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  • "The Phantom Cowboy" is not just another of the seemingly endless number of hour long B- Westerns churned out by Republic. What separates it from the pack is not the story (which is fairly typical of the genre) but the production design, the horse riding, and the quality of the featured horse. Republic put some actual resources into this production and most of it made it onto the screen.

    The story concerns the will of a Mexican ranch owner who lives with his daughter (Virginia Carroll) in a fabulous hacienda. Working the Toreno Ranch are a large group of "peons" (apparently politically correct in the 40's). The terms of the will distribute some land to the "peons" if they are there when the will is read.

    Greedy Anglo's are the villains. They murder the owner and attempt to drive the peons away before the will is read. A young pre-"Gunsmoke" Milburn Stone (virtually unrecognizable) plays the main bad guy and plans to marry the daughter and have the whole ranch to himself. He is in league with a corrupt sheriff (Rex Lease).

    Watching out for the "peons" is a masked Zorro-like avenger named El Lobo who teams with "Red" Barry to resist the evil plot. The beauty of this concept is that it allows the use of a non-actor (insert competent horseman here) in El Lobo's many riding sequences which are some of the best I have seen in any western.

    Like Johnny Mack Brown, Barry was a college football star who acted in a lot of westerns, most notably the 12 episode serial "The Adventures of Red Ryder". Unlike Brown he was not a prototype western hero, in looks or in size. He was only 5'4" but had a fair amount of natural acting talent and would go on to do a ton of television work in the 50's and 60's.

    Virginia Carroll is quite talented and her conflicted character in "The Phantom Cowboy" provides some nice opportunities to showcase her acting talents.

    Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Director: GEORGE SHERMAN. Original Screenplay: Doris Schroeder. Photography: Reggie Lanning. Film editor: Tony Martinelli. Music director: Cy Feuer. RCA Sound System. Associate producer: George Sherman. Executive producer: Herbert J. Yates. Copyright 14 February 1941 by Republic Pictures Corp. No New York opening. U.S. release: 14 February 1941. No Australian theatrical release. 6 reels. 56 minutes.

    SYNOPSIS: Cowboy becomes a mysterious phantom in his efforts to restore a ranch to the dead owner's niece.

    COMMENT: The "Zorro" or masked avenger story is always a reliable one and here it is refurbished as a small-scale Don Barry western. Despite some obvious day-for-night shooting and the most obvious substitution of a double we've ever seen for a leap-from-the-balcony stunt, the picture has a certain atmosphere and is more agreeably acted than most "B" westerns, with Milburn Stone making a competent villain and the director making effective use of his sets and locations.

    Despite budget limitations, even the photographer makes an effort with atmospheric lighting.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Curiosity seekers might be interested in seeking out old films like this for samples of politically incorrect, often times racist language that passed for the norm well before the civil rights movement. The Mexican laborers on the Don Toreno ranch are routinely called peons throughout the story, even referring to each other with the name. It was a bit unusual too, to see the term in writing as part of Don Toreno's will, in which he gives his employees the land they live on free and clear upon the reading of his will.

    Therein lies the tale for this Republic 'B' programmer starring Don 'Red' Barry, who comes to the aid of the Mexicans after their mysterious local hero 'El Lobo' (Neyle Marx) is killed in a gun battle. As Jim Lawrence, a former worker on the Toreno ranch, Barry dons the black mask and cape to echo the spirit of El Lobo to keep the villains confused and constantly off balance. The chief bad guy is none other than Milburn Stone, well before his Doc Adams days on 'Gunsmoke', and perhaps a bit difficult to recognize if you've only seen him as the crusty doctor. At times, he seems to be taking orders from crooked sheriff Jeffers (Rex Lease), but it's Stan Borden (Stone) who has designs on the Toreno ranch and Miss Elanita (Virginia Carroll).

    The one curious thing about the movie that would have given away Lawrence's identity under the mask - none of the Mexicans ever spoke to him in Spanish - hmm. However he did give out with a 'Hasta la vista' line at one point, but hey, even the Terminator got away with that one.

    It seemed like the film makers attempted to add some comic relief to the story with the introduction of a black character named Memphis (Ernest Wilson). That didn't seem to go anywhere, as his gimmick with a pair of dice was never expanded. He also had to suffer the aforementioned racial angle by being called 'boy' as he got off the stage. He looked like he was hired to be a cook on the ranch, but it wound up as a throwaway part.

    What wound up being cool about the story was the way it ended. As the suspense built to a head for the reading of the will, both bad guys drew down on each other to reveal their villainy and take each other out. I can't recall an ending like that in another Western, though there's probably one out there.

    The one thing that did get a chuckle out of me was the closing scene. By that time, Barry's character managed to charm his way into a relationship with Miss Elanita. He's shown handling the local minister's business card citing - 'Marriages - $5.00 or one heifer"!