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John Wayne: The Great American Legend [2 Discs] [DVD]

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Overview

Synopsis

Texas Terror
With a 45-minute running time, or thereabouts, Texas Terror was John Wayne's shortest Lone Star/Monogram Western and far from his best. Believing has accidentally killed his best friend (Frank Ball), the sheriff (Wayne) hands over his badge to George "Gabby" Hayes and retreats to the high country. En route to take over her murdered father's ranch, Beth Matthews (Lucille Browne) is witness to a stage robbery (a typical modern Western, the "stage" in Texas Terror is a Ford T touring car). An unshaven, dirty-looking Wayne comes to her rescue, but she thinks he is part of the gang. Vaguely recognizing his voice but nothing else, Beth later hires the now cleaned-up former sheriff as her new foreman and they quickly fall in love. But during a dance, Joe Dickson (LeRoy Mason), the incognito leader of the stage robbers, informs the girl that Wayne is the man thought to have killed her father. Wayne soon learns of Dickson's own culpability in the killing and summons an entire tribe of Indians to help capture him. The typical Hollywood Indians in this film all speak in broken English, Chief Black Eagle actually saying "Ugh!" on one occasion, an incongruous moment in a Western where the heroine arrives in an automobile. Intentional comedy relief is provided by Fern Emmett, a sort of poor man's Margaret Hamilton, and veteran slapstick comedian Jack Duffy, both of whom engage in a supposedly hilarious milking contest. The climactic chase sequence is rather heavily padded with stock footage from the silent era and Yakima Canutt is spotted quite clearly doubling for Wayne. As always, veteran director Robert North Bradbury has a great eye for composition (the film seems to have been shot on locations in the Sierras), but his handling of actors leaves much to be desired. Tight-lipped LeRoy Mason delivers Texas Terror's only solid performance as the villain. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

Hell Town
Paramount borrowed John Wayne from Republic Pictures for the studio's second screen version of Zane Grey's Born to the West, which was also the Western's original release title. A couple of drifters, Dare Rudd (Wayne) and Dinkie Hooley (Sid Saylor), arrive in a Wyoming town hoping for a handout from Dare's rancher cousin, Tom Fillmore (Johnny Mack Brown). Dare takes but one look at Tom's girlfriend, Judy Worstall (Marsha Hunt), and decides to stay in town. He obtains the job of chuck wagon cook, but Judy, who is falling for the charming newcomer, convinces Tom to give Dare a job with more responsibilities. To get rid of a potential rival and to prove Dare's irresponsibility once and for all, Tom assigns his cousin the job of selling the herd. Unbeknownst to either Tom or Dare, however, saloon owner Bart Hammond (Monte Blue) also has his greedy eye on the herd and sets a trap for Dare. Hell Town used quite a bit of stock footage from the original silent version, Born to the West, which had starred Jack Holt. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

The Lucky Texan
The third entry in John Wayne's superior Lone Star series for producer Paul Malvern, The Lucky Texan features Wayne as Jerry Mason, a young college graduate who, along with old family friend Jake Benson (George Hayes), locates a secret gold field. Returning to town with their gold, the two friends make the mistake of trusting the local assayer (Lloyd Whitlock) and his equally crooked partner (Yakima Canutt). The villains take a shot at Jake and, believing they killed the old coot, blame young Jerry for the "murder." At his trial, Jerry is delighted to discover his "victim" among the spectators, dressed in a costume formerly used in a local presentation of Charley's Aunt. Usually playing villains in the Lone Star Westerns, George Hayes got an opportunity to practice his later popular Gabby character in this entry. The Lucky Texan also featured several fine examples of director Robert North Bradbury's famous "swish-pan" method, in which characters are brought from one place to another as the camera sweeps over the landscape in a blur. As always, Yakima Canutt doubled both Wayne, Hayes, and several of the villains. In fact, Canutt got to virtually chase himself in a gasoline-powered handcar in the film's exciting finale. In addition to Wayne, Hayes, Canutt, and Whitlock, the Malvern stock company players did their usual fine work, including Earl Dwire as an elderly sheriff, stunt man Ed Parker as the sheriff's crooked son, and Gordon de Main as the local banker. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

Angel and the Badman
One of John Wayne's most mystical films, Angel and the Badman is also the first production that Wayne personally produced. The star plays a wounded outlaw who is sheltered by a Quaker family. Attracted to the family's angelic daughter Gail Russell, the hard-bitten Wayne undergoes a slow and subtle character transformation; still, he is obsessed with killing the man (Bruce Cabot) who murdered his foster father. The storyline traces not only the regeneration of Wayne, but of the single-minded sheriff (Harry Carey) who'd previously been determined to bring Wayne to justice. Not a big hit in 1947, Angel and the Badman has since become the most frequently telecast of John Wayne's Republic films, thanks to its lapse into Public Domain status in 1974. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Winds of the Wasteland
Former pony express riders John Blair (John Wayne) and Larry Adams (Lane Chandler) don't buy the Brooklyn Bridge in this Republic Western, but the two greenhorns instead purchase a dilapidated stage line to a ghost town. While the unscrupulous seller, "Honest Cal" Drake (Douglas Cosgrove), count his loot, John and Larry learn that Crescent City is inhabited by Rocky (Lew Kelly), who claims to be mayor, postmaster, and sheriff, and Dr. William Forsythe (Sam Flint), a fellow victim of the duplicitous Drake. But despite its current condition, Crescent City has rich potential, especially if the newcomers can obtain a $25,000 government mail subsidy, the winner of which will be determined by a stagecoach race between nearby Buchanan City and Sacramento. Winds of the Wasteland was filmed on location in the Sierra Mountains and in the Sacramento Valley. Watch for future Universal star Jon Hall as one of John Wayne's pony express colleagues. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

Rainbow Valley
A young John Wayne is charged with building a road into the title valley in this routine Western from Monogram. The building project, however, is constantly interrupted by LeRoy Mason and his gang who wants the valley in general and its rich mines in particular free from outside interference. Wayne, who is aided in his quest by grizzled old mail carrier George Hayes (who had yet to earn his famous nickname of "Gabby"), manages not only to build the road but also capture the nasty Mason, a rival for the affections of bleach blonde postmistress Lucile Browne, and his cohort, paroled convict Buffalo Bill Jr. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

Blue Steel
John Wayne once again goes undercover to catch a wanted outlaw in this average entry in his 1934-1935 Western series for Monogram Pictures. Wayne plays John Carruthers, a U.S. marshal, and his quarry is the Polka Dot Bandit, aka Danti (Yakima Canutt), who has taken off with a 4,000-dollar pay roll. As John soon learns, Danti is in the employ of Malgrove (Edward Peil Sr.), a supposedly upstanding citizen who is secretly trying to starve the good people of Yucca City. Unbeknownst to the townsfolk, a valuable ore runs right through the area and Malgrove is plotting to buy the land on the cheap. Blue Steel was produced at Hollywood's General Service Studios with exteriors filmed at Big Pine, CA. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

His Private Secretary
A very young John Wayne is atypically cast as a randy playboy in His Private Secretary. Much to the dismay of his businessman father, Dick Wallace (Wayne) prefers a life of wine, women and more women to honest work. The elder Wallace demands that Dick take a job as his company's collection manager, and it is in this capacity that our hero heads to the small town of Somerville to collect a debt. Here he meets pretty Marion (Evelyn Knapp), the granddaughter of the man from whom Dick must extract overdue payments. Immediately putting the moves on Marion, Dick is rebuffed with a slap and several harsh words -- and for the first time in his life, the prodigal son is really in love! Inevitably, Marion ends up working as a secretary for Dick's dad, driving the poor boy crazy in his efforts to make up for his previous boorish behavior. Excerpts from His Private Secretary have frequently shown up in TV documentaries about John Wayne, as "proof" of his inability to act in his pre-John Ford years. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Trail Beyond
Loosely based on a story by pulp writer James Oliver Curwood, this Lone Star Western released by Monogram starred a young John Wayne helping an old family friend (James Marcus) find his long-lost brother and niece. Traveling by train to the Canadian Northwest, Rod Drew (Wayne) is reacquainted with old school chum Wabi (Noah Beery Jr.), a "half-breed" falsely accused of shooting a card shark. Escaping the law, the two friends find their way to Wabinosh General Store, whose gregarious owner, Newsome (Noah Beery), is in possession of a map leading to the whereabouts of the missing Ball family and a fortune in gold. A nefarious French trapper, LaRocque (Robert Frazer), is also interested in the map but Drew and Wabi beat him to the location of John Ball's abandoned cabin. Ball himself is long dead but a portrait proves that his daughter is none other than Felice (Verna Hillie), the adopted daughter of the general store owner. Felice and Rod have fallen in love, however, and after delivering the villains to the mounted police, they leave the Northwest together. A remake of the silent The Wolf Hunters (1926), The Trail Beyond was filmed at majestic Kings Canyon National Park in central California and includes several impressive stunts performed by Yakima Canutt and Eddie Parker. (One stunt that failed -- a transfer from horse to wagon -- was left in the film, adding a rare touch of realism to the proceedings.) The beautifully restored version of the film comes complete with a new background score, a nuisance to purists, perhaps, but a welcome addition for the more casual viewer. A colorized version is also available. Monogram filmed the story a third time, as The Wolf Hunters (1949) and starring Kirby Grant. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

West of the Divide
Assigned to write and direct the John Wayne western West of the Divide, Robert N. Bradbury dug out the plotline he'd used so often and to such good effect in his son Bob Steele's vehicles. Wayne plays frontiersman Ted Hayden, who spends most of the picture searching for the man who killed his parents. Along the way, he "tames" spoiled heroine Fay Winter (Virginia Brown Faire) and rediscovers his long-lost brother Spud (Billy O'Brien). John Wayne's fistfights with chief heavy Yakima Canutt aren't in the same league as his later Canutt-supervised stunt sequences, but they're pretty good by their own standards. West of the Divide was the fourth entry in Wayne's "Lone Star" series. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Star Packer
Definitely the most expensive-looking of John Wayne's "Lone Star" westerns, The Star Packer casts "the Duke" as U.S. marshal John Travers. Hoping to flush out a mysterious outlaw chieftain known only as "The Shadow," Travers becomes sheriff of a town where several unsolved murders have occurred. Accompanied by his Indian pal Yak (Yakima Canutt), our hero explores a tunnel leading from the sheriff's office to the outlaws' cave hideout. He manages to ascertain the identity of The Shadow, but first he must rescue heroine Anita (Verna Hillie) from the villain's clutches. As much a horror melodrama as a straightforward western, The Star Packer benefits from the casting of Lone Star "regulars" George (Gabby) Hayes and Yakima Canutt in highly uncharacteristic roles. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Man From Utah
After helping prevent a bank robbery, young drifter John Weston (John Wayne) is assigned by Marshal Higgins (George "Gabby" Hayes to look into a series of suspicious deaths among champion rodeo riders. Weston falls for lovely Marjorie Carter (Polly Ann Young) along the way but she gets jealous when he suddenly shifts his attention to fiery Dolores (Anita Campillo, whose name is misspelled "Compillo" in the onscreen credits). The Mexican charmer, however, is in league with Spike Barton (Edward Peil, Sr.), the brain behind the murders, and Weston's interest is purely business. Like most of John Wayne's "Lone Star" Westerns, The Man from Utah was filmed along California's Kern River. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

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