Light-hearted musical comedy
Diligently pursuing our current thread of Westerns that Noah Beery Jr appeared in (click the link for our appreciation of Noah), I watched the mid-40s Universal epic Under Western Skies.
‘Western’ it is, in the sense that it’s set in 1870 and there are outlaws, a saloon brawl, a gunfight in the rocks and such, but really, it’s just a 57-minute musical comedy.
It starred Martha O’Driscoll, defined in the IMDb bio as “Another gorgeous ‘B’ movie blonde who came and went uneventfully in the 1940s”. Mainly known for being terrorized by the Wolfman, Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster in her most notable feature, House of Dracula (1945), she did nevertheless manage three Westerns, this one, a Tim Holt oater in 1940 and, the same year as Under Western Skies, she was the love interest in The Daltons Ride Again, in which Noah was one of the outlaw brothers. She was pretty and had a nice voice.
She plays Katie Wells, lead singer of a traveling troupe of entertainers bossed by Katie’s pa (Leon Errol).
They come to the town of Rimrock, where Irving Bacon is the short-sighted Sheriff Wyatt (not Earp) who can’t shoot and Noah is the gauche and naïve schoolteacher. The town’s prim and proper ladies mobilize against the very idea that the players should put on a performance and do their best to sabotage it, but the show goes on, in the saloon.
Really, the ‘plot’ is just an excuse for a series of songs and if you like 40s musicals you might go for this one.
Leo Carrillo is the bandit chief King Carlos Randall, Earl Hodgins is the corrupt mayor and Dorothy Granger plays the saloon gal Maybelle whose nose is put out of joint at having a glam professional singer prance about in ‘her’ saloon. I also spotted Frank Lackteen as an Indian again (he was in Frontier Badmen, also with Noah and Leo) and Hank Bell, the stage driver in that one, is here a townsman.
It’s all harmless fun and Noah does a good job at wooing Katie in an aw-shucks kind of way– and finally he again gets the girl, so that’s good. Luckily, he doesn’t have to sing. He helps King Carlos out when the bandido faces a mutiny from his men and it’s Noah who shoots seven of them but he can’t let on, not as an earnest schoolteacher who has been urging the townsfolk for forsake their firearms and read books instead, so he gives the credit to the old lawman, whose job is in jeopardy, and that way everyone is happy.
The picture was directed by Jean Yarbrough, who helmed a lot of episodes of different TV Western shows but only four feature oaters. He did a good job with this one, which rattles along.
The screenplay and story were by Stanley Roberts, an Oscar-nominated ‘proper’ writer who contributed to The Caine Mutiny and Death of a Salesman, so I guess he was slumming it a bit.
The Film Daily of the time called Under Western Skies a “generally entertaining picture” and said that “The production has any amount of the sort of action and excitement one encounters in horse operas. This means that kids as well as adults are catered to by the footage.”
So there you go.