22 January 2006 | krorie
The last of the singing cowboys doesn't get to sing
Monte Hale was the last of the B westerns singing cowboys. Unfortunately he doesn't sing in "Ranger of Cherokee Strip" since singing cowboys were going out of fashion by 1949. Actually Monte, who was more in the line of Tex Ritter than of Gene and Roy, had a pleasant voice and was a talented guitar player as well. He was more of a crooner than Tex, who was also a musicologist and folklorist. It has been said that Monte was ill at ease before the camera and it shows. His fans say that he was more personable in his live shows when he was close to his admirers and could shake their hands and look them in the eye. When I was a child I collected comic books. Among my favorites were the Monte Hale ones. I saw a few of his films but liked his comics better. Maybe the reason was his rather bland film image.
For a change the title "Ranger of Cherokee Strip" relates directly to the story. Monte plays a lawman in hot pursuit of an escaped convict, a half-breed Cherokee, Joe Bearclaws played with gusto by Douglas Kennedy, who crosses over into the Cherokee Nation where the ranger has no authority. After a run-in with Bearclaws the ranger, Steve Howard (Monte), attempts to get Bearclaws extradited back to Kansas. Both the ranger and the Cherokee chief played by veteran actor Monte Blue agree to give Bearclaws extra time to clear himself and catch the real perpetrators of the murder for which he has been convicted. Bearclaws also has a sweetie, Mary Bluebird (Alix Talton), running a Cherokee school with whom he wishes to spend some time. In the process poor Bearclaws is framed for yet another murder, the killing of the Cherokee chief. The plot thickens with the ranger working with the fugitive to find the culprits.
Several elements raise this routine oater above the ho-hum. One is the bigger budget used by Republic, the king of the B movies, making the stunts better and the action fast and furious. Another is the pairing of character actor Paul Hurst with Monte. Hurst added humor and prestige to the goings on. A third ingredient is the attempt to portray the Cherokee Nation and the Cherokee as they really were without the Hollywood stereotypes prevalent in 1949. Though there is plenty of room for improvement in this area, for example using Cherokee to play Cherokee would have been a bold step forward, it is still a noble gesture for its day and time. A final positive note for this film is the roster of bad guys used by Republic including the inimitable Roy Barcroft.
There is one humorous scene of note that takes place in the lobby of the Cherokee Counsel House when the ranger and fugitive first arrive. A hat salesman with the moniker the Mad Hatter gives a spiel that invites Sheriff Jug Mason (Hurst) to join in on the fun. He tries on some of the most outlandish toppers you're likely to see on film with none of them fitting. There is an anachronism here also. A young man named Will Rogers buys one of the hats while spouting witticisms. The real Will Rogers would have been a snotty nosed kid at the time the movie takes place which was long before he achieved notoriety as one of American's great humorists and philosophers, though it stills keeps with the flavor of the era before the Cherokee Nation became part of the state of Oklahoma. (It still maintains its separate identity to this day with its own tribal laws and administration.)
Though not on a par with Gene, Roy, and Hoppy, Monte Hale could still deliver the goods. Wothwhile for fans of the B Saturday afternoon cowboy flicks.