The Rangers are the good guys (again)
Today we’ll continue our current mini-season of Wild Bill Elliott oaters with a picture similar in many ways, at least in cast and crew, to the one we have just reviewed, The Last Bandit, click for that, this one another Joe Kane effort at Republic, from that epic Western year of 1948.
The valiant brigade of the title was of course the Texas Rangers. As we said in our article some time ago on the Texas Rangers (click the link for that), as heroes of legend, few bands of lawmen have made the mark that the Texas Rangers have. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, perhaps, with whom the Rangers have often been compared, have a similar cachet but in sheer mythic status and appearance in novels and (especially) Hollywood films, it’s the Rangers who take the prize. Unlike the Mounties, the reputation of Rangers was stained by disgrace and shame, as the organization passed through periods of obloquy, but you wouldn’t know that from the Western movies that so often featured them. In those, the Rangers were out-and-out goodies.
Mike Cox lists no fewer than 118 movies from 1910 to 1995 featuring Texas Rangers. Zane Grey’s best-seller The Lone Star Ranger of 1915 was a seminal work of Ranger mythology; it was a silent movie twice (1919 with William Farnum and 1923 starring Tom Mix) and a talkie in 1930 with George O’Brien as lead. Buck Jones starred in The Texas Ranger in 1931. Paramount made a successful black & white Western in 1936 titled The Texas Rangers with Fred MacMurray, Jack Oakie and Lloyd Nolan, and this would be remade in color in 1949 as Streets of Laredo with an excellent William Holden, supported by William Bendix and Macdonald Carey. Paramount also did The Texas Rangers Ride Again in 1941. All of these had heroic Rangers catching outlaws. Columbia would soon also have a go with the absurd but fun The Texas Rangers in 1951, starring George Montgomery. So The Gallant Legion was far from unique.
In this one, outrages actually are committed in Texas but of course the heroic Rangers are not to blame: crooked Reconstruction politicians are ordering looting, burning and killing and laying the blame on the Rangers. This was an old ploy of Hollywood screenwriters: such mythic figures as Jesse James and Billy the Kid were entirely innocent of any crimes, in fact they were positively saintly, and other bad actors were sullying the good men’s reputations by impersonating them and committing the crimes unjustly attributed to the heroes.
Bill (rather grandly credited as William) Elliott is Gary Conway, at first wishing to avoid Rangerin’ but we know he will not only succumb, he will also turn out to be the most heroic Ranger of them all.
His fellow Rangers are a good bunch, I must say. Jack Holt is their captain, Banner. He is tough and authoritative, being Holt, and, naturally, super-competent and moral as captain. I’m surprised he wasn’t one of the Four Great Captains.
Comic relief is provided in the ranks, in the ample shape of Andy Devine as Windy Hornblower, and the captain’s son Tom, played by a pre-Rin Tin Tin James Brown, is another key Ranger, who will gallantly die in the service. Then among the other Rangers we get Hank Bell’s mustache, with Hank Bell attached, Buck Bucko, Cactus Mack, Kermit Maynard, Chuck Roberson and even a young Ben Johnson, all adding their firepower. Well, no bad guys are going to win out over that crew.
And talking of the bad guys, they are led by crooked politician Beau Leroux, none other than our old pal Bruce Cabot, who is in cahoots with equally slimy Senator Faulkner (Joseph Schildkraut, Oscar-winner for his Dreyfus but more commonly a paragon of smooth, cunning villainy). They want to partition Teas into separate states, hiving off West Texas as their personal domain, and they will stop at naught to achieve this lowdown aim. Of course, they need muscle – every besuited bad guy needs a henchman – and this function is fulfilled by the Texas gunman John Wesley Hardin (click for our look at him, in fact and on the screen), played by another regular heavy of these Republic oaters, Grant Withers.
Naturally the bad guys fall out, as they usually do, and I was pleased when Bruce shot Joseph with a derringer (the link will take you to our seminal essay on this vital subject) which he had hidden in his cigar box – well, I think it was a derringer; it was a sneaky little pocket pistol anyway.
The leading lady, who will obviously end up in the arms of Bill, I mean William, was, as she would be the following year in The Last Bandit, Lorna Gray, before she changed her name to Adrian Booth – they would also do The Savage Horde together in 1950. She is a popular character in Western fiction, a lady reporter. As always, she faces male prejudice in her chosen profession but she will o’ercome this with personality, grit and general feistiness. Her name is also Faulkner and yes, she is the niece of the aforementioned smarmy senator. But she will not be fooled by his double-dealing.
When you add in bit parts by the likes of Hal Taliaferrro, Trevor Bardette, Rex Lease, Jack Perrin, Glenn Strange the Great, Chief Yowlachie and Iron Eyes Cody, not to mention glam singer/dancer Adele Mara, who was, according to the IMDb bio, “transformed into a sexy platinum blonde pin-up after signing with Republic Studios and kept herself quite busy predominantly cast as senorita-types opposite cowboy stars” – she plays the saloon singer Catalina, who gets no fewer than three songs – you realize that it’s a fun line-up.
The ‘factual’ background is provided by an intro text which tells us that the short-lived Texas State Police (1870 – 73) were unmitigated swine who were responsible for all manner of villainy until, to the great relief of all, the gallant Texas Rangers were re-formed. In Western movies, Reconstruction had no saving graces whatever and was a thoroughly bad thing in every way. The real Texas State Police actually had the effrontery to employ African-Americans, so were obviously beyond the pale. The writing responsible for this historical farrago was by quite distinguished Westernistas: the Oxford-educated Gerald Drayson Adams (21 feature oaters), pulp writer John K Butler (24 big-screen Westerns) and the prolific Gerald Geraghty, who contributed to no fewer than 69 features in our genre between 1933 and 1954.
The director/producer was again Joseph Kane (link to our appreciation of Joe). Uncle Joe could have made this picture in his sleep, though I’m sure he was awake for most of it.
It all climaxes in a Vasquez Rocks shoot-out involving a Gatling gun (click for our look at that homicidal device in Westerns) with which Bruce Cabot is planning to slaughter Comanches and lay the blame at the feet of the Rangers but which is finally turned against him (by Bill) in an act of poetic justice by which Bruce is Shakespeareanly hoist with his own petard.
So a good time was had by all, especially the late-1940s theater audiences, oh happy day.