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Dick Foran Western Collection [4 Discs] [DVD]

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Overview

Synopsis

Prairie Thunder
Despite the claim of "an original screenplay by Edward Earl Repp," this entry in Warner Bros.' Dick Foran "singing cowboy" series was a virtual remake of the studio's earlier The Telegraph Trail, whose 1932 screenplay was credited to Kurt Kempler. Prairie Thunder in fact opens with the same montage as its predecessor, and Yakima Canutt and Albert J. Smith play identical characters in both films. Foran and rotund, eternally fatigued Frank Orth replace John Wayne and rotund, eternally fatigued Frank McHugh but that is really the only difference between the films. That, and Foran's lusty renditions of Over the Trail Again, The Prairie is My Home and a few other selections. Foran and Orth are assigned by the army to investigate a series of Indian attacks on the railroad. They quickly discover that the Kiowas have been mislead by unscrupulous trader Smith, who views the coming of the railroad as a threat to his trade monopoly. The Indians capture Foran and heroine Ellen Clancy, but Orth helps the former escape. The cavalry arrives just in time to save the railroad construction site from yet another attack by the Kiowas and Foran personally chases down the villainous Smith. The least expensive entry in the Dick Foran series, Prairie Thunder lifted entire sequences from the earlier John Wayne vehicle, including dialogue scenes between Canutt and Smith and the killing of a telegraph repairman. The film's pieces de resistance, Indian attacks on both a white settlement and the construction site, are lifted almost in toto from a silent Ken Maynard Western with Maynard himself plainly visible in several shots. Foran's blonde leading lady, Ellen Clancy, later signed with Universal and changed her name to Janet Shaw. Paul Panzer, the German-born villain of the 1914 serial The Perils of Pauline, appears unbilled as a medicine man.. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

Blazing Sixes
Another good entry in Warner Bros' Dick Foran western series, Blazing Sixes casts Foran as Red, an undercover federal agent. Sent Westward to break up a gang of stage robbers, Red poses as a bandit himself, whereupon he robs the robbers! Impressed by his nerve, outlaw chief Jim Hess (John Merton) invites Red to join the gang, which fits right into our hero's plan to bore from within. Fortunately for the film, he doesn't bore from without. Like most of the Foran vehicles, Blazing Sixes was directed by Noel Smith, a graduate of the Warners editing staff. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Empty Holsters
The Warner Bros. custom of casting their Dick Foran singing Westerns with whomever was available from the studio's large roster of supporting players often made for an interesting change of B-Western pace. In Empty Holsters, a typical entry in the popular series, one of Boss Villain Emmett Vogan's henchman was the sophisticated Anderson Lawler, a prominent -- and unapologetic - member of Hollywood's gay set. Lawler, as flippantly nonchalant as ever, and George Chesebro help Vogan frame Foran in the murder of two stage-drivers, one of whom was the brother of Sheriff Edmund Cobb). With Foran sentenced to ten years in the hoosegow, Vogan hopes to get better access to lovely Patricia Walthall. But the girl keeps pestering the territorial governor and Foran is soon paroled for good behavior. Returning to the old homestead -- where he sings Old Corral by M.K. Jerome and Jack Scholl -- Foran begins the arduous process of proving Vogan a killer, a task made even more difficult when he is forced to hand over his weapons to Sheriff Cobb. He succeeds against all odds, of course, and is soon able to face a brighter future with Miss Walthall, the off-screen daughter of veteran character star Henry B. Walthall. Baritone-cowboy Dick Foran remains a matter of taste -- audiences in 1937 increasingly preferred the less exalted vocalizing of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, et al. -- but his quickie Westerns benefit from the kind of care only a major studio like Warner Bros was able to lavish. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

The Devil's Saddle Legion
Returning to his home spread in the Red River border area between Texas and Oklahoma, Tal Holladay (Dick Foran) is falsely accused of murdering a young family friend (Carlyle Moore, Jr.) in this frequently entertaining Western directed, incongruously, by dance director Bobby Connolly. Imprisoned, Holladay later makes his escape while breaking Karen Ordley's (Anne Nagel) wild stallion. Forming a vigilante of fellow (innocent) prisoners, Holladay quickly learns that his own father was murdered in an attempt to prevent the building of a dam and that Karen's foster-brother Hub Ordley (Willard Parker) is the brain behind the scheme. In an attempt to plead his case to the visiting Secretary of the Interior (Walter Young), Tal is once again arrested by Sheriff Gorman (Raphael Bennett) and is nearly lynched. He is saved in the nick of time by the vigilantes, and with the help of newly elected U.S. Marshal Chris Madden (Granville Owens), he manages to disarm the evil Hub Ordley and save his ancestral ranch. Rather violent for a B-Western, The Devil's Saddle Legion incorporated three songs -- "When Moonlight Is Riding the Range," "My Texas Home," and "God's Country" -- all performed by leading man Foran, a pleasant baritone. Warner Bros.' answer to Gene Autry, Foran looked good on a horse but was rather obviously doubled in several fight sequences. Although surrounded by the studio's sumptuous production values (sumptuous for a B-Western), the former Academy Award nominee (The Petrified Forest, 1936) was perhaps a bit too "operatic" for B-Western stardom, and his 1936-1937 Warner Bros. series was never a threat to the supremacy of Autry, Rogers, et al. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

Land Beyond the Law
In response to Republic's Gene Autry westerns of the late 1930s, Warner Bros. created its own singing cowboy, Dick Foran, for a brief series of second features. Land Beyond the Law wisely puts the priority on action rather than singing. Foran rides into a lawless territory, champions the cause of the oppressed homesteaders, and does battle with the baddies. The finale is an excellently staged gun battle, handled with virtuosity by B. Reeves Eason, whose second-unit work on Warners' historical spectacles (Charge of the Light Brigade et. al.) had made him a valuable studio commodity. Land Beyond the Law also features Wayne Morris, Warners' next major western star. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Trailin' West
This Dick Foran "singing western" makes extensive use of stock footage from First National's Ken Maynard series of the silent era. Foran is cast as Northern officer Rod Colton, who goes undercover during the Civil War to flush out a gang of Confederate spies. It develops that the mercenary villains are planning to play one side against the other by fomenting an Indian uprising. Colton finds an unlikely but very attractive ally in the form of dance-hall hostess Lucy Blake (Paula Stone). Evidently Frank McGlynn Sr. was busy during shooting of Trailin' West, else why would the role of Abraham Lincoln be played by brawny Robert H. Barrat? ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The California Mail
A stagecoach race, murder and a singing cowboy are the main ingredients in this pleasant western from Warner Bros. The singing cowboy is Bill Harkins (Dick Foran) who, after losing a Pony Express contract, bids against the Banton brothers for a lucrative stage line deal. But Roy Banton (Edmund Cobb), who is also Bill's rival for the lovely Mary Tolliver (Linda Perry), does what he can to sabotage the race and later frames Bill for a stage robbery and the murder of Mary's father (James Farley). Fortunately, Bill's mount, Smoke, fully lives up to his nickname of "Wonder Horse" and eventually leads the innocent youngster to the real murderer. While not engaged in such manly pursuits as stagecoach racing and fist fighting, Dick Foran warbles M.K. Jerome and Jack Scholl's "Love Begins at Evening" and, backed by Roy Rogers and The Sons of the Pioneers, "Ridin' the Mail". ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

Guns of the Pecos
Warner Bros.' resident singing cowboy, the amiable Dick Foran, warbles "The Prairie Is My Home" and "When the Cowboy Takes a Wife" (by M.K. Jerome and Jack Scholl) in between battling a corrupt judge in this pleasant B-Western produced by the studio's busy Bryan Foy unit. Foran is Steve Ainslee, a Texas Ranger who goes undercover as a cowboy in order to solve the killing of rancher Major Burton (Gordon Hart). Watching a gang of rustlers re-brand Burton's horses, Ainslee discovers that their leader, Hank (Henry Otho), is working for Judge Blake (Robert Middlemass), a corrupt jurist whose courtroom is the local saloon. Attempting to arrest the judge, Ainslee is accused of being a rustler himself and Burton's daughter, Alice (Anne Nagel) believes that he killed her father. But Ainslee and his bucolic sidekick, Jeff Carter (Eddie Acuff), obtain proof of the judge's guilt and are able to make an arrest following a climactic and quite exciting shootout. Although nothing out of the ordinary, Guns of the Pecos is never dull and contains several pleasant performances, including those of Acuff, the brother of country singer Roy Acuff, and Fay Holden, as the heroine's lovesick aunt. The latter was billed under her stage-name, "Gaby Fay," in this film. The director of this Western, Noel Smith, had begun his career helming Jimmy Aubrey comedies in the late 1910s. Not one of filmdom's most exciting personalities, Dick Foran, a baritone, looked good enough on a horse and was actually more convincing than some of his colleagues in clinches with the heroine. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

Song of the Saddle
The second of singing cowboy Dick Foran's Warner Bros. westerns, Song of the Saddle was a decided improvement on the first (Moonlight on the Prairie). Foran is cast as Frank Wilson Jr., who heads Westward to avenge the long-ago murder of his father (Addison Richards). Frank had witnessed the killing, but only has a few fragmentary clues to go by. Ultimately he learns what the audience has known all along, that the killer was ruthless land baron Phineas P. Hook (Charles Middleton); heck, that name alone should have given him away! Among the minor players in Song of the Saddle are former western hero William Desmond, up-and-coming child star (and future Lone Ranger producer) Bonita Granville, and, fleetingly, the Sons of the Pioneers (with Roy Rogers). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Moonlight on the Prairie
Dusting off a couple of old Ken Maynard Western plots -- already recycled once with John Wayne in the early 1930s -- Warner Bros. jumped on the singing cowboy band wagon with a series starring baritone Dick Foran (formerly Nick Foran. The opener, Moonlight on the Prairie was filmed on glorious locations at California's June Lake and featured a good supporting cast that included future Western hero William "Wild Bill" Elliott (here billed Gordon Elliott) as an agent for the ubiquitous Cattlemen's Association. Foran himself played Ace Andrews, a Wild West Show performer falsely accused of murdering rancher Butch Roberts. Butch's estranged wife, now his widow, Barbara (Sheila Mannors), and young son have until midnight to take over the ranch or lose it to nasty Luke Thomas (Joe Sawyer and crooked lawyer Buck Cantwell (Robert Barrat). After a scheme to delay Barbara and little Dickie (Dickie Jones) is foiled by Ace and his escape artist sidekick "Small Change" (George E. Stone), Luke and his motley crew engage in a bit of cattle rustling. Ace, who has already proven Cantwell to be Butch's real killer, successfully leads the sheriff's posse to victory and soon both Thomas and Cantwell are apprehended. Foran, whose inclination to shout every line was tempered in subsequent entries, found time between fightin' and shootin' to warble Covered Wagon Days and Moonlight on the Prairie, both composed and written by M.K. Jerome, Joan Jasmyn, Vernon Spencer and Bob Nolan. Foran's horse, Smokey, earned second billing ahead of leading lady Sheila Mannors, a brunette beauty who also spelled her last name "Manners" on occasion. Miss Mannors/Manners would attempt to escape an increasing list of B-Westerns by changing her moniker to Sheila Bromley in the 1940s. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

Treachery Rides the Range
This western tells the story of a brave Army captain assigned to escort an important official's daughter through Indian country. Unfortunately, a pair of wicked buffalo hunters have been trying to upset the Cheyenne by breaking the treaty the woman's father created; they are hunting the massive beasts. The woman gets entangled with the crooks after her guide is tossed in the poky and the fed-up Cheyenne begin waging war. Fortunately, the hero manages to escape and mount his trick horse to stop the villains and restore peace. Look for super-athlete Jim Thorpe as the Cheyenne leader. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi

The Cherokee Strip
The most enjoyable of the Warner Bros.-Dick Foran singing Westerns, this film pitches lawyer Foran against unscrupulous land swindler Edmund Cobb. A "sooner" who cheated the starting gun in the Oklahoma Land Rush (shown via stock footage from William S. Hart's Tumbleweeds), Cobb becomes the de facto owner of the town of Big Rock while doing a bit of cattle rustlings on the side. The town's acting mayor (Tom Brower) soon has had enough of Cobb's schemes and finds an ally in Foran. With the assistance of Brower's pretty daughter, Jane Bryan, and young son, Tommy Bupp, Foran succeeds in bringing the villain and his gang to their knees, not by using his fists or gun but by his superior courtroom dexterity. Foran's introduction in the film is only one of many highlights: Warbling "Along the Old Frontier," he is shot at, not by a music critic, but by a target practicing Tommy Bupp. One of the more palatable of screen kids, the then 12-year old Bupp later performs an engaging duet with Foran and is given some of the film's better lines, basically functioning as the comic relief. One of the studio's best young actresses, Jane Bryan never lives up to her potential here, but she is certainly an improvement over such former Foran heroines as Anne Nagel and Alma Lloyd. A veteran silent Western star, the tight-lipped Edmund Cobb makes a formidable villain this time around, but future leading man Robert Paige (billed as David Carlyle) is wasted as a friend of Foran's. All in all, The Cherokee Strip remains one of the more entertaining horse operas of the era. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

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