Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Walk Tall (Fox, 1960)

 

Pretty darn good

 

By 1960, the B-Western, in the sense of a one-hour second feature, was all but dead, but producer/director Maury Dexter, a former henchman of Robert Lippert’s at Regal Films (click for our essays on Bob and Regal) and later to concentrate on Little House on the Prairie, was out to prove that it wasn’t so. He directed a handful of such oaters in the early 60s. One such was Walk Tall.

 

Maury at the camera

 

It starred Willard Parker as the hero. Willard was pushing fifty by then (and looking it, to be brutally frank, but then who am I to talk?) and this was one his last outings in the saddle (he’d do one of those AC Lyles ‘geezer Westerns’ a bit later, Waco, then call it a day). Willard was probably best known for having been Ranger Jace Pearson in CBS’s Tales of the Texas Rangers in the late 50s but he’d done quite a few Western features too, since the late 40s, notably as Jesse James in The Great Jesse James Raid (which wasn’t), and the same year as Walk Tall he’d be Cole Younger (to Ray Stricklyn’s Jesse) in Young Jesse James. Parker was tall (as per the title) and looked the part (even if blond).

 

Willard having another go

 

With him was Kent Taylor, a Dexter regular (he would also be in The Purple Hills in 1961 and The Firebrand in ’62). Mr Taylor, who, the IMDb bio suggests, “sported rugged looks, a slick, pencil-thin mustache and solid physique,” was “star material with the potential and durability of Clark Gable and Errol Flynn, but lacked their consistent leading man quality and charisma.” Well, quite. As far as Westerns go, which is after all what really counts, he had headed the cast in The Mysterious Rider back in 1933 and Alaska in 1944, he was Bob Dalton in The Daltons Ride Again in ’45, and had done a few features, usually as the bad guy, in the 50s. He’s the chief villain in this one too.

 

He gets the drop on Kent

 

Parker is a soldier, Captain Ed Trask, who is given the mission by his superior officer Colonel Stanton (Russ Bender, another Dexter disciple) of going into the Black Hills in plain clothes (buckskins, natch) to track down Frank Carter, a former soldier now gone rogue (that’s Kent) who is given to slaughtering Indians for the bounty on their scalps – in fact that’s what we see in the opening scene. Naturally, Carter has henchmen, they were practically compulsory in them days, and they are lowlifes Leach (Ron Soble), Jake (William Mims) and the obligatory Mexican Carlos (Alberto Monte). I thought they were rather good.

 

The picture only lasts an hour so the captain has to get on with it, which helps, actually. I mean the pace doesn’t drop and the thing doesn’t drag.

 

The Black Hills look remarkably like the San Bernardino Mountains, California, which is unsurprising because it was filmed there, very nice too, especially in the CinemaScope and Color De Luxe. This may have been a B but it was not an ultra-cheapo. At the camera was Floyd Crosby, no less, so no wonder the picture looks good. In fact that’s the best thing about it.

 

Well, in no time at all (though about a quarter of the runtime in) the brave captain has succeeded in his mission to get Carter. The henchmen were away henching somewhere else so Cap’n Trask is able to capture the rogue and shackle him. They ride off, back towards the fort.

 

The thing is, though, that the Shoshone didn’t take at all kindly to that scalping business, and the sage chief, Black Feather (good old Felix Locher, still going strong) has told the colonel that he only has till the corn gets yay high (pointing to his chin, and he’s not a tall man) before his people will take matters into their own hands (viz, an Indian war). Furthermore, as we know, all sage chiefs have to have young firebrands who want the warpath, and Black Feather is no exception: some of the braves are already out for blood. They are led by the bellicose Buffalo Horn (Dave DePaul, though he only gets one line). And indeed, the captain returning with his captive sees a wagon pursued by these Indians, who kill the driver, whom the whites bury (Carter is made to do that). But there’s a survivor and wouldn’t you know it, she is young and beautiful. Second-billed Joyce Meadows (only two other oaters) is Sally, so now the party returning to the fort numbers three.

 

They went thataway, Black Feather

 

And the henchmen are hot on the trail. They think their boss has the ill-gotten loot with him, $4K from those scalps, and they want it.

 

Carlos dutifully henching yet it will avail him naught

 

As you may imagine, dear reader, there are excitements and dangers and you are never quite sure if the good guys or the bad guys are going to win out, though you do know really, of course. It all comes to a dramatic final conflict, when Carter gets the drop on Trask and is just about to do him in, when – yet nay, of spoilers shall there be none. Let’s just say there’s a deus ex machina.

 

Biff!

 

Boff!

 

Well, I enjoyed it, I must say. My attention span is getting shorter these days, old age, doubtless, and so I like a fast-moving one-hour oater, just my cup of tea. And this one wasn’t too bad at all, I thought.

 

***

 

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10 Responses

  1. Well it sounds like a funny little thing far over many bigger 1960s films… Rythm is the key. By the way R is missing in San BernaRdino mountains. Surely your rythm in writing is as fast as the film… Have à nice week-end

      1. After finally watching the film, considering the plot and its advancement, the gorgeous photography etc, I can’t help but think about what it could have been as a A film starring Randolph Scott, Jimmy Stewart or Joel McCrea, Robert Preston, Robert Ryan or John Dehner, Julie Adams, Donna Reed or Joanne Dru, Zachary Scott, Ernest Borgnine an Alfonso Bedoya (even if the 3 henchmen are quite good). The movie gives the impression of beibg the draft of a future “big” film with many components already included but needing some development. As is, it’s a good entertainment, everything being done so that we have a good time.

  2. Jerry Siegel part of Siegel and Shuster created Superman. Jerry was Kent Taylor’s brother-in-law and Clark Gable his favorite actor, therefore… the man of Steel’s alter ego was created.

  3. Jeff — your description of the plot sounds similar to Apocalypse Now the movie, which was loosely based on Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Soldier must go upriver to root out, kill a soldier gone rogue. Perhaps Mr. Dexter was well read, saw a good story concept and adapted it to our glorious Western genre. Plus, he didn’t have to buy the rights to film it. Then again, maybe not.

      1. Apocalypse Now as a western has still to be made… Robert Duvall is maybe a little too old to play in it but it would be a nice clin d’œil…

        1. One wonders why no one thought of doing it before.
          Though it might have given us Brando, and we wouldn’t want that.

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