RIDING THE WIND (1942) actually has a decent plot involving ranchers who have suddenly been deprived of water when an unscrupulous landowner, Henry Dodge (Eddie Dew), dams up the water supply on his property and seeks to charge the ranchers exorbitant fees for it. The ranchers are persuaded by newcomer Clay Stewart (Tim Holt) to use legal means to press their case against Dodge rather than try to force him to release the water. The legal recourse takes longer than they can wait, so they come up with a short-term measure to build windmills to pump water from below ground. There's a spy among the ranchers and Dodge's henchmen use unlawful methods to disrupt the ranchers' activities. There are multiple shootouts and chases along the way.
There are some major contrivances. At one point, the single wagon containing the windmill supplies is sent over a cliff by Dodge's men, yet Stewart and the ranchers manage to salvage it and build two complete windmills out of the meager supplies we saw on the wagon, including some intricate equipment required to build the pumps. Granted, they could have acquired timber to build the windmill from trees on their property but we never see them cutting trees and sawing the planks needed to build the windmill. The windmills go up pretty darned quickly.
The biggest problem with the film is the unnecessary comic relief, mostly involving one of Stewart's two sidekicks, Whopper (Lee "Lasses" White), who at one point convinces the gullible ranchers that setting off a big explosion in the middle of town would create rain. This could have been very funny, but it's handled in such an indifferent manner that no laughs result. Also, the leading lady, Joan Westfall (Mary Douglas), daughter of the engineer hired to supervise the windmill construction, behaves in an awkwardly goofy manner in some scenes, evidently in the hope of getting laughs, but the director, Edward Killy, is so unused to comedy that these scenes just fall flat. Luckily, Killy, who directed nine Tim Holt westerns from 1940 to 1942, was much more adept at action scenes and includes enough of those to keep western fans satisfied here.
If the comedy relief and the musical interludes were cut out, there'd be about a half-hour of narrative. Fortunately, the songs, written and performed by Ray Whitley as Smokey, Holt's other sidekick, are not bad at all and Whitley's voice is quite pleasant.
There are some dependable character actors on hand, including John Ford stock company member Hank Worden (Old Mose in THE SEARCHERS), who plays one of the ranchers. Especially worth noting is Earle Hodgins, who plays a Scottish rancher and speaks in a delightfully rendered brogue. Hodgins normally played snake oil salesmen, carnival barkers, square dance callers and other roles requiring his distinctive voice, so it's nice to see him play a proactive action role in a western for a change. Hodgins is, in fact, the toughest-looking actor in the bunch. He and the other actors playing the ranchers are a formidable group and look like they could easily cow and subdue the actors playing the heavies. The movie might have been more effective if they'd all just switched roles. In any event, despite the contrivances and laugh-free comic relief, RIDING THE WIND is an enjoyable one-hour B-western and a bit better than some Holt vehicles I've seen. I like the fact that the heroes here are working cowboys trying to do their jobs and the conflict between them and the landowner is quite a plausible one.
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