Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Under Western Skies (Universal, 1945)


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.


Martha topped the bill


She plays Katie Wells, lead singer of a traveling troupe of entertainers bossed by Katie’s pa (Leon Errol).


Leon is the impresario


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.


The troupers


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.


Leo and his gang


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.


Noah’s pretty handy with a six-gun for a schoolteacher


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.


Jean Yarbrough, c. 1953


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.


Stan wrote it


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.



2 Responses

  1. Theatrical company, actors and dancings are an other good western theme to develop… Heller In Pink Tights is one of the best of its kind, thinking also of Alan Mowbray in My Darling Clementine along with the dance (always important in John Ford oeuvre…
    as well as in Peckinpah’s! ), the dance scene in Heaven’s Gate etc. Dance was probably number one entertainment for every one, when gaming and “performing arts” were mostly for men only, in saloons and bordellos

    1. Yes, Traveling players appear in many Westerns (Red River another one) and a dance was a key social event in the West and in the nineteenth century generally. Apart from anything else, it was a socially acceptable moment for a man to put his arms round a woman’s waist!
      Many are the Western movies that contained a dance, a play or of course a song, as an interval to the action and to please the theater-going public. Even John Ford’s Mormons stopped their wagon train every few miles for a dance in Wagonmaster. As you say, Ford was especially fond of dances; they appear in many of his movies.

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