Dated but not bad
Paramount’s Zane Grey’s ‘The Light of Western Stars’ came out in 1940. It’s in the public domain, by the way, and you can easily find it – though not necessarily with good picture quality.
The 1914 Grey novel quickly became a motion picture, the 1918 silent starring Dustin Farnum, and was remade as a bigger film by Paramount (Lasky bought the rights from Grey) in 1925 with Jack Holt in the lead. It then became a Paramount talkie in 1930 starring Richard Arlen. So the story had certainly done the rounds.
The 1940 version, a Joseph W Engel/Harry Sherman production, was not quite such a big picture but a 64-minute feature directed by Lesley Selander. The same year he made a similar one, a kind of companion piece, with the same crew and many of the same cast, using another Zane Grey tale, Knights of the Range.
Selander had started as a lab technician as a teenager and gradually worked his way up the ladder, directing his first picture, a Buck Jones Western, in 1936. He worked on Hopalong Cassidy oaters and built up experience and know-how. He was no artist, I suppose, but a safe pair of hands, especially in the Western genre, and good at action scenes.
In fact news came to the cast and crew during filming at Newhall in October 1939 that Zane Grey had died, and shooting was halted for the day in his honor.
The version is noted as Alan Ladd’s Western debut, although he’s only eleventh billed as Danny, a ranch hand, and has very much a bit part – blink and you’ll miss him.
The picture is actually rather enjoyable and worth watching, though. As a certainly rather dated but not too corny black & white Western, it’s a lot of fun.
It stars the great Victor Jory (50 Westerns from Smoky in 1933 to The Mountain Men in 1980). I always liked Victor, especially as the bad guy.
The female lead is Jo Ann Sayers as ‘Her Majesty’ (whom one would cheerfully strangle, she is so snooty and posh).
Russell Hayden, Hopalong Cassidy’s sidekick Lucky, is the cowhand who sweeps Her Majesty off her feet. Tom Tyler is the sheriff.
Best is Noah Beery Jr as Poco, Jory’s Mexican sidekick (Noah had in fact started as a Mexican, appearing in Viva Villa! in 1934 with his uncle Wallace), faithful as a hound and overacting in a very 1930s way but huge fun. If it weren’t 1940 and unthinkable, you’d reckon there was something almost homoerotic about the relationship. Perish the thought.
There’s Victor Young music and Russell Harlan cinematography. It’s no cheapie.
Brian Garfield called it a “dated, ho-hum meller”, and I suppose he had a point, though I don’t mind it in an old-fashioned way. And Jory and Beery are always worth seeing.
It became Border Renegade when sold to TV, so you might see it as that.