Hoppy rides again
Back in July 2021 I wrote an article on this blog about the somewhat less than salubrious denizen of the West, Clay Allison (click the link for those pearls of wisdom).
In it I suggested that there were perhaps surprisingly few screen portrayals of Allison but that I would be reviewing those there were. Well, time has passed, as it has a way of doing, and water has flowed under the bridge, ditto, and still I haven’t fulfilled that promise. Mea maxima culpa, dudes. But the other day I watched a Hopalong Cassidy oater, as one does, and Clay Allison featured in it as the main bad guy, so that prompted me to expiate my sins and get cracking on some Clay-A Westerns. First up, the Hoppy picture.
It was one of the Harry Sherman-produced series (click the link for our essay on Harry), made by Screen Guild and released by Paramount. It was directed by good old Lesley Selander and shot by Russell Harlan, so that’s good. It was the twentieth William Boyd did (he’d started the run in 1935 and he made five or six a year). His sidekicks in this one were Russell Hayden as Lucky and Frank Darien as Pappy (there was usually a handsome young one and an amusing old-timer). Gabby Hayes had bid farewell to the series earlier that year.
I say it featured Clay Allison as the villain and so it did, played by Robert Fiske, with a crook’s pencil-mustache and wearing a suit, but in reality the bad guy is just a typical unscrupulous cattleman and he could have been named anything. There’s no attempt to portray the real Allison, beyond the fact that the historical one ran cattle for a time and was fond of firearms.
In the first scene the Bar 20 boys are ridin’ into town for a bit of whoop-de-woo but Hoppy is too sanctimonious to join them and decides to help out a friend instead. Pappy joins him and, reluctantly (for you sense he rather cares for whoop-de-woo) so does Lucky.
They go to the spread of Hoppy’s pal Tom Dillon (John Elliott) who has a tomboy (and trigger-happy) daughter Mary (Margaret Marquis). The glam Nora (Nora Blake) seems to live there too, and moons for Hoppy, but I’m not quite sure where she fits in the family tree. Tom is a decent homesteader who is stringin’ wire round his property, and that of course is a red rag to a steer as far as any self-respectin’ cattle baron like Clay Allison reckons, so he and his henchmen shoot up the fencing and run their cattle on Tom’s land. Hoppy, of course, will stand up for the worthy Dillons.
Now, one of Allison’s hands, who meekly does his boss’s bidding, is Jeff, played by Carleton Young – who was often Jeff, though usually in Billy the Kid Westerns. His mother is the feisty old lady Ma Caffrey (Gertrude Hoffman, giving it plenty) and she runs the general store in town. In this tale, Jeff will, under Ma’s tutelage, come to see the error of his ways in henching for Allison and will turn to the path of goodness and light, though unfortunately, it will do him little good (he is killed).
Well, there’s a great deal of skullduggery as well as gallopin’ hither and indeed yon, as you might expect. Selander was always good at pace and action. There’s also a secret passage, a favorite ingredient of the juvenile Western. Mary takes a shine to Lucky and Nora, as we have said, to Hoppy, but it shall avail them naught for at the end, their do-goodery now accomplished, the two cowboys (and Pappy naturally) ride off, to sad waves from the gals, and are never seen more.
No better and no worse than dozens of other Hopalong Cassidy oaters, this one does the job, if you like that sort of thing. Clay Allison perishes under Hoppy’s gun. But don’t worry: the following year he’d be back.
More of that next time.