By now I've seen most of John Wayne's Westerns for Lone Star Productions, and this one so far ranks just above "The Lawless Frontier" as the poorest of the bunch. Interestingly they were made back to back in 1934 in about the middle of the run, both directed by Robert North Bradbury. Plot points and continuity didn't seem to mean much back then, but you know what, they're still pretty much fun to take a look at every now and then.
The story has a Canadian setting for a change, featuring place names like Fort Minnetaki and Wabinosh, along with the prerequisite French accents of the villains. The two main heavies are LaRocque (Robert Frazer) and Benoit (Earl Dwire), and they even have a nasty female accomplice named Marie (Iris Lancaster), who might have been a red herring in Rod Drew's (Wayne) quest to find the missing daughter of a man who died years ago. In the movie's opening scene, the man who sets Drew on his mission surmised that his long lost niece might have been named Marie after her mother.
Missing from the credits this time around are Gabby and Yak, so Noah Beery Jr. fills in as Rod Drew's buddy from college, teaming up with each other after Wabi (Beery) is framed for a murder aboard a train. Once on the run, the pair have everything they can do to remain on dry ground. Wayne's character winds up jumping into a river no less than three times including once on horseback.
This is the only time I've seen Noah Beery Jr. and Sr. together in a film, though it happened a few times in their careers. The elder Beery runs a trading post in the story, along with his adopted daughter Felice (Verna Hillie). It made me wonder why Newsome (Beery Sr.) offered Marie LaFleur a job to straighten out his books instead of having Felice do it. Just one of those story points that wasn't thought out too well.
Another was when Drew and Wabi find the cave with the gold from the map they found in a deserted cabin (complete with skeletons of two former partners who killed each other - nice touch!). One of the dead men from the cabin was Felice's real father, brother of the man who asked Drew to look for his niece. Along with a small sack of gold the men find, there's a photo of an adult Felice just as she appears in the story. How would her father have gotten that picture if he died before she grew up???
Keep an eye on the canoe scene when Drew and Wabi leave the cabin with the rescued Mountie. When the Mountie is shot by one of the villains, he falls backwards toward Wabi, but in the very next scene he's lying in the other direction toward Drew.
By the time the good guy and bad guy posses head for the finale, I wound up scratching my head as to where all those riders came from. Most of the time LaRocque had only Benoit and another henchman around, but during the shootout he had at least a half dozen. While the Mountie outpost in the middle of the Canadian wilderness only had a handful of men on hand, by the time they rode off with Drew in the lead there were probably a couple dozen riders on the chase.
Well I guess that's why it's such a blast watching these early John Wayne oaters, it's fun just to catch all the goofy stuff going on, in addition to the often exciting chase scenes and horse dives off a cliff. This one also boasted some pretty impressive scenery, most notably that mountain valley view when Wabi points out the way to Wabinosh. If you stay alert, you'll also catch some pretty interesting product placement for Buffalo Lager Beer and industrial size Karo Syrup - I wonder if they had to pay for those?
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