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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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