Not as good as the original but not bad
Although Jack Slade in 1953 was in many ways a ‘minor’ Western, a 90-minute black & white job with modest cast, I thought it was really good. Click the link for our review. Mark Stevens in probably his best ever role as Slade was a dark, almost tragic hero, Dorothy Malone was superb as his lover, Barton MacLane unforgettable as Jules Reni, and the team of producer Lindsley Parsons, director Harold Schuster and writer Warren Douglas together did a first-rate job.
So much so that they decided on a sequel and Allied Artists liked the idea. As Slade himself had perished in Vol 1, they couldn’t really bring Stevens back, so, not for the first time, Slade had to have a son, one who would assume the mantle, as ‘twere.
They chose John Ericson as the Son of Slade. Dusseldorfer Joachim Ottokar Meibes escaped with his family from Nazi repression and came to the US when he was three. He did well in the Broadway production of Stalag 17 and was offered the William Holden part in the movie but that never happened for some reason.
He landed a contract at MGM and was the (possibly gay) hotel clerk in the great Bad Day at Black Rock, which came out in January 1955, and moved straight from that to the lead in The Return of Jack Slade. Later he would get parts in feature oaters such as Forty Guns and Day of the Badman and would lead again in Oregon Passage (another Parsons picture for AA) but he did mostly small-screen work, appearing in many of the Western TV shows. Later still he’d do some spaghetti and TV movies. It wasn’t the glitteringest Western career ever but he was OK. He was blond, so that was obviously a drawback to being cast as a hero, though to be Jack Slade he dyed his hair.
Mari Blanchard got the part of Texas Rose (Texas Rose was the movie’s title in some countries, and the Paul Dunlap soundtrack has amiable variations on The Yellow Rose of Texas). Mari had reached the dizzyish heights of co-starring with Victor Mature at Universal, and Burt Lancaster had wanted her to star in Vera Cruz but Universal wouldn’t let her, and she also lost out to Shelley Winters to be Alan Ladd’s leading lady in Saskatchewan, so she didn’t have that much luck in Westerns.
She did co-star with Joel McCrea in Black Horse Canyon, John Payne in Rails into Laramie and Audie in Destry, all in 1954, though there was tension between her and director George Marshall on that last one and Mari suffered a facial injury as the result of a fight scene. It was a little bit downhill after that, mostly TV shows. But I always liked her in oaters, I must say.
And third-billed, after those two, as chief villain, was none other than our pal Neville Brand, about whom we were waxing lyrical only the other day (click here for that earth-shattering essay). He’s a real bad ‘un in this one, shooting down innocents for the hell of it and sometimes not even shaving. He’s a leading member of the Wild Bunch, though not specifically named as Butch Cassidy (he was Butch in two other movies).
Backing these principals up we have Max Showalter as a John Doucette-lookalike gang member, Howard Petrie entertaining as the Pinkerton man who recruits Slade Jr to infiltrate Neville’s gang, Angie Dickinson in a very early role as one of the gangster molls, and my hero Burt Mustin, this time as an elderly (obviously) gunsmith.
Producer Parsons knew Westerns. He’d been a publicity director for Monogram in the 30s and had written numerous oaters, such as the Tex Ritter epic Tex Rides with the Boy Scouts and many of those pictures John Wayne did before Stagecoach, including the wonderful Randy Rides Alone. He produced 93 pictures, many of them Westerns. He did The Gray Ghost on TV. I’d say that the two Slade movies and Dragoon Wells Massacre were probably his best big-screen efforts in the genre.
Director Schuster, like so many directors, was an editor, cutting some classic silent movies, and before that he’d been an actor. He didn’t really specialize in Westerns but he helmed the two Slade films and Dragoon Wells Massacre, as well as the rather charming My Friend Flicka in 1943 (if you call that a Western) so there was quality, if not quantity.
Writer Douglas had also been an actor, at Republic, but in the 1950s wrote a lot of Western teleplays, for episodes of Bonanza, Cheyenne, Gunsmoke and so on, as well as the Slade and Dragoon Wells features and The Night of the Grizzly with Clint Walker.
Where the original Jack Slade had been shot up at the Iverson Ranch, The Return of Jack Slade had some nice Lone Pine and Sierra Railroad, Jamestown locations, shot, as with the first movie, by William Sickner, this time in ‘Superscope’, first used on Vera Cruz the year before.
The tale opens with young Jack in class, caught drawing a Colt .45 on the flyleaf of his history book, and the teacher tells the students what a vicious drunken killer his worthless father was, which causes Jack to walk out in high dudgeon. A Pinkerton man sees him engaging in some spectacular quick-draw and accurate shootin’ and offers him a job going undercover to do in the Wild Bunch, which the young man accepts. (Ericson was pushing 30 by this time so not entirely convincing as the callow youth but never mind). The Pink warns him that the bunch is headed by “the mad dog of them all” (Neville, of course) so it’ll be dangerous work. But (it was mid-1950s) “You’ll be doing your country a big service”, adding, “Just like your father before you.” Not sure about that but still.
In Julesburg, fell town, as we know, Jack runs into young cowboy Johnny (Jon Shepodd) and they become pards, and take the train onward.
Now we have a classic robbery, complete with obligatory stuntmen boarding the train from galloping horses and others leaping onto the train from clifftops, running along the roof of the cars, etc. Among the bandits is a glam dame (Mari, of course), who takes away Jack’s .45, thus doubtless wounding his Freudian pride or whatever. Don’t worry, he gets a new one from gunsmith Burt Mustin. In fact he gets a fancy double-holster rig and puts the new gun in it, vowing to get his old one back, to make up a pair, from the robberess.
They find Neville in Casper, WY, drunk (he knew how to act that part) and he threatens to shoot Jack’s ears off, a reference those who know the Slade story (or myth anyway) will get.
Brunette Polly (Angie) falls for young Johnny and blonde Mari for Jack. There’s a good bit where the ladies hold up a buckboard carrying a strongbox. Neville murders various people and eventually shoots young innocent Johnny in the back, the swine. Mari’s hit too, but Jack gallantly saves her. It’s all very dramatic. Naturally there’s a one-on-one final showdown between Jack and Neville. You probably have to see this Western. It’s a proper one.
Reviewer ‘RWN’ in the New York Times didn’t like it:
“Audience familiarity with the stock-in-trade horse opera is pushed dangerously close to contempt by The Return of Jack Slade, which shot the locks off the doors at the Globe Theatre yesterday. Designed for the unwary as a sequel to Allied Artists’ Jack Slade of two years ago, this one sets an easy mark for itself and then misses by a wide margin.”
Later, Brian Garfield called it “routine” and Dennis Schwartz was politer, but not too much, calling it a “predictable oater directed in a workmanlike manner.”
But I think it’s rather good.