Feature Drama | 1940 | Sound | B/W
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A creaky, yet enjoyable western; in fact, less about a feud and more about the kidnapping of a woman who is the only witness to a murder. Not serious - in fact quite funny, but probably not deliberately so. Carries all the hallmarks of a typical western, from the costumes and sets to the character stereotypes.
A piece of expository writing - white on a black background - starts the film, explaining that:
'Jim McPhail, separated from his father since childhood, returns from the east to find the old McPhail-Thorndyke feud still raging'.
A group of cowboys on horseback ride up a grassy hill past a group of leafy, deciduous trees. A grassy plain with more (similar) trees and hills is seen in the background behind them; it is presumably set in California or somewhere similar. The group wear typical cowboy costume (generic - Stetsons, checked shirts, waistcoats, gunbelts and holsters, boots and spurs. More central characters will have their clothing described below). Their horses are saddled, with reins and stirrups.
The posse is jovial. Three horses lead the pack - the middle is ridden by a large (fat) man, wearing a black hat and waistcoat and a neckerchief. He also has an impressive black handlebar moustache. He has a jolly face, if a little fierce. We later learn that his name is Daniel (Dan) McPhail. On his left is beautiful, slim blonde cowgirl, also wearing a hat and a spotted neckerchief She wears a white shirt, and also wears trousers. (The film will establish her as a - slightly unlikely - tomboyish character, in opposition to the more feminine - in actions and clothing - 'damsel in distress character' who is chased and kidnapped during the film). We later learn that she is called Jane. On the Dan's right is a cowboy in generic clothing (of the type described above) wearing a light-coloured hat. Dan tells them with satisfaction that since his son is arriving today they will be able to fight 'back-to-back' and defeat all the men Thorndyke can throw at them. A shot is heard in the distance; they slow their horses to a stop. Jane says that it came from the ridge, and looks into the distance (looking to her right) towards it. Dan's satisfaction turns to consternation - he exclaims that he sent a man up there that morning and that 'If Thorndyke has bushwhacked him!…'
Cut to a woman in a long, dark-coloured but well-fitting dress, white frilled leather(?) gloves (which come quite far up her wrists), and a two-colour striped headscarf, being chased across a plain by a cowboy (patterned shirt, but otherwise generic clothing) who is riding upright, whirling a lasso in his right hand, by his side. The woman rides a dark-coloured horse (maybe black) low in the saddle, not side-saddle, leaning forward over the horse's neck, and looks back at her pursuer frantically.
We cut back to the same group of cowboys, whose horses stand on a slope. The focus of the shot, however, is on a broken, forked and weather-beaten branch from a tree; the horsemen are in the background. They too whirl their lassoes and ride off (the whole of this action is accompanied by dramatic music).
Back to the fleeing woman. She looks back at her pursuer again, still galloping; he is now whirling his lasso overhead.
The group of cowboys gallops up a gentle slope through some trees, which cast dark shadows in the bright, sunlit ground. As the horses thunder past, sending up clouds of dust, one of them breaks off from the group and rides into the shade under a group of trees (towards the camera). This horseman (unidentifiable until slightly later, when you find out that it's Jane) takes a long, thin object - a rifle - from the side of her horse, in her right hand.
The lone cowboy continues to chase the woman, round a bend in the track, spinning his lasso faster and faster over his head. You can now, as you couldn't before, see them both on screen; the woman quite close, and the cowboy behind her. As the woman rides off-screen, her pursuer releases the rope; in the next shot, we see that he has caught her in the loop of the lasso, which is tied around her waist. He pulls taut on the rope, dragging her from her horse. She falls to the ground, lying on her side in the dust, and rolls over onto the bank. Her horse comes to a halt next to her.
Jane, the rider to break off from the group of cowboys, stands next to her horse. We now see that she is wearing a shirt covered with a close-check pattern, and a leather gun-belt with a holster, containing a pistol (perhaps a revolver, but whether colt or Smith and Wesson - just as whether her rifle is a Winchester or a Lee-Enfield - we are not told) on her right hip. With a determined expression she raises her rifle to her shoulder, with her left hand at the muzzle end of the barrel and her right hand on the trigger, and begins to take aim. There is a brief shot of the pursuer bringing his horse alongside his fallen quarry; then Jane (perhaps a little gingerly) takes aim and fires. A great cloud of smoke erupts from the muzzle with a bang (right next to her horses ear, who makes a brief movement) and Jane blinks as it goes off.
The cowboy clutches his side with an expression of pain and surprise; he then falls forward from his horse onto his back (in fact, almost throwing himself forward) a little ahead of the fallen chased-woman. He does a backward roll (presumably from momentum) and rolls onto his front, his arm drawn up by the side of his head (this sequence of movements is rather exaggerated and quite odd).
The larger group of horsemen seen at the beginning has arrived; they sit on horseback in the background. The shot pursuer is lying on his belly, now facing the bank with his feet in the road (the opposite way round to the last shot of him), with his arms spread on the ground (in fact, he may be on a different bank altogether - he is certainly in a different place). One of the cowboys runs over to him and kneels on the ground beside him. He takes the man by the shoulders and pulls him up so that his face is visible; we see that the shot man's hat was on the ground, brim down, under his face. The examining cowboy says that the shot man is one of Thorndyke's men, called Charley Gray. Dan, still on horseback a little further back and to the right of the larger group of horsemen, asks the chased-woman why he was pursuing her. The chased-woman stands beside his horse; behind and beside her is the cowboy in the light-coloured hat, holding the reins of a horse . We can now see her clothing better; her dress has three buttons at the neck and a belt with a large silver buckle at the waist. She scornfully and confidently replies that she saw him shoot a man further up the canyon. Dan looks a little bemused as he thinks for a moment; then, in a tone of disbelief (suggesting that he thinks he knows the answer already) he asks the woman if she knows who the man was. She thinks as she describes him, and squints (she is looking up at Dan, who is on horseback - presumably into the sun). The cowboy in the light-coloured fits a name to the description; he then tries to get onto his horse, but misses the stirrup once (with a quick glance not at, but in the direction of, the camera) before he climbs into the saddle. Meanwhile, Dan, shaking his finger in the direction of chased-girl, warns that if the man is dead then he'll make sure Thorndyke hangs for it. He then tells Jane to put chased-girl (he describes her as 'that cream-puff') behind her on her horse and to ride to 'Brooks's ranch'. Chased-girl angrily refuses the suggestion and begins to flounce off. However, Dan puts his hand on her shoulder to stop her, and, leaning down to her to be more assertive, shouts that she'll go with Jane. Chased-girl looks up at him sullenly, but stops walking away; Dan explains that she's the only witness. Dan and light-hat ride off; the two women are left standing by Jane's horse.
Quick fade to black, then...
Dan and light-hat are in town. They stand in the middle of a group of people; in the background behind them are: a woman in a flowery hat, two other women wearing more anonymous hats, and a few men in the same kind of generic cowboy garb. They stand in front of an unidentifiable brick building. Dan is asking someone off-screen if they have seen anyone looking like his son; in the next shot, we see that he was asking the sheriff. This lawman wears a uniform of hat, leather waistcoat, 1880's preacher-style tie, check-shirt and sheriff's badge. Another man who stands next to him (perhaps a deputy, but he wears no badge) announces that he might be in the 'Lady Luck'. These two men also stand in front of a group of people in 'wild-west' clothes, and a brick building which seems to have iron bars set into the wall (so perhaps it's the jail). Dan is incredulous at the news (the 'Lady Luck' is Thorndyke's place). Dan looks as if he will explode, then he sets his face and elbows his way to the left, into the crowd behind him, followed by a group of men from the crowd. The sheriff, who is fairly ineffectual, moves a few steps forward after him and vainly calls out after him, over the heads of the crowd, 'not to start any trouble'. He raises his hands pleadingly and also in exasperation, but most of the crowd follow Dan.
In the 'Lady Luck', Dan asks a well-dressed man on the far left of the screen, at the bar, if he is his son. The man wears a white shirt, and a grey jacket and dark-coloured trousers, and a trilby hat. He holds a bottle in his hand. Behind him, the leering bartender polishes a glass with a white napkin and looks at Dan. Behind the bartender is a series of shelves with bottles on them. On the right of Dan, behind him, there is a man leaning across the bar. Standing next to Dan is a dapper man in a top hat, light-grey suit, raised collar and wearing a thin moustache. He smokes a cheroot (this is Thorndyke). Dan's son replies in the affirmative, and Dan asks him why he is drinking with 'this polecat' - he gestures, without looking at him, at Thorndyke. Thorndyke replies smoothly, but Dan narrows his eyes and, looking sideways at Thorndyke, rebuffs him insultingly. Thorndyke chuckles.
A crowd of men led by the cowboy with the light-coloured hat come into the saloon; they look on their guard. One large cowboy with a dark-coloured checked shirt and a moustache stands leaning against the wall by the door with his thumbs in his gunbelt (later called 'Big Taylor'). Dan pushes past them and goes out of the bar through the lattice swing-doors. His men turn and watch him go. Dan's son, now standing with light-hat, laughs and says that he likes the town and that he'll stay. We now see that Dan's son is also wearing a light-coloured cravat, and has a tanned complexion. His voice and appearance are more 'urban' than Dan's 'Yosemite Sam' appearance. He carries two cases. Light-hat has his hand on the butt of his gun, which is in its holster on his right hip. He glances to his right; they laugh together, both glancing around. Light-hat claps Dan's son on the back, and they laugh again, heartily.
Fade to black, and then...
Four men are standing in a room (it appears to be someone's study, or office). From left to right: the first man sits on the back of a low wooden chair with a rounded back that also forms two arms (like an old-fashioned library chair), with his right foot on the seat of the chair and his left on the floor. He is dressed in cowboy clothing. Next is a man in a black coat and hat with dark eyebrows and a shifty expression. He has a thin moustache, and fidgets with his hands. Next is Thorndyke; still dapper, but without his hat or coat. He wears a light-coloured waistcoat and is smoking a small cigar as before. On the far right, closest to us, is a cowboy perched on the edge of the desk which stands in the middle of the scene. He wears a dark hat and waistcoat. The room they are in is well-furnished. Thorndyke's hat and coat hang from a classic 'curly' hatstand on the far left. Next is a tall wooden cabinet with leather-bound books in the glass-fronted part of it. To the right of this is an aspidistra in a pot on a small wooden stand, and over this quite a large painting in a gilt frame hangs on the wall. A few smaller pictures hang on the wall farthest right. In the centre of the room, at the front, around which the four men stand, is a wooden desk. Some leather books and papers are stacked on it.
Thorndyke tells the men to go to Brooks' ranch and pick up chased-girl (the witness). The cowboy on the far left wearily stands up and tells the man on the far right to follow him.
Fade to black, then...
Big Taylor (still in the dark checked shirt, seen in the doorway of the Lady Luck with is thumbs in his belt), runs up on to the large open wooden porch of a light-coloured house. He peers in at the screen-door and then raps on it, stepping back and looking around him. He still has his thumbs in his belt. Strange round objects hang from the walls of this porch (one from the wall on the left, near the door, and one from the ceiling on the right). Under the first of the strange round objects, on the left, is the edge of a wooden table. Under the second, on the right, is a chair covered in a blanket with a zigzag Red Indian/Mexican(?) design. The front door is open behind the closed screen-door; an old man comes to this screen door. He has thin white hair, bony hands, a wizened face and a squinting expression, and he stoops a little. He wears a white shirt, black waistcoat and pocket watch, and an 1880's preacher's tie (like the sheriff seen earlier - it seems to be worn by people deserving of respect). The old man opens the screen door and greets the large man. The large man explains to the old man (Brooks) that he has come for chased-girl as Jane is ill and is asking for her. Chased-girl (she does have a name, but it is difficult to make out what it is), who has also come to the door, looks worried; she picks up some frilled white leather(?) gloves (seen earlier, but now seen more clearly), with a black geometric design, and a whip from the wooden table on the left. She rushes to go with the Big Taylor, and they hurry down the porch. We now see them from a distance; the ranch itself is on a wide plain, like that seen earlier. The farmhouse is surrounded by a wooden fence, and there are trees and hills in the background. Chased-girl and Big Taylor ride off, past a cuboidal haystack made out of rectangular bales. They gallop very fast across the plain, kicking up dust; then over small hills, under trees etc.
In the darkness of the shadows beneath one of the broad-spreading trees characteristic of the plain in the film, two cowboys lie in wait. They are the men sent by Thorndyke earlier when our heroine and the burly Big Taylor ride past, the bandits burst from their hiding place and fire into the air. The two Thorndyke men and the large cowboy encircle chased-girl, and the large cowboy tells her that she won't be hurt if she's calm and that she's being kept out of the way until after the trial. She is furious at his betrayal and deception, and raises her arm to try and cut at him with her whip. However, one of Thorndyke's henchmen grabs her arm from behind to stop her. They ride off.
Fade to black...
Four riders gallop across the plain. They ride between two small bushes, and past the haystack seen earlier (but in the opposite direction). They halt their horses next to the fence of the ranch, which has a horse tethered to it and a spoked cartwheel propped against it. We see that the riders are: Jane, Dan, Dan's son (now in cowboy clothes), and the cowboy with the light-coloured hat and the gormless expression. Dan tells Brooks that they have come to take his niece to the trial, but he is confused and explains that she is not there. Dan is furious when he hears of the large cowboy's treacherous involvement. Dan's son has an idea, and raises his right arm to gesture with as he expounds it. Light-hatted cowboy looks bemused. Dan's son suggests that he sorts out the problem himself while they go to the trial as if nothing had happened. Dan is incandescent with anger at the apparent absurdity of this idea, but Jane places her hand on his arm and frowns to calm him down.
Three cowboys ride up a sunny path of wispy, sun-bleached grass between the shadow of two sets of trees. They ride into the shade; one tells another to watch the road and fire a warning shot if anyone comes. Then he and the other cowboy turn their horses and ride offscreen (towards the camera). On foot, they run to the door of a wooden shack with its window boarded up; one tries the door handle, then raps on the door. Inside their shack are Big Taylor and the heroine. She is bound to a chair with her arms behind her, and gagged with a dark-coloured cloth. Equipment (probably farming-related - cartwheels, wooden objects, baskets, burlap sacks) line the walls; there are also large wooden crates on the floor against the walls). The floor is covered in straw; all the windows are shuttered or otherwise covered. Big Taylor peers through a crack in the boards covering the window nearest the door and, holding a gun ready in his right hand, goes to the door. He asks who it is, cautiously, with one hand on the handle and the other on his gun. One of the men outside replies; Big Taylor opens the door and they come in. The two men ask for someone, but he isn't there. The three men hurry to get the heroine out of the shack, beginning to untie her ropes.
A man on horseback (Dan's son) rides past the side of a large wooden building. He kicks his horse to speed it up. The three men drag the heroine to a horse tethered to a fence, in the shade of a tree; they force her to climb onto its back. Dan's son, now seen in the distance across the plain with the steep slope of a hill behind him and trees casting long shadows onto the ground beside him, fires his gun into the air; his horse kicks up a cloud of dust. The three men with the persecuted heroine fall to the ground; tow are by her horse, the third alone on the far right. She breaks free, kicking her horse into a gallop and whipping it on with her reins. The men jump up onto their feet from the hay onto which they had fallen (Big Taylor leaving his hat on the ground), draw their guns and fire after her. A fourth man (the lookout ?) appears, and they all fire at Dan's son as he rides past. Dan's son gallops off, holding onto his hat then turning in the saddle to fire behind him as he leaves. Our hero and heroine are seen riding side-by-side along a dirt road, again with trees casting shadows onto the path.
Three men are in a room (later, in a wider shot, shown to be the courtroom). Light-hatted cowboy, looking pasty, is sitting resting his arm on a desk. On this heavy wooden desk are a jug of water and a glass, an inkwell containing a quill and a pen, an open book, a box, and some papers. On the left of light-hatted cowboy stands the sheriff; behind the desk sits a grey-haired judge. Light-hatted cowboy is frustrated; he tells the judge what Brooks reported. Thorndyke is revealed, standing on the far right; he replies angrily that it's only hearsay. We cut to a typical street in a western town; horses (saddled) and carts line the streets, and there are wooden buildings and trees alongside. Dan's son and chased-girl ride up to a building with a long sign saying 'Palo Grande Sheriff's office', which has large wooden pillars. They hurriedly dismount.
Dan's son bursts into the courtroom. Thorndyke, looking dapper and nonchalant, glances with a dark expression of annoyance at their unexpected entrance. The other men look up, surprised, and light-hatted cowboy gets up and exclaims 'It's about time!' with frustration. Brooks, Jane and Dan are sitting in the back two rows of the courtroom, and look pleased. They sit on simple wooden chairs along with tow other men (presumably some of Dan's ). Dan puts his cheroot to his mouth and Jane scratches her ear. Dan's son leads chased-girl up to the railing separating the 'court' part of the room from the audience. Light-hatted cowboy gets up, beaming happily at them, and jerks his thumb at chased-girl to indicate to the judge that she is the witness. Thorndyke looks shifty and uncomfortable. He frowns, and jerks his head slightly, looking into the audience. A man sitting on the end of one of the middle rows of spectators on the right (looking from the back) of the packed courtroom (which has a lamp and a picture of Lincoln on the back wall, and a group of men also lounging against this wall) pushes himself up from his chair. He holds his hat in his left hand. He walks to the front of he courtroom, past chased-girl and Dan's son (and out of the room, though we do not see this). Chased-girl is explaining why she was detained. Another man, in the seat next to the first cowboy to leave, stands up and also walks to the front of the room; he changes his hat from his right into his left hand.
The seated judge asks for chased-girl to be sworn in; light-hatted cowboy opens a gate in the railing separating the court from the audience to let her in. Dan's son nods approvingly, resting one hand on his gun and one on his belt, and looks at the back of the court.
The judge is asking chased-girl a question. Thorndyke looks sideways at the window - we see a man in a cowboy's hat (the first cowboy to leave the room) pressed up against the outside wall of the courtroom in an alley adjacent to it. He leans in slightly, his gun drawn. Chased-girl is talking offscreen, Dan etc. are watching the court. Jane however looks with surprise at the window. The man leans on the windowsill and, with a grim and determined expression, puts his arm through the open window (pointing his gun into the courtroom), Jane is seen standing - she fires her pistol with a resolved expression, blinking as it goes off with a bang and a cloud of smoke. The man clutches his side and falls over the window-ledge. The second cowboy to leave the room has appeared, and presses his gun into the back of Dan's on. Chased-girl leaps up looking worried and plaintive. Thorndyke has a gun dawn; he holds his hat in his left hand and bursts through the gate. The judge has risen, with his hands on the desk in front of him; the sheriff and another man (the clerk of the court?) start with surprise and hold their hands away from their guns. Thorndyke leaves the courtroom telling his men to keep the people there.
Two of Thorndyke's men stands at the front of the 'audience' section, their guns drawn. The light-hatted cowboy comes through the gate. Standing behind him, his hands up, Dan's son throws him into the gunman on the left so that they grapple. He then kicks the gun out of the hand of the other goon, pushes him over, and dives through the window. The blind-cord on the window swings as he brushes it.
Thorndyke sticks his head out of a door at the top of a flight of stairs on a wooden, uncarpeted landing. He slams the door closed, and in the room beyond (probably his study from earlier on, having a rug, armchairs, and pictures on the walls) draws his gun and takes up a position standing with his back to the wall, beside a roller desk, looking at the closed door.
Dan's son bursts in, glances around, and seeing Thorndyke, shoots him (apparently hitting him in the shoulder). He outs his (sliver) gun back in its holster and takes the grimacing Thorndyke by the lapels. One of Thorndyke's men (the thinly-moustachioed shifty-looking one seen in the office earlier) runs past the bar of the 'Lady Luck' and up a flight of stairs. He bursts into the room where Thorndyke and Dan's son have been fighting, his gun drawn, but looks the wrong way. Dan's son, seeing him, draws his gun and tells him to stop; Thorndyke's henchman drops his gun and puts up his hands, dropping his head. Thorndyke, in a rapid movement, tries to grab the gun out of the hand of Dan's son and grapples with him. However, Dan's son overpowers him and pushes him into the other man; they both fall onto the floor.
Down below in the otherwise deserted Lady Luck, Dan and light-hat stand by the stairs, their pistols drawn. Dan tells light-hat to go upstairs, and he does so. Back upstairs, Dan's son (who has lost his hat, but who is wearing spurs) is fighting Thorndyke - the room is in a mess. He grabs Thorndyke and punches him in the face; Thorndyke falls against the wall by the door, but grabs a short, squat liquor bottle from a tray with some glasses on a small cabinet next to him and throws it at Dan's son. He misses; Dan ducks, then punches him again, finally throwing him against the open door and punching the stunned Thorndyke through the doorway. Thorndyke staggers backwards onto the landing; we see the banisters cast shadows onto the walls, and Dan's son in the doorway looking at him. Thorndyke staggers back too far, and tips backwards down the stair, caught at the bottom by men who are standing on the half-landing. He falls limply into their arms.
Upstairs, in the trashed office, Dan's son lifts Thorndyke's henchman from the floor. He hits him once, sending him flying into the door, then takes him by the lapels up against the door and punches him again - the cowboy is dazed, not putting up much of a fight. Dan's son finishes him off as he had Thorndyke, punching him through the doorway and sending him staggering backwards down the stairs. He rolls down at the feet of the men still holding Thorndyke at the bottom. From the doorway at the top of the stairs, Dan's son checks that they are down, then goes to pick up his hat from the floor of his office. His hair is in a mess. He places his hat at a slight angle on his head and walks towards the stairs.
The men at the bottom are picking up Thorndyke's man as Dan's son comes running down the stairs. Dan points his gun at Thorndyke's man and tells the men to take them to the sheriff.
An exterior shot of a garden. Dan is lying in a tasselled hammock with a pillow under his head. He enthusiastically tells his son that he's the kind of son he's always wanted. Chased-girl, now in a white, Regency-style dress with puffed sleeves and a high waistline, looks at Dan's son adoringly; but when Dan asks her if she loves him, she is embarrassed and doesn't know what to say. The hero tousles his dad's hair, in jovial admonition. Light-hat leans into the fork of the tree which Dan's hammock is attached; Jane is standing with one hand raised up, resting it on the hammock-rope, laughing. A large wooden house with white steps and a large porch is behind them; a flowerbed with shrubbery and some larger plants is at the base of the wall of the house. They all laugh; Dan, in mock-annoyance, tells them to go away so that he can go to sleep, and rolls over top face us in the hammock, his head on the pillow. The hero and heroine turn away, putting their arms around each other's waists. Jane comes to the side of Dan and pats him on the arm.
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