Thursday, July 03, 2014


Young James Gillette, who works as a ranch hand for Mary Howard, is about to be whipped and driven out of the county by some vigilantes who accuse him of cattle rustling. Cowboy George Montgomery comes riding up with his gun out and stops the men; Howard is grateful but standoffish as she has developed a dislike for gun play since her father was shot dead years ago. It turns out that the judge (Robert Barrat), the leader of the vigilantes, is also behind the cattle rustling as a way of getting people off their land and grabbing it for himself, which is what he wants to do with Howard's ranch. Montgomery sticks around as he is looking for the man who seduced and abandoned his sister Millie years ago, and while he and Gillette are on the track of the rustlers, they capture a masked rider who turns out to be not only a female but also the grown daughter of Montgomery's late sister, raised by one of the vigilantes. They take her to a secret hiding place that Gillette calls Surprise Valley; it's takes a rough trip through rocky mountains to get there, and it's protected by a gigantic rock that, if loosened, might cause an avalanche (hint, hint). When Montgomery finds out that it was the judge who kidnapped Millie, he heads out for an all-or-nothing confrontation with the judge and his vigilantes.

This is based on a novel by Zane Grey which is considered one of the most popular and influential western novels ever; it has been filmed at least five times, as far back as 1918 and as recently as 1996 (for TV). I know the title mostly because of its adoption by a Grateful Dead country-rock band, the New Riders of the Purple Sage. I was a little disappointed that the story was nothing special—perhaps an early version of the "loner on the range" plotline—but the movie itself is entertaining. I'm a big fan of George Montgomery's 40s movies; he's a solid B-movie substitute for Clark Gable or Tyrone Power, and he's very good here. Howard is mostly unmemorable and Gillette is handsome but bland, but other supporting actors are worth catching, including Barrat, Kane Richmond as the judge’s son (pictured to the right of Montgomery), and Richard Lane as a vigilante. Little Patsy Patterson does a nice job as Howard's daughter though she never appeared in another film, and Oscar O’Shea is decent comic relief as a loveable old coot. The last fifteen minutes, including Montgomery facing a whole gang of vigilantes as he tries to rescue the kidnapped Patterson, are exciting. [FMC]


Marco said...

I wish this movie was available SOMEWHERE. Cannot find it.

Michael said...

Marco, I watched it on Fox Movie Channel, which has broadcast it a few times in the past couple of months. But it looks like it's available on YouTube.