30 October 2005 | krorie
Though a somewhat routine story, other features make this a B western to see
On the surface this is a typical bad guys vs. ranchers B western. In typical Saturday matinée style the outlaws seek to stir up trouble between the ranchers and the miners so they can take control of a rich mine that most folks think is worthless. Enter Steve Downing (Charles Starrett) aka The Durango Kid. Seems his brother-in-law owned the mine in question and has been murdered, supposedly by the cattlemen led by the Tavish siblings. Steve seeks to find the real killer, which leads him to believe there is something in the mine worth possessing. One of the Tavish clan is a lovely lass named Molly played by Gail Davis, who later was TV's Annie Oakley. Gail Davis was a fine actress who could always be counted on for a zesty performance. Naturally she and Steve develop a close relationship of the lady doth protest too much variety. At first Steve appears to fall in with the outlaws led by Sam Ashton (Fred Sears). This is but a ploy to get the goods on the real bandits. Smiley Burnette is around for the laughs, this time playing the none too successful Marshal. His rope humor falls flat and gets tiresome after a time but he does have some other funny scenes, especially in his role as jailer trying to keep Steve behind bars when Steve is framed by Ashton and his henchmen. Smiley also gets to sing one of his better songs "You Can't Take It With You" to an alleged corpse in a casket.
Though routine there are other features that make this Durango Kid outing one to catch. First, the viewers get to see Clayton Moore, yes, the Lone Ranger, as a vicious killer, Ashton's main gun. Then there is a chance to see and hear Tommy Duncan, one of the musical greats of the 40's. He was the lead vocalist for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, the number one Western Swing band in the nation. His voice can be heard on dozens of Bob Wills hits, such as "San Antonio Rose," "Right or Wrong," and "Time Changes Everything." The viewer also gets to see Steve murdered and return as a ghost to haunt the double-dealing inebriated assayer, played by Jason Robards (Sr).
The title "South of Death Valley" has little if anything to do with the story. The alternate title, "River of Poison," is more applicable since the outlaws poison the spring that comes from the mine and feeds the river the cattlemen use. This is an interesting Durango Kid entry for action fans of the old B westerns.