Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Montana Territory (Columbia, 1952)


Plummer and the vigilantes


Montana Territory was a one-hour Columbia Western shot up at the Iverson Ranch with a modest budget but was in color, had a good supporting cast and rattled along quite nicely.



It was directed by highly experienced Ray Nazarro (73 feature Westerns!) and written by equally qualified Barry Shipman, one of 56 big-screen oaters he scripted.


The cast was headed by the slightly less than stellar Lon McAllister, a former child actor who appeared in, as the IMDb bio says, “wholesome, folksy tales” and “as an adult, he found the strength of his career riding on that same homespun sentiment”. It was the only Western he did and he didn’t really convince, I fear, especially when trying to biff the bad guys. For one thing he was noticeably short.


Lon’s only oater


His leading lady was Wanda Hendrix, at the time recently divorced from Audie Murphy, the fourth of seven Westerns she did. She plays a tomboyish gal who falls for the handsome hero shortly after shooting her Winchester at him. Her conversion from murderousness to true love is highly improbable, to say the least of it.


Wanda is the feisty tomboy


The weightiest actor on the set (in all senses, actually) was third-billed Preston Foster, a Broadway player who turned to films at the end of the silent era and who in our genre shot Bob Ford in Samuel Fuller’s I Shot Jesse James and also topped the billing as an army captain in the 1939 Geronimo and was Oakhurst in the 1937 version of The Outcasts of Poker Flat.


Preston has a Plummer role


Foster plays Sheriff Henry Plummer, for this is an 1863 yarn about the lawman and alleged road agent who was hanged by vigilantes in 1864. Of course the movie is historical hooey, that’s normal, but there is some attempt to reference the facts of the case and certain real-life characters of the story do appear in the film.


The real (not reel) Plummer



We have some old friends lower down the cast list, such as Jack Elam as one of the leading bad guys, the club-footed Gimp (he will shoot Wanda but in turn be shot by the hero) as well as Clayton Moore (during John Hart’s tenure as the Lone Ranger) as Plummer’s equally crooked deputy George Ives (the real Ives was hanged in December 1863), and Myron Healey as leading townsman Bill Landers. Eddy Waller is Wanda’s dad Possum, who runs the stage relay station (he will be shot by Plummer to silence him).  Also shot is Trevor Bardette, as a robbed miner, but that’s in the opening scene so Trevor doesn’t get much of a look in. Hugh Sanders is the leader of the vigilantes and Robert Griffin is the bad guy Yeager – Erastus ‘Red’ Yeager was another who expired at the end of a rope, after he had spilled the beans big time, incriminating Plummer.


Clayon on masked-man furlough (dig the goatee) is crooked deputy


The vigilantes are portrayed as semi-goodies, bringing law ‘n’ order to a lawless frontier. We don’t see the hangings they perpetrate (can’t frighten the horses or children). Paradoxically, it’s the crooked sheriff who appeals to the consciences of the vigilantes, pleading with them to eschew unlawful hangings and let the legal powers that be handle the criminal activity.


In the last reel Plummer is arrested, Montana officially becomes a US Territory and Plummer is told that as a result he can now be “legally tried and hanged”, which wasn’t exactly as it happened but we’ll let that slide.


The proposal


This is an undistinguished but well-paced, professionally helmed and written oater, with some, er, modest acting at the top of the list but good players lower down, and if you had 64 minutes to spare, you could do worse.



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