22 June 2005 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Skip the movie, watch the saddle.
Spade Cooley (whose nickname referred to his protuberant lips) had a semi-successful career as a singing cowboy, a sort of downmarket Roy Rogers performing on radio and television. (He even got mentioned in an episode of Jackie Gleason's 'Honeymooners'.) Cooley's minimal talent soon lost momentum: by the early 1950s he was washed up on the air waves, and hoping to star in cowboy movies. He made three dire oaters and then called it a day. In 1961, the hot-tempered Cooley beat and tortured his wife so severely that she died, and he was convicted of murdering her. As with Tom Neal (another homicidal actor who wasn't much of an actor), a morbid fascination hangs over Cooley's films, purely due to the real-life tragedy.
'The Silver Bandit' is the second (and probably worst) of his three starring vehicles. This is one of those cheapjack stories with a masked villain, a device which enables a stunt double to do all the fighting and riding without the audience catching wise that he's a double. Cooley portrays the meek clerk of the silver mine, whose mettle is tested when he must catch the bandit. That's a really bad decision, because Cooley is such an inept actor that it's a bad idea to have him playing a feckless character who calls attention to his own naffness. This entire movie appears to have been filmed on a budget of about two bits and a plugged nickel, except that the Silver Bandit owns a hand-tooled Bohlin saddle that had me green with envy. In fact, I kept watching the saddle leathers instead of this movie, because the saddle was a lot more interesting. The songs in this semi-musical western are ineptly performed by Cooley and Ginny Jackson. And this movie features the only silver mine I've ever seen that's located BELOW the timber line; in real life, silver ore is usually found above high timber.
Sadly, 'The Silver Bandit' is so bad, it doesn't even manage to be enjoyable on a campy level. I'll rate this movie precisely one point, for that Bohlin.