Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Shady businessman Harry Farrel (Warren William) is in Chicago when the Great Fire breaks out. He tells his partners he's on to a sure thing out in Powder River, Wyoming: the settlers out there have never made official claims on their land so he's heading out there to swindle the land out from under them. He takes along Belle (Constance Bennett) and her gal pals because their casino has been destroyed in the fire. (When Belle is asked what she's going to do out west, she replies, "Anybody I can," which leads me to believe that gambling isn't the only business going on in her establishment.) On the train to Powder River, a holdup is foiled by the presence of fabled gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok (Bruce Cabot), who is on his way to visit Janey, an orphan girl of his acquaintance, and her guardian Nolan. Belle takes a liking to Hickok, but Farrel quickly realizes that the man will be a thorn in his side, as Nolan is one of the settlers who won't give up his land without a fight. Sure enough, sides are soon drawn, with Farrel, the crooked sheriff (Ward Bond), and a cowardly reporter (Walter Catlett) on the landsnatching side, against Hickok, Nolan, Janey, and the local judge, with Belle in the middle. Farrel frames Nolan for a murder and despite the judge's suspicions, the jury finds Nolan guilty. That night, Farrel's men agitate the townsfolk who drag Nolan out of his cell and lynch him, leaving little Janey an orphan again. When Farrel gets his landgrab going in earnest, Hickok's side seems outnumbered, but when Belle joins the frey on Hickok's side, good may stand a chance.

Plotwise, this is a routine B-western (though as it's a Warner Bros. B-film, the production values are good), but it's the interesting cast that makes this worth watching. Cabot makes a handsome and gentlemanly hero; William all but twirls his mustache playing the villain; Bennett (pictured with Cabot above) provides the sex appeal, if little else (though she does get a decent song, "The Lady Got a Shady Deal"); Bond is solid as always; Catlett is fine in what amounts to a comic relief role; and Howard Da Silva stands out in a small role as a lawyer. The plot moves along nicely, though the last twenty minutes crams in almost too much action—the lynching, a shootout, the landgrabbing, and finally a man-made flood, though the flood scene is very well handled. Good for an old-fashioned Saturday-afternoon Western. [TCM]

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