Hollywood has all but forsaken westerns. Typically, the sagebrushers that are produced turn out lame. "Recoil" director Terry Miles and "Knockout" scenarists Eric Jacobs and Joseph Nasser prove the exception to the rule with their above-average remake of the vintage John Wayne B-movie western "The Dawn Rider." The Wayne oater was a remake of director Lloyd Nosler's oater "Galloping Thru" (1931) with Tom Tyler. As it turns out, "Dawn Rider" is the second time that "The Dawn Rider" has been remade; director George Waggner's "Western Trails" (1938) preceded it as the first remake of "The Dawn Rider." In their remake, Miles and his scribes have opened up the action considerably and supplemented the narrative with greater depth as well as length. The original ran a scant 53 minutes compared with the second remake at 94 minutes. Mind you, Christian Slater couldn't fill John Wayne's boots, but he makes a credible western hero in his own right. Donald Sutherland co-stars as a heavily-bearded, bulletproof lawman on our protagonist's trail. No lawman pursued Wayne in director Ray N. Bradbury's 1935 original. Indeed, the Sutherland character recalls the sheriff that Harry Carey, Sr., portrayed in a later Wayne horse opera "Angel and the Badman." According to Miles, he appropriated the indefatigable lawman figure from another of his own screenplays. Lochlyn Munro makes a good villain, while Jill Hennessy emerges as our hero's romantic partner. She isn't relegated to the periphery. She brandishes a revolver and holds her own against the guys. The production values are sturdy, and the cast looks seasoned as well as believable. Miles stages the shoot-outs with reasonable flair, but this oater doesn't break any ground, except casting Slater as a western hero. The villain resorts to a life of crime to pay off a bill involving ownership of a ranch. The hardware appears authentic enough, with cap and ball pistols sometimes substituting for cartridge carrying sidearms. Although it won't win any Oscars, "Dawn Rider" ranks as one of the better westerns to trot across the screen.
"Dawn Rider" opens as John Mason (Christian Slater of "True Romance") urinates in the woods and then checks the cherry tomatoes in his garden. Mason marks an X through October 13 on a calendar. He has been holed up in the cabin for over three months. Later, U.S. Marshal Cochrane (Donald Sutherland of "M.A.S.H.") and two trigger-happy gunmen ride up and cut loose with a barrage of rifle-fire. Cochrane reprimands them for shooting indiscriminately into the cabin. He stands to lose a $500 bonus if he doesn't bring Mason in alive. When they storm the cabin, these fellows hear an explosion, and trapdoor in the floor shudders as Mason makes his escape through a tunnel without injury. Meantime, in Sarsaparilla, Wyoming, a gang of outlaws wearing flour sacks as masks shoot it out in broad daylight, kill a marshal, and steal a bag that contains only mail but no money. Rudd Gordon (Lochlyn Munro of "Recoil") is desperate to round up $5000 to pay the debt on the ranch he owes to the Standard Rail Company. Rudd's sister Alice (Jill Hennessy of "Wild Hogs") lives with him. Mind you, Alice has no idea that her brother is a desperado.
Miles and his scenarists have changed quite a bit from the John Wayne version of "Dawn Rider." Not only does Mason have a reputation as a gunslinger from Cincinnati, but he has also spent time in a Mexican prison. The John Wayne protagonist in the 1935 version was lily-white pure. Miles' remake preserves the plot device involving McClure's ring, but adds the complication that drives Rudd to crime to pay off his debt. Alice and Mason are old friends, too, unlike the couple in the Wayne original. She sleeps with a revolver stashed under her pillow. This plot device is introduced right after she nurses Mason and paid off later when one of Rudd's gunman tries to rape her. "Dawn Rider" benefits from fresh scenery, enough shoot-outs, and a twist at the end involving the shooting of Cochrane.