Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Outlaw Women (Howco Productions, 1952)

 

A lot of fun

 

In 1951, Joy Newton Houck Sr, the owner of 29 ‘Joy Theatres’ in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, teamed up with producer/director Ron Ormond, who had been making low-budget Westerns with Lash LaRue, and J Francis White, owner of 31 cinemas in Virginia, North and South Carolina, to create inexpensive product for their combined theater chains. Using their initials, HOW, they formed Howco Productions. Outlaw Women was their first picture. It was also released by Bob Lippert.

 

Joy Houck

 

And Ron (I couldn’ find a pic of White)

 

It’s a real B-Western but very enjoyable. Ormond himself directed, alongside Sam Newfield, brother of Sigmund Neufeld, later the head of PRC Pictures, where Sam, one of the most prolific directors in American film history, made many of his films (so many, in fact, that he had to use the pseudonyms ‘Peter Stewart’ and ‘Sherman Scott’ so audiences wouldn’t notice that only one man directed so much of the studio’s output). Newfield was credited with helming over 250 feature films in a career which began during the silent era and ended in 1958. There was little risk of there being an A-picture among them.

 

Sam ‘n’ Sigmund

 

Outlaw Women starred the great Marie Windsor, known as Queen of the Bs. She was brilliant as femme fatale in low-budget noirs (she was later quoted as saying a femme fatale is “…usually the woman who gets the man into bed… then into trouble”) but she also did a lot of Westerns – 21 features and 26 episodes of 22 different Western TV shows. Her big-screen oaters went from The Romance of Rosy Ridge with Van Johnson in 1947 to Hearts of the West with Jeff Bridges in 1975. I remember her especially in Dakota Lil, Little Big Horn and The Bounty Hunter. Her lead in Outlaw Women was one of her best Western roles.

 

Marie

 

They made it in Cinecolor, so that was hang-the-expense bold. It’s lasted pretty well too. Cinecolor prints often fade to pastel shades but this one’s still quite bright.

 

It also has an entertainingly quirky plot, in a 50s feminist way. This was written by Orville H Hampton, who penned 18 big-screen oaters, all Bs, several for George Montgomery and Don ‘Red’ Barry.

 

RIP, Orville

 

Marie plays Iron Mae McLeod, who runs the town of Las Mujeres from her saloon, the Paradise. Mae cheerfully fleeces the (male) customers and is ready to consort with outlaws. Men are only allowed in under sufferance, and then only if they obey the women. They especially obey Dora (Maria Hart), the saloon bouncer, who strikes matches on her teeth to light noxious cheroots and disarms gunslingers by throwing them over her shoulder.

 

Dora practises her jujitsu skills (notice Bill’s swivel rig)

 

But the movie opens in another town, Silver Creek, which is going bust (the silver must have run out) and many of its denizens are aiming to quit, like rats leaving a sinking ship. They will mostly end up in Las Mujeres, and then there’ll be ructions. First to go are Judge Dixon (Lyle Talbot) and Doc Ridgeway (Allan Nixon). The doc says he’s off to Kansas City but guess where he’ll fetch up instead.

 

Doc’s off – but not to Kansas City

 

Chief among the rest of the soon-to-depart Silver Creekers is smooth gambler Woody Callaway, played by second-billed Richard Rober, who appeared in a lot of these low-budget jobs, including Westerns (I remember him best as Big Matt Rango in Sierra with Audie) but who would sadly die in a car crash shortly after Outlaw Women. He and Mae ‘go back’ and we guess even in the first reel that there’ll be wedding bells in the last one, and, spoiler alert, we’re right.

 

Woody and his former flame

 

His henchman is none other than Uncle Fester – yup, Jackie Coogan, as quick-on-the-draw Peyote Bill. He is waiting till noon for a quick-draw showdown with good old Tom Tyler, who will, an instant after noon, lie stretched out dead on the saloon floor, mainly because Bill drew before the last stroke of twelve, the skunk.

 

Peyote Bill – before he adopted the Bridgeport rig

 

In fact the new-fangled swivel holster that Tom had (though it didn’t help him because Bill beat the count) will play a big part in this film’s gunplay. You don’t have to withdraw your firearm, you see; you can just swivel it up and fire at your opponent, thus gaining vital microseconds. This doubtless reminds us Westernistas of the Bridgeport rig, patented in 1882 by Louis S Flatau, sheriff of Camp County, Texas.

 

 

In that gunfight a gal is also slightly nicked in the shoulder and the doc has to patch her up before leaving. This is Beth Larabee, one of the leading citizens of La Mujeres, played by Carla Balenda, a – shall we say – protégée of Howard Hughes. She has actually come to Silver Creek expressly to get the Doc, for the Paradise barkeep is dying of pneumonia. The Doc rather callously announces that by the time he gets there the fellow will either be dead or cured so what’s the point? But Beth will get him there willy-nilly. She holds up the stage he’s on.

 

Beth wants to doc – and she’ll get him

 

Once in La Mujeres we get the first of the obligatory songs in the saloon, the rather racy Crazy Over You, sung by Beth’s sister Ellen (Jacqueline Fontaine, whom Ormond had seen on TV and boggled at, signing her without a screen test). Later we’ll get the even better ditty San Francisco Bay, sung by the excellent quartet The Four Dandies, actually pretty well the highlight of the movie.

 

Racy Jacqueline

 

A traveling medicine show comes to town, led by Uncle Barney (portly comic Billy House, who did a couple of Randolph Scott oaters) and Mae poaches his girls, who previously performed for the townsfolk to encourage them to buy the elixir Barney is peddling. So Barney is constrained to take the job of barkeep, the former holder of that position having, as the doc suggested he might, expired.

 

Barney provides the comic relief – and gets a taste of his own medicine from sisters Ellen and Beth

 

Now I said Mae was in cahoots with outlaws. And then some. Marauding in the area are the likes of Sam Bass, Wes Hardin and Johnny Ringo. We never meet Wes but Bass (Leonard Penn) will appear and partner up with chief baddy Frank Slater (Richard Avonde), and later Ringo too (Riley Hill) will show off his swivel holster to an unenthusiastic Peyote Bill.

 

Frank is leader of the gang

 

These ne’er-do-wells have a big heist in mind. With Silver Creek going out of business, the bank there is transferring a quarter of a million to another town, by stage, and the baddies want that loot. The trouble is, all Mae’s money is deposited in that bank and she risks losing it if the bandits rob that coach. She decides to preempt them, and rob it first, with her gunslingin’ gals.

 

Meanwhile, Woody has turned up, and offers to play Mae a single hand of draw poker, the winner to take the Paradise.

 

First we get the obligatory catfight, as it was called, as two of the saloon gals have a go at each other.

 

Inevitable catfight, as in another Ormond pic, The Daltons’ Women

 

Now the judge turns up and announces an election. A new marshal is to be sworn in to keep the peace. All male citizens over 21 may vote. So that rules out Mae and her gals. And Woody is standing for election. So much for the feminism.

 

Anyway, it’s all set up for a gripping finale.

 

And wedding bells, natch.

 

I hope you remembered to renew your subscription to Girlie Gazette

 

I must say, I thought it was a whole lot of fun. Dennis Schwartz said, “The good premise peters out as the film is poorly executed,” and Erick Maurel commented, “Quant à la fantaisie que nous aurions été en droit d’attendre, elle n’existe quasiment pas, les dialogues eux-mêmes s’avérant d’une débilité consternante ; ou alors une fantaisie pachydermique” (As for the whimsy we might have expected, it’s almost non-existent, the dialogue proving to be appallingly stupid; or anyway it’s an elephantine fantasy). But I disagree.

 

There’s a nice Sidonis DVD.

 

Recommended.

 

Dora gets the last word

 

 

2 Responses

  1. The film you write comes across as really good stuff, I would like to have a copy. As for Jacqueline Fontaine, if he saw her on television, that was a screentest, yes?

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