13 August 2014 | kevinolzak
Jane Withers, Stuart Erwin, and Lon Chaney
1937's "Checkers" was typical of a Jane Withers 'B' vehicle, playing the title role opposite Stuart Erwin as Uncle Edgar Connell, keeping the odds down on their race horse Blue Skies to set up that crucial payday before he marries his sweetheart Mamie Appleby (Una Merkel). The horse sadly breaks its leg in its most recent race, but is nursed back to health by Checkers at Mamie's ranch, where unscrupulous banker Tobias Somers (Andrew Tombes) provides an unlikely rival for Mamie's affections, less interested in her than in her property. After she learns that oil has been discovered by her pond, Somers' instantaneous marriage proposal is summarily dismissed by the force of a shattered vase, a simple ploy by Edgar to get rid of his conniving competition; unfortunately, before he can confess to Mamie, she invests $10,000 of the bank's money to drill for additional oil. The only way Edgar can recoup her losses is to race the fully recovered Blue Skies, or the vindictive Somers will call her loan and take away her farm. Close ups clearly show the two children riding phony horse mockups, supplemented by racing footage shot with doubles. 1937 was perhaps the peak year for the tomboyish Jane Withers, quite different from Fox's main child attraction Shirley Temple, yet nearly as popular. Stuart Erwin and Una Merkel are excellent co-stars, while appearing unbilled as 'man at racetrack' during the final reel is Lon Chaney, in the middle of his 2 year Fox contract, mired mostly in uncredited bits such as this one, but already a featured player in two previous Jane Withers programmers that year, "Angel's Holiday" (as Eddie) and "Wild and Woolly" (as Dutch). He can be spotted at the 73 minute mark right beside Stuart Erwin, watching Blue Skies race alongside Jane's horse, and commenting: "say, who's the ghost rider?"