The Star Packer (1934) Lone Star, Dir: Robert N. Bradbury, b/w, 54m

Cast: John Wayne, Verna Hillie, George Hayes, Yakima Canutt, Billy Franey, Ed Parker

Another Lone Star production. Same costume and horse for John Wayne, so nothing changed there. Then surprise surprise. Yakima Canutt isn’t a baddie this time. He’s a Native American called – wait for it – Yak. He’s still not that good an actor though, and the cod Indian dialogue – “Much money on stage” – doesn’t help either. 

We find out in the first minute or so, via the medium of exposition, that stagecoaches are being held up and two sheriffs have been killed at Little Rock, and it looks like JW, as Marshal John Travers, is setting himself up as the next one to cop it when he considers taking on the role of the sheriff himself.

I’m assuming that in an attempt to somehow get the local villains to reveal their hand, Duke robs the next stagecoach himself. When the real robbers try the same thing and find out someone’s beaten them to it, they gun down the stagecoach driver and his colleague in cold blood.

This doesn’t appear to faze our hero in any way, but he does get to rescue Anita, played by Verna Hillie, from the runaway stage, so you could say something good came of his thoughtless actions.

Before JW can take the job as the next sheriff, the third guy to be interviewed for the job gets shot in broad daylight before he can even take office. A bystander declares “I reckon this is the end of law and order. Won’t nobody run for sheriff now”.

Which is a bit more articulate – but probably easier to remember script wise – than Yak’s witness statement, “Me hear shot. Look quick. See no one”.

It appears there’s a new villain in town called the Shadow who only communicates with his cronies behind a veil in a hole in the wall of a room located next to the saloon.

It’s astoundingly obvious from the get-go that Gabby is playing the villain again, this time going by the name of Matt Matlock, as opposed to Matt Mathews (or Matt the Mute), the one he played in Randy Rides Alone.

I guess scriptwriters back then just worked their way through the local telephone book when looking for inspiration for character names.

Seeing as the gang members outnumber the villain in this film – again – he plays it safe by bawling them out from behind the wall, just in case they start to remember they outgun him eight to one.

I can’t help feeling a bit robbed when George Hayes is the villain, rather then just good old “Gabby”, who makes for a far more entertaining character than your standard ranch-house trash villain. It goes against the natural order of things when Hayes is a baddie and Yak isn’t a mean cuss, but I digress.

Matters are complicated by the fact that Anita owns a half share in the ranch Matlock wants to buy from her.

He complains about the thoughtless swine making trouble for everyone, prompting Anita to ask why the locals haven’t written for help. Which brings me to another bugbear with these films.

It seems that all you ever needed to do back in the day was to write to someone in Washington telling them you were under siege by a passel of bad guys and they’d immediately send out an undercover agent, someone just like John Wayne to be exact, in order to infiltrate the gang and take them down. Yeah. Right. Like that’s going to happen (I’m being sarcastic here).

There’s one moment in this film when it looks like JW himself is starting to lose the will to live when it comes to still finding himself in these low-budget offerings.

He tells Matlock in a bout of mangled syntax that he “hopes to have the Shadow and his gang behind the bars in a very few days”. I’m assuming it’s mangled syntax but to be frank it could be what was in the script word-for-word.

Also, I still can’t get used to seeing a thuggish cowboy villain with a six-day growth of a beard on him communicating with his fellow gang members via the telephone as though he’s phoning in his grocery order.

And JW has his very own battery-operated torch as well. It just doesn’t feel right. Still, I didn’t make these films. I just watch them, although when they’re as bad as this I sometimes wonder why. 

The major highlight so far for me is when JW puts a couple of bad guys in jail, only to be informed that “we’ll be out of here by noon tomorrow”. Duke comes straight back with a blinding one-liner worthy of Oscar Wilde with “Yeah? Well, thanks for the information”.

That’s right up there with Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski who, upon being told by John Turturro that he’s going to beat him at a game of bowls replies “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just like your – er – opinion man”.

John Wayne is Big Lebowski. You heard it here first.

There’s a rather overlong chase sequence towards the end in which JW and the townsfolk find themselves in pursuit of a wagon armed with a machine-gun – don’t ask – after which the Shadow gets his just desserts.

I’m not sure what to make of the final scene in which John Wayne and Anita are obviously now married with what looks like a four-year-old kid between them.

John Wayne in Star Packer Lobby card

The young boy, who’s practically half-naked, beats on a drum whilst Yak does a very bad impression of a Native American dance, declaring to Anita that “Yak and papoose have hi-use skookum fun”, whatever that means. Anita replies “You’ll get a lot more than hi-use skookum fun if you don’t leave our child alone”.

Make of that last remark what you will. As for me, I’m calling social services.

Photo of author
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.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.