteen appearances in the role. He went on making Westerns well into the 1950s but never made a successful transition to TV (two pilots were not taken up). He retired from movies, working for a time as a spokesman for Viceroy cigarettes and hosting a local TV program in Las Vegas, Nevada, which featured many of his Western films.
He was handsome, big and brawny and became famous for using the line, “I’m a peaceable man, but …” (there inevitably followed by an outburst of violence).
The plots of all the movies were remarkably similar: Red arrives, finds that some local villains are engaged in skullduggery, thwarts them with the aid of Little Beaver and much gallopin’, fisticuffs and shootin’, and they all lived happily ever after.
This time we open with a shifty type. Must be a baddy – he’s Mexican, has a mustache and is smoking. You and I, because we are Westernistas, will recognize our old pal Roy Barcroft in disguise. He eavesdrops on Red talking to the local marshal (Hal Price), and even tries to shoot Red through the window but luckily Red’s great black horse Thunder soon puts a stop to that. Some idiot suggests shooting the horse because it attacked a man, and Red has to speak up in Thunder’s defense. Time for a flashback.
We must be in 1898 (though of course all the costumes, guns, etc. are 1870s, as per usual) because Theodore Roosevelt (Ed Cassidy) is recruiting his Rough Riders, and Red is going to join up – naturally he knows Teddy. But the colonel tells him he has a more important and more patriotic mission – to stop the horse rustlin’ in Wyoming. America’s gonna need horses if it’s to win in Cuba. “Use a big stick!” urges the future president. While he’s with Col. Roosevelt Red manages to bronc-bust a splendid wild stallion and Teddy is so impressed that he gives the nag to Red, and Red names him Thunder. So now you know.
Well, once up in Wyoming, he naturally heads for the Duchess’s ranch. This time the Duchess is played by Alice Fleming, rather buxom in an ample fringed-buckskin skirt and handy with a shootin’ iron to boot. She is on bad terms with her rancher neighbor, Major Harding (Eddy Waller) and they shout at each other, accusing one another of rustlin’, breaking fences and other heinous crimes. Little do they know that it’s a vicious gang to blame, and the gang is led by none other than the major’s own foreman, Blackie Blake (yup, Barcroft).
There’s a subplot of a romance between Thunder and a fair white mare but there’s a paint stallion that doesn’t care for this interference and Thunder and the feisty paint end up fighting it out over her (not a fun scene, actually). It ends up with the wicked Blake nabbing Thunder and, when he cannot ride him (for no one but Red may do that) the swine takes a whip to the black. Such villainy!
Well, there’s much galloping hither and yon, but never fear, right will triumph over might, Thunder will be restored to his rightful owner and the US war effort will not suffer a shortage of equine resources. Red has saved the day again!
All good stuff if you were about ten years old in 1946 (especially as there is no wet romance to slow things down – apart from the equine one) but actually, to be fair, it’s still quite fun now.