21 March 2006 | dougbrode
cattle buyer (rex allen) and sidekick (slim pickens) try to get water to needy farmers.
In the early fifties, the once omnipotent form of the B western was drawing to an end, largely because TV could supply such stuff on a daily basis - for free. If you wanted to see an A western, in color and with scope screen starring 'the big boys' (Wayne, Stewart, Fonda, etc.), you had to pay - and people did, going to the theatres in droves for films like Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (Lancaster and Douglas in that one). But fewer and fewer were willing to shell out money to catch a little black and white item, which is why those few remaining B western stars, like Audie Murphy, began to appear in full color B+ pictures. All of this is a prelude to The Last Musketeer (nothing to do with Dumas, believe me), a mild, brief (67 mins.), mostly ordinary oater except for some big action scenes at the end, involving wagons full of water trying to pass through oil-fired flames on the prairie. They've been started by villain James Anderson, who may have had the meanest looking face in B western films. He wants to starve out the other ranchers by drying up their water supplies, only Slim (Slim Pickens) falls through a hole in the earth and discovers an underwater lake. With the help of cattle buyer Rex Allen (one of the last of the singing cowboys, with a fine Arizona accented voice, and the last B cowboy star to use his own name in the guise of a fictional character, like Autry and Rogers), Slim saves the day. The film has at best ordinary scripting and below average acting (even the ordinarily reliable Pickens is a bit over the top, particularly when he tries to sing), first rate music by Allen and a nice ensemble of the Sons of the Pioneers type, a charming low key quality by Allen, and spectacularly staged action - always what the audience for a B western wanted in the first place. Also, an enigmatic, offbeat beauty named Mary Ellen Kaye as a hardriding cowgirl. Minor league fun, to be sure, and only for B western completists. But if you are one, this isn't a half bad way to kill a little more than an hour. Watching it, though, you become very much aware of why even the kids stopped attending such stuff and stayed home to watch The Lone Ranger, Range Rider, and Buffalo Bill, Jr.