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Sunday, 23 March 2008

Ride Him, Cowboy (1932)

A Four Star western featuring John Wayne and Duke, it's Duke the horse that finds himself on trial at the beginning of the film outside the Maricopa County Courthouse. Henry Sims is a decent man about town, or at least he appears to be, and he claims that Duke is a wild spirited murderous horse that needs to be killed to protect the safety of the townsfolk. In reality, Sims is the Hawk, notorious local criminal, and Duke is the first character to ever thwart him. Wayne plays John Drury, a Texan arriving in town, and he saves Duke from death by becoming the first man to ride him (hence the title). His next challenge is to save the town by catching the Hawk.

It's been a while since I worked through the 17 early westerns in an irresistably cheap 20 film John Wayne DVD box set and learned what sort of production he tended to be in at that point in time. They date from 1933 to 1937, primarily from 1933 to 1935 and they were low budget productions for sure, with Wayne the actor learning his ropes as an established B movie western lead but hardly yet a star. They were rarely any good but were usually passable entertainment, routine B movie westerns, and Wayne was the best thing about them.

Surprisingly this one actually predates those, being from 1932, making it the earliest Wayne I've seen yet, before his appearances in non-westerns like Baby Face and Central Airport. It's also a better film than most of those, though it's still certainly a very obvious formula story with comic book dialogue. Wayne is fine but he doesn't actually get to do much at all, given that Duke steals much of his thunder, saving his life and doing more intricate work than most of the actual people in the film. He was often known as Duke the Wonder Horse which is hardly surprising given what he gets up to here.

Beyond Wayne and Duke, there are other names I've heard of but know little about. Ruth Hall is the love interest and she's capable though her diction is far too correct for the surroundings and she has a hard time with the dialogue. Harry Gribbon does some painful clowning around as an inept and cowardly sheriff's deputy. Otis Harlan is far funnier as the judge and sole inhabitant of a ghost town called Desolation. Frank Hagney is the epitome of the serial villain and I'm guessing he'd been doing it for a long time. Certainly his filmography would suggest it, with silent film credits like 'Murdering' Mooney, Bob Blake the Villain, Knockout' Riley, 'Pug' Brennan or White Snake. Then again there are a few credits in there as Sheriff too.

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