Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Wyoming (Republic, 1947)

 

Anti-Shane

 

For most of the history of the Western movie, the range war has been a central theme. Big ranchers using thousands of acres of open range fall into conflict with humble homesteaders, who want to fence off parcels of land and farm. There is no doubt where the sympathies of the writers of these Westerns lie: the ranchers are portrayed as ruthless and prepotent cattle barons while the nesters are sturdy folk who assert their God-given (and Congress-granted) right to work and raise families on American soil.

 

It went right back. Jack Ford’s silent Straight Shooting of 1917 (Ford’s first feature, click the link for our review) had Harry Carey standing up for intrepid settlers against over-mighty cattlemen, and the plot was already a staple by then. You will doubtless be able to think of countless subsequent arrogant ranchers who wanted the whole valley and determined, decent homesteaders or smaller ranchers ready to resist, often with the help of gunmen – Shane is the classic example.

 

Every now and then, though, the other side of the case was presented. In Republic’s late 40s oater, Wyoming, no relation to MGM’s Wallace Beery Western of 1940, written by Lawrence Hazard and Gerald Geraghty, the hero is our old pal Bill Elliott, indisputable goody, as Charles Alderson, ruler of a cattle empire, while the lowlife homesteaders are led by scheming Duke Lassiter (Albert Dekker), ready to stoop to any villainy to win out.

 

 

Hazard was a playwright and screenwriter who worked on big movies starring the likes of Spencer Tracy, Loretta Young, Clark Gable and Joan Crawford, while Westerns he did included the 1942 version of The Spoilers and, the same year, Jackass Mail with Wallace Beery. Geraghty contributed to no fewer than 67 feature Westerns and a handful of TV shows, over more than two decades. Both writers obviously knew the conventions yet were ready to try a different slant.

 

Like four other Wild Bill Westerns (see, for example, our recent reviews of The Gallant Legion and The Last Bandit), this one was directed and produced by Joseph Kane, a solid and highly experienced pro who knew his business inside out. It had a strong cast, an 84-minute runtime and some nice California locations (even if as usual much was done in the studio with back-projection). It was shot in black & white by the great John Alton, noirmeister who worked so much with Anthony Mann, including on Mann’s Western Devil’s Doorway. So it was no cheapo programmer.

 

Uncle Joe at the helm

 

With Wild Bill it co-starred Vera Ralston, the lover then spouse of Republic studio boss Herb Yates, who was not exactly an Oscar contender, shall we say, but she did her best. She plays Karen, the wife of rancher Alderson, come out to Wyoming in a wagon, who perishes giving birth to a baby daughter, also named Karen, who, once grown up, is also played by Ralston. Her rather thick accent is explained in the plot by her having been sent away as a girl to be educated in Austria.

 

 

So a good many years pass in the story. In fact Bill looks rather distinguished as an older rancher, almost Joel McCrealike, I thought. His partner doesn’t bother to age over the years though because he was always old, at whatever age: it’s Gabby Hayes, playing, for once, not a cranky old sidekick but the equal partner of rancher Bill. His name is Windy, naturally. He helps the Aldersons out in the first reel when they are attacked by Indians and gives them a home. The intro text tells us that in 1868 Wyoming was “uninhabited”, so I’m not sure where these Indians lived. Perhaps they came in from Idaho or Montana. Anyway, two-gun Bill (pistols worn butts forward, as usual) and coonskin-capped Gabby drive ‘em off.

 

Backing up the rancher hero (at least to start with) is ranch foreman Glenn, played by colorful actor John Carroll, a race car driver who studied opera and was a pal of Errol Flynn’s, whom we Westernistas will remember best as Randy’s antagonist in Decision at Sundown. Though tough and ready for gunplay, foreman Glenn studied law – until he came up against a crooked judge – and prefers legal ways of doing things to the law of the gun, so that brings him into conflict with his boss.

 

Carroll is the foreman

 

Windy studied law too, in fact. When told this, Alderson is surprised. “Yet you look honest,” he says. These references to dodgy legal practitioners, and the later trial scene, which, as so often in Westerns, is a travesty of justice (see our post on this subject here) suggest that the writers of this oater didn’t have the highest opinion of the legal profession.

 

A sympathetic character is Lila Regan, who comes into town on the Medicine Bow Stage Line (we’re in The Virginian territory) to take over the running of the local saloon. Lila is played by the rather good Virginia Grey, who would also do The Forty-Niners with Bill Elliott in 1954. She is drawn to rancher Alderson but is no pushover; she’s perfectly ready to stand up to him, and tell him when he’s wrong. However, she backs him up when he tells her that a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. She’s no wet Molly.

 

Rancher Tom London is prevented from going for homesteader Albert Dekker by saloon owner Virginia Grey

 

Maria Ouspenskaya is rather good too. She plays the elderly Maria, the companion or aunt or something of the deceased Karen who helps bring up the little Karen and who also toughly puts Charles on the straight and narrow.   Mme Ouspenskaya, born in the then Russian Empire, defected to the US and became a successful Broadway actress and also founded the School of Dramatic Art in New York in 1929.

 

Old Maria keeps him on the straight ‘n’ narrow

 

And lastly on the distaff side we have the equally enjoyable Minna Gombell as cigarette-smoking Queenie Lassiter, very ready to countenance and even encourage skullduggery to back Dekker up. Minna worked a lot with Bill Elliott and was a leading figure in The Last Bandit, though I disgracefully omitted to laud her in my review of that worthy film.

 

So the ladies are strong and interesting characters (apart from Vera, I’m afraid).

 

I always liked Albert Dekker in Westerns. He was especially adept at smoothy bad guy roles, though he could play goodies (he was Bat Masterson in The Woman of the Town). Of course he was unforgettable as double-crossing gang leader in The Killers but in Westerns I liked him in that brace of John Wayne pictures In Old Oklahoma and In Old California, with Richard Dix in The Kansan and Buckskin Frontier, and of course he was marvelous in old age as Harrigan in The Wild Bunch. But he did sixteen feature Westerns and a couple of TV shows and was always worth watching.

 

 

In smaller parts I spotted some familiar faces. Bearded Grant Withers is a particularly heavy heavy, excellent, I thought, while Harry Woods is a leading rustler, Roy Barcroft is the sheriff, then we’ve got Trevor Bardette, Hank Bell, Rex Lease, Charles Middleton, Glenn Strange (Wild Bill shoots his hat off), and, in a good bit of business with a hat, young Ben Johnson – these were regulars on the Republic Wild Bill oaters. Always a pleasure to see them.

 

Gabby is shot in the back by the bad guys and dies movingly but we don’t get a Shane-style funeral, only an après-funeral scene.

 

The death of Gabby

 

There’s certainly plenty of action. Uncle Joe Kane didn’t stint on that. Yakima Canutt was in charge of the stunts.

 

The ending’s a bit pat, when rancher Alderson suddenly sees reason, finds that there is “common ground”, and agrees to compromise with the settlers, who, he concedes, also have a right to live there. Never mind, it’s a nippy little Western and it’s good to have a pro-rancher one for a change.

 

 

 

10 Responses

  1. A fine review. I am onside with the politics, that Wyoming was uninhabited by any sort of modernity; no medicine, transportation, or culture. By that I mean, there were no horses in America, either North or South, until brought over by conquistadors. medicine, nothing. Civilization, see how tribal women were treated. On the other hand, seeing reason at the end, and welcoming new settlers, seems rational, although Alderson’s side of it seems sane as well.

    Prior to Wyoming, I had only seen Elliott as Red Ryder, a series that I liked a lot, but only in the films Wild Bill and Bobby Blake headlined. I believe Wyoming is far and away the best of his starring vehicles, although I could live without the curtain call.

    Great stuff, and thanks for putting his front and center.

  2. Regarding the Red Ryder stories.

    They are also set in Wyoming and Red comes from moeny. His aunt, known as Teh Duchess owns a big ranch, Red is apparently her ‘administrative assistant.’ A sidebar to that, in the comic book variation, at least in the late forties when I was reading them, there was a conflict or at least criticism of nestors. A mention of squatters’ rights.

  3. Jeff, good write-up of a good Western Movie. You just can’t go wrong with a William Elliott oater. I really like WYOMING(filmed 1946, released 1947). I first recall viewing it in 1987 on the Christian Broadcasting Network(CBN), which was during the cable tv explosion of the 1980’s. I might add here, that during the 1980’s and 1990’s Pat Robertson’s CBN(later renamed THE FAMILY CHANNEL) aired its WEEKEND AT THE WESTERNS, which showed a lot of the Classic Western tv shows and movies.

    WYOMING has a really good cast and I’m not excluding Vera Ralston either. Vera wasn’t a great actress, but she worked hard and became a solid one and she had her moments.

    The Ranchers weren’t evil villains and I like that. The ranchers of the West were right about the land, because most of it wasn’t suited for farming. The farmers found out the hard way during the first drought year followed by a hard winter.

    1. I too like a Wild Bill oater now and then.
      I agree about Ralston. She did her best, within her limits.

  4. Nice to see Bill Elliott’s ‘A’ films get some love. Several of them are hard to find.

    In your ‘Last Bandit’ review, you quote Scott Eyman saying that Joe “Kane was ‘a man who made more than one hundred movies without an interesting shot to be found in any of them.’” He might have changed his mind if he’d seen ‘Wyoming,’ as John Alton’s cinematography provides many an interesting shot.

    1. Yes, he may have, but who cares what he or anyone else says, unless we can change their minds? On the other hand, who the hell is Scott Eyman? What films did he write, produce direct, or just see? Budget and studio have lot to do with perception. Wyoming is just under marvelous, but it is under, that goes to studio style, marketing assessments, and budget. MGM made a few westerns, all of them better productions, but I don’t think any were as compelling and memorable. Fox got lucky, they had great artists like John Ford working, but while better produced, were they any more likable or have more depth?

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