John Wayne in Randy Rides Alone – 1934

Randy Rides Alone (1934) Lone Star, Dir: Harry Fraser, b/w, 54m

Cast: John Wayne, Alberta Vaughn, George Hayes, Yakima Canutt, Earl Dwire, Arthur Ortego

Compared to the previous Lone Star offerings, this has quite an eerie opening scene with Wayne, as Randy Roberts, entering a saloon full of dead people.

A pianola plays in the background as JW tries to figure out what’s gone down, whilst a pair of disembodied eyes watch him through the eyeholes of a painted portrait.

A posse suddenly rides up, puts two and two together, arrives at Stupidity and arrests Randy for a crime he so obviously didn’t commit you can’t help but suspect the mother of the sheriff in charge must have had a one-night stand with all three of the Stooges.

Fairly early on I realized that the version of the film I was watching had been restored in one way or another.

The image had been cleaned up, which was a good thing, but someone had decided to add newly recorded background music that comes across like a discarded soundtrack from a spaghetti Western, and not a very good one at that.

I checked out a scene in both the unrestored and restored versions where the heroine, Sally, played by Alberta Vaughn, who turns out to have been attached to the eyeballs behind the portrait, discovers her dead uncle in the saloon and lovingly strokes his hand.

To my mind the scene plays much more poignantly without the newly-added soundtrack. Sometimes you should just leave well enough alone.

One of the members of the posse, Matt the Mute, can only communicate by writing notes and his handwriting matches that of whoever wrote a warning note to the sheriff in the saloon of the dead men.

This is a bit of a shame really because the mute guy is played by the ever-present Gabby Hayes, which means we don’t get to hear the actor indulging his propensity for frontier gibberish.

Or do we? Well, yes and no. We get to hear Gabby on account of he isn’t really dumb, but we don’t get to hear Gabby do “Gabby”, if that makes sense. 

The big reveal comes early on in the film when Matt the Mute removes his hump from underneath his jacket along with whatever it is that makes him walk as though he’s done something unfortunate in his trousers.

He then proceeds to dress up as a proper villain with a black hat and black clothing, just in case you didn’t get the message that this guy is one bad hombre.

He then cusses out all seven members of his gang after they confess they didn’t find the money they were looking for in the saloon of the dead men.

The plan was for the gang to steal thirty thousand dollars from the safe after which Matt the Mute, or Marvin Black as he is now known, intended to use that money to buy the property owned by the very people they’d stolen the money from.

I appreciate that you need to suspend disbelief when watching this or any other movie, but I’m starting to find it somewhat incredulous that the main villains in these early John Wayne efforts are forever handing out verbal abuse to large groups of criminals consisting of some of the meanest and toughest SOBS to ever grace the screen, yet for some reason the head honcho doesn’t end up getting stomped to death.

What is this strange ethereal hold gang leaders have over the numerous gatherings of psychos that constantly appear to unquestioningly do their masters bidding? Answers on a postcode please.

It seems Duke is playing another of those undercover “I work alone” guys or, in his case, rides alone instead.

He has a letter from whoever he works for that would exonerate Randy in the eyes of the sheriff, but as he explains to Sally, who helps spring him from jail, if he shows this note to the sheriff it would “spoil” his plans, but exactly what these plans are you never actually get to find out.

After the usual punch up/kidnap/horse chase/gunfight/death of the villain stuff, Randy is eventually declared innocent by the sheriff.

JW then mentions something about an investigation and hands the sheriff some documents that “will explain” everything, but by the end of the film the audience are still none the wiser as to who Randy secretly works for. Sally doesn’t care of course. All she knows is that from now on Randy won’t be riding alone anymore. Whether he likes it or not.

I’d say this is a bit of a let down after the two previous efforts, hampered by a rather ridiculous plot and the incongruous soundtrack I mentioned earlier. One for the more devoted JW fan if I’m honest.

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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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