Tuesday 2 January 2007

Hell Town (1937)

John Wayne continues his slow march towards decent roles in decent westerns. This one sees some versatility in his role and some real acting. He's swaggering around just like you'd expect the Duke to, but didn't throughout his 16 Lone Star westerns only a few years earlier. Those films had very simple plots and not a lot else. The acting was pretty poor throughout, as you can quickly tell by seeing the name Yakima Canutt on so many of those credit lists: Canutt was one of the biggest legends in the stunt business but he really couldn't act. Most of the cast were the same throughout, as were the sets, and they averaged only fifty some minutes in length. They really felt more like episodes of a television series than movies.

The quality went up noticeably when Lone Star merged with Mascot Pictures to form Republic and Winds of the Wasteland proved to be better than any of the films that went before. Here there's even more budget and the film is shot on a much more optimistic scale, opening with large cattle runs through beautiful countryside. Of course there are bad guys trying to steal the cattle and so a gunfight ensues. In comes Wayne and his partner who have run out of card games to play in Montana and are heading west to Wyoming. They pick the wrong side to help out but get bailed out by Wayne's brother Tom who happens to be the local head of the cattlemen's association.

He's going to take a hundred bucks to move straight on out to Idaho until he sees his brother's girl who he promptly proceeds to propose to on a daily basis. He starts working for his brother as a cook but soon moves up to running cattle drives. The catch is that he's an inveterate gambler who believes he's better than he really is and Tom has only given him such responsibility so that he can steal all the money and show himself up, thus removing him from his girlfriend's affections.

There are cattle and gunfights and gambling and everything you'd expect from a western, which is hardly surprising as it's based on a novel by western pulp legend Zane Grey, but there really isn't much more substance here than there was back in the Lone Star days. This one's perfectly passable but nothing more, except for the fascinating progression over many films of the star into the John Wayne we know today.

Here's a link to my John Wayne ratings page.

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