20 July 2003 | bsmith5552
One of Republic's Best Serials
"The Adventures of Red Ryder" was adapted from a popular comic strip of the day by Fred Harmon. It was acquired by studio chief Herbert J. Yates with Don Barry in mind for the lead. Although Barry in no way resembled the tall lean character of the comics, Yates nevertheless "insisted" that Barry play the part. Yates probably had in mind that Barry was similar in height and build to Republic's ace stunt man Dave Sharpe. Sharpe in fact performs many of his trademark acrobatic stunts in the picture.
The plot is that old chestnut about the bad guys driving all of the local ranchers off of their properties so that they will hold title to all of the land for the right of way for the incoming railroad. The only ranch standing in their way is the Circle "R" owned by Colonel Tom Ryder (William Farnum) and his son "Red" (Barry).
When Red's father is murdered he sets out to avenge his death and uncover the people behind all of the trouble. The town's "respectible" banker, Calvin Drake (Harry Worth) appears to want to help the ranchers but in fact is the brains behind the troublemakers. Assisting him is saloon owner "Ace" Hanlon (Noah Berry Sr.) and his gang. Over the course of the serial, Red manages many narrow escapes from sure death and brings all of the bad guys to justice by the end of the last chapter.
Also in the cast are Tommy Cook as Little Beaver, Maude Pierce Allen as the Duchess, Vivian Coe (aka Austin) as the token heroine Beth, Hal Taliaferro as Cherokee, Bob Kortman as One Eye (looking as evil as ever with an eye patch), Carleton Young as Sheriff Drake, Ray Teal as Shark, Ed Brady as Ed Madison and Ed Cassidy and Billy Benedict as Ira and Dan Withers. If you blink you'll miss a very young Robert J. Wilke as a street heavy.
The picture benefits from the excellent direction by Republic's ace action directors William Witney and John English. The stunt work was always the best in the business and most of the footage appears to be newly shot. In later serials and features, Republic relied heavily on stock footage. A case in point is the scene in the serial where a horseless stage coach goes off a washed out bridge. I recently saw that same scene in an episode of Republic's TV series "Stories of the Century" released in 1954.
The serial also benefited from the casting of Barry in the lead. He was a much better actor than many of his contemporaries and this is evident in the scenes following the murder of his father and later of a close friend. You feel his anguish and know that the murderers will not get away with it. He also hated the nickname "Red" which stuck with him the rest of his life even though this was the only time he played the character.
Republic followed this up with a Red Ryder series of features first with Bill Elliot and later with Allen Lane. Bobby Blake played Little Beaver in both.
If you happen to get a copy of the DVD release, there are many excellent special features included. First, there's an interesting interview with Don Barry in which he discusses his career and gives us some stories from behind the scenes. There is also the TV pilot episode of a proposed Red Ryder TV series from 1955 with Allen Lane (billed as "Rocky"). It never sold.
"The Adventures of Red Ryder" certainly is one of the best western serials ever made and I wouldn't be far out by placing in on the short list of all-time greatest serials from any genre.