14 November 2004 | django-1
exciting Tom Tyler b-western from Sam Katzman--some clever touches
I used to watch 30s b-westerns by the dozen, but haven't watched that many in the last few years. I decided to get back into them by digging out this Tom Tyler entry from 1937, near the end of his above-the-title starring career, after which he became an excellent character actor. The title will tell you nothing about this film, as there are no orphans here and the locale of the film is not specifically mentioned--it could just as easily be the Brazos or the Rio Grande or the Red River! Tyler's starring vehicles in the 35-37 period are mostly fast-moving and occasionally have some clever touches that make the same old clichés (or, if you prefer, archetypes) go down more smoothly and that help create suspense. The trick with any established film genre is to make the audience feel suspense and worry about the plight of the hero, even though we "know" what will happen and can sometimes recite the dialogue in advance of the actors. Tyler moves well (a former athlete), is convincingly tough (he was a boxer at one time), and is a convincing actor. Although there is a certain sameness to elements of these films, watching one every few months (the way they would have been viewed by the audiences of the time) is still enjoyable and exciting. The murder mystery angle (we see it done, so we know who is guilty, but we don't know HOW Tyler will prove himself innocent) is well done, the bad guy is a sniveling coward wanting to put the moves on the heroine, and there's a wonderful snake-oil-doctor and ventriloquist in the Max Terhune tradition who is cleverly mad integral to the plot in many different ways. Also in a small role is one-time Mack Sennett comedienne Marjorie Beebe, near the end of her screen career. Beebe was a wonderful talent, reminiscent of Lucille Ball during her TV heyday, but unfortunately she is not used that much here, with a few scenes as a lady who the heroine stays with after her father is killed. Beebe's charm manages to come through somewhat, and her comedic skills are hinted at in the scene where she accidentally gives away confidential information in a conversation where an evil character is present. Another unique item about the film is the presence of producer Sam Katzman as director! He's actually quite competent, and I'm guessing that the only reason he directed this is that as producer he didn't want to pay the money to a director and saved bucks by doing it himself. He only directed five films total in his career, all in this period, so once he went from a thin shoestring at his own Victory Pictures to a thicker shoestring with his later Monogram productions for his own production company, he could HIRE someone to do the directing. Overall, an exciting, witty b-western that is a nice vehicle for the under-rated Tom Tyler.