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The Great American Western, Vol. 3: John Wayne [DVD]

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Overview

Special Features

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Synopsis

Randy Rides Alone
In perhaps the most haunting opening of any B-Western, Randy Rides Alone has John Wayne enter a deserted saloon filled with corpses. To the tinny strains of a player-piano and with someone eerily peeking from behind a portrait of Ulysses S. Grant, Wayne's reconnaissance ends with his arrest for murder. No B-Western ground out in five days for around $10,000 could possibly live up to this introduction and Randy Rides Alone quickly gets down to business as usual. But director Harry L. Fraser and scenarist Lindsley Parsons still manage to get in a couple of off-beat touches. The killers, lead by stunt-man extraordinaire Yakima Canutt, are holed up in a cave picturesquely hidden behind a waterfall, and future comic relief George "Gabby" Hayes, looking for all the world like Lionel Barrymore, plays a mute, hunchbacked shop-keeper who may not be all he appears. Add to the mystery elements some extraordinary stunt-work by Canutt and you have a superior series Western. Cecilia Parker, one of the more gracious actresses to appear in low-budget fare, was all set to co-star as the murdered saloon owner's niece, but Wayne came down with the flu and production was delayed. When producer Paul Malvern was ready to begin again, Miss Parker proved unavailable and had to be replaced with 1924 WAMPAS Baby Star Alberta Vaughn, an actress whose career was all but over. Randy Rides Alone did little to alter that fact but the film remains a minor classic of the genre. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

'Neath the Arizona Skies
John Wayne attempts to locate Shirley Jean Rickert's wayward father in this low-budget Western from his days with Monogram. The little girl, a "half-breed," is the heir to a 50,000-dollar Indian oil claim, but she needs the signature of her long-lost father in order to collect. Chris Morrell, Nina's foster father, manages to get the tyke out of town before Sam Black (Yakima Canutt) and his gang can get their grubby hands on her and her inheritance, but other villains learn of the girl's potential windfall, including express office robbers Vic Byrd (Jack Rockwell) and Jim Moore (Jay Wilsey). When Vic finally gets hold of the child, he is shot and killed by one of his own hands, Tom (Earl Dwire), who is revealed to be Nina's real father. With Tom's help, Chris manages to trick the Black gang and is able to storm their hideout. In the ensuing melee, Tom is fatally shot but Byrd manages to escape with Nina. Chris goes after them and there is a final confrontation in a raging river. 'Neath the Arizona Skies was based on Gun Glory, a short story by B.R. Tuttle, which had been filmed in 1933 by maverick producer Victor Adamson as Circle Canyon. This earlier version starred Buddy Roosevelt as Chris and Clarise Woods as the little heiress. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, 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 Dawn Rider
An average entry in the otherwise above-average Monogram/"Lone Star" Western series starring John Wayne, this film is noteworthy for containing one of the last screen appearances of Joseph De Grasse, a major silent screen actor-director, who -- with his screenwriter wife Ida May Park -- created scores of well-received Universal melodramas in the 1910s. De Grasse appears all too briefly here as Wayne's father, murdered during a robbery of his express office. Wayne, playing John Mason, chases after the killer, an outlaw whose face is hidden behind a polka dot neckerchief. Mason is injured during the chase and brought to the home of Alice Gordon (Marion Burns) by newfound friend Ben McClure (Reed Howes). Nursed back to health by Alice, with whom he is falling in love, Mason sets a trap for the killer and his gang by announcing that he is guarding a valuable gold shipment. The killer is revealed to be Rudd, Alice's brother (Dennis Moore, here billed "Denny Meadow"), whom John challenges to a duel. Feeling betrayed by Mason's love for Alice, Ben secretly substitutes the bullets in his former friend's gun with blanks. Persuaded by Alice that John has done nothing untoward, a repentant Ben arrives just in time to save his friend from certain death but is himself felled by a bullet fired by villainous barkeep Yakima Canutt in a final, well-staged, shootout. What there is of comic relief in this rather dour Western is provided by gangly Nelson McDowell, an actor seemingly born to portray comic undertakers, which is exactly what he plays here. ~ 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

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

The Lawless Frontier
Earl Dwire supplies a deliciously ripe performance as a half-breed outlaw in this early John Wayne Western from Monogram. After killing John's father, Zanti (Dwire) attempts to abduct pretty Ruby (Sheila Terry), but the girl is saved in the nick of time by John. Unfortunately, the bumbling sheriff (Jack Rockwell) not only mistakes John for one of Zanti's outlaws, but also accuses him of killing Ruby's grandfather, Dusty (George Hayes). The latter, however, is still very much alive and John tracks Zanti into the desert where the outlaw perishes after drinking poisoned water. With the boss villain dead, John goes after the entire gang who is eventually trapped in Dusty's mine. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

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