"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.
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