John Wayne in Blue Steel -1934

Blue Steel (1934) Lone Star, Dir: Robert N. Bradbury, b/w, 54m
Cast: John Wayne, Eleanor Hunt, George Hayes, Edward Peil, Yakima Canutt, Lafe McKee

Someone’s goofed. George “Gabby” Hayes has been made the sheriff. On top of that the Gabby persona is now really starting to kick in – big time.

His mouth seems to be permanently chewing down on the old tobacco and his pronunciation is now almost pure FG – that’s frontier gibberish to any of you newcomers out there. And he’s now, at the grand old age of forty-nine, officially an “old-timer”.

At the beginning of the film, a creepy looking newlywed staying in a hotel on honeymoon with his bride comes down to reception and tells the clerk that he “can’t find it”.

The audience is left to surmise that he’s talking about the water closet but it’s a hell of a challenge to the Hays Code, which came into effect a few years before.

Just to raise the double entendre bar slightly higher, the sheriff and the desk clerk appear to share a room together. 

Duke, here playing an undercover Marshall by the name of John Carruthers, has snuck into the hotel while no one’s looking and taken up residence in what looks like a closet with a very small bed in it just off the reception area.

Hearing a noise, he wakes and witnesses a thief stealing four thousand dollars from the hotel safe, the robber leaving behind a broken spur as a clue. 

Moments later, Gabby espies Wayne through a hole in the floor of his room in front of the safe and draws the wrong conclusion, declaring “By jiminy – it’s the polky dot”, which is a) not half as memorable as “I got me the Josey Wales” and b) Gabby talk for “The Polka Dot Bandit”, and it soon becomes clear JW is on his trail.

The movie is another of those ‘let’s send a letter to the government to get someone down here to sort out this constant banditry / land-grabbing / rustling / etc. – oh hang on a minute he’s already here and goshdarn don’t he look like that John Wayne feller.’

As another review of this points out, there’s a tendency in these low-budget cowboys films to have character’s spout aloud on their plans without checking that no one’s listening. 

In this case love interest Betty Mason, played by Eleanor Hunt, overhears villains Malgrove and Danti, played respectively by Edward Peil and Yakima Canutt (great stuntman but a lousy actor) spilling the beans on their dirty plan to buy out the homesteaders and trick them out of a fortune in gold that the owners are unaware lays right beneath the surface.

Duke and Gabby inevitably join forces and for some reason decide to go shopping whereupon the old-timer finds himself a box of “dyneemite” – holy Walter Brennan. Eventually, good triumphs over bad and the villains get their comeuppance.

This time around though, there’s no horse chase ending with John Wayne handing out a whupping before turning the bad guy over to the law, nor a prolonged shootout in which JW is then morally obliged to gun the main villain down like the mangy dog he is. No. This time they just blow the whole gang to smithereens in a canyon. Not exactly subtle, but it makes a nice change from the aforementioned options.

Although the film brings nothing new in terms of plot or characterization, the spectacular scenery captured in the location shots at Big Pine help to elevate Blue Steel in comparison to some of the other tired entries in the Lone Star series of John Wayne movies.

It’s almost as though someone has made an attempt to improve the look and feel of the film, and the movie is better for it, introducing a whole new element to the series.

A refreshing change in pace, scenery and action. 

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Steve is a film scholar of note, gaining both an MA in film studies and a Ph.D. for his thesis on the silent films of John Ford. Steve, a scriptwriter and published novelist, provides much of the content you see here and is a dedicated aficionado and longtime fan of John Wayne, John Ford and Western films in general.

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