The Border Menace is more than bad: it is excruciatingly awful!
Star, Bill Cody is as feeble as always - I have described him elsewhere as a nonentity in an over-sized hat - but, in this movie, everybody and everything else is much, much worse.
The B western genre is not one that is judged by normal thespian standards. Much is forgiven and overlooked and decidedly average performances acclaimed with delight. But we have acting here the like of which I have rarely, if ever, seen. Miriam Rice (as Helen, Bill's love interest)simply must be the most ineffectual western heroine ever to grace the screen. She has two facial expressions: one is a vacant grin, the other a look of concerned thoughtfulness. The problem is that she seems to alternate between the two at random. Hence, she frowns at Bill's cheery advances - Cody appears to spend a lot of his screen time laughing at nothing in particular - and grins amiably when her father (played by James Donnelly) is threatened. Donnelly delivers his dialogue in a sort of laboured rumble: there is no intonation whatsoever, but there are significant pauses, presumably where he struggles to remember his lines. Likewise, Frank Clark, as the town banker and lead villain, fluffs his on at least a couple of occasions without anyone demanding a re-take!
Special mention, here, must go to Jimmy Aubrey, as Polecat Pete. He is clearly supposed to be funny - Cody stands around laughing every time PP is on screen - but the "joke" is that he scampers around, rolling his eyes in the tradition of cinematic pirates, and screaming at the top of his voice, about he tough he is. There aren't even any gags. Truly awful.
And the script: never have I heard so much bad dialogue delivered by so many to so little effect! At times, one wonders where the script ends and the ad-libs begin.
In terms of action, let it be said that the fights are hilariously uncoordinated: men run round and round each other at high speed, waving their arms about and rarely connecting. There are the usual chases on horseback but everyone seems to be riding at a slow canter. There is, also, the most ludicrous prison escape ever seen in movies. A hardened convict - in for 20 years - is allowed to climb over a wall and down a rope. He then ambles into a bush where he remains perfectly visible. Two guards with rifles run, one each side of the bush and into the distance leaving the bad lad free to escape on foot.
In one memorable scene, a villain ties up the heroine then lights the fuse on a keg of gunpowder. She grins inanely as she spots Bill in the distance: Bill rides up and sets about untying her before doing anything about the keg. When he does finally lob it away, we get stock footage of a distant explosion. Some throw, indeed! Bill Cody for the next Olympics!
I read somewhere that The Border Menace is considered to be the worst B western ever made. Of course, I can't be sure- not having seen the entire output of Reb Russell and Bob Custer - but, it probably is!
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