John Wayne in The Trail Beyond – 1934

The Trail Beyond (1934) Lone Star, Dir: Robert N. Bradbury, b/w, 54m
Cast: John Wayne, Verna Hillie, Noah Beery SR., Noah Beery Jr., Robert Frazer, Iris Lancaster.

Another Lone Star production, based on a story rather than a production-belt script, by James Oliver Curwood, and filmed in and around the stunning location of Mammoth Lakes in California.

John Wayne in 1930s western The Trail Beyond a lobby card

We’re definitely in the 20th-Century what with JW, playing Rod Drew, sporting a non-cowboy suit and tie.

Off to Canada on a missing person quest to try and find the niece of a friend of his, he bumps into his old college friend, Wabi, played by Jim Rockford’s dad Noah Beery Jr.  Wabi, – a half-breed as it turns out although I don’t think you’re supposed to use that term these days so best not to call him that – get’s involved in a dodgy poker game and is then framed for murder.

JW rescues him from his plight after which they both have to jump from the speeding train into a river. As the saying goes, with friends like these….

Seeing as they’re both now soaked through, Rod and Wabi have to buy new clothes. Cue instant transformation from city slickers to cowboys.

Not only that but it looks as though the tailor’s thrown in a couple of horses as well. No guns though. Which is a shame because the local sheriff chases the boys after finding out they’re wanted men.

In order to escape their pursuers, Rod and Wabi take another jump into the water – again. Either they like getting wet or they’re so stylish they’re doing their best to get their new jeans stretched as soon as possible.

They eventually stumble upon a deserted cabin in which they find a couple of skeletons, one of them with a knife in his back.

Like many of these early JW movies, the story then detours into astounding coincidence territory again when Rod finds a note identifying one of the dead men as the brother of the guy who hired him to find his missing niece.

And there’s also a map detailing the whereabouts of a gold mine. At this point, if it had been me, I’d have just taken the map and stolen the gold for myself, but then I’m not John Wayne. 

Unaware the Mounties are now on their trail they pitch up at a supply store where Wabi introduces Rod to Felice, played by Verna Hillie, and Mr. Newsome, the store owner, played by Noah Beery’s father, Noah Beery. So. No confusion there then.

John Wayne Noah Beery in The Trail Beyond lobby card for another JW 1930s western

Despite being a college boy Rod doesn’t seem to be that intelligent, asking Newsome to look after the gold map in his safe.

Benoit, a seedy looking Frenchman, working for renegade trader LaRoche, tries to steal the map, kidnaping Felice at the same time on account of she knows the combination of the safe.

Yes, we’re back in the land of John Wayne Meets the Three Stooges again. “I can’t open the safe but I know what I’ll do. I’ll kidnap the woman who knows the combination instead. It’ll be much less trouble than coming back one night with a bunch of mates and knicking the actual safe itself.”

Rob and Wabi rescue Felice, Rob taking a third dive into the water to catch up with Wabi and Felice who have sped off in a canoe.

Meanwhile, in another spectacular example of sheer idiocy, Mr. Newsome hires a strange woman right in off the street looking for work as his bookkeeper. I tell you, you couldn’t make this stuff up, but whoever wrote this has no understanding of the real world.

Wabi knew Felice was the missing niece all along but, as he explains to Rob, he knew if Rob found out he’d take her away from him. Which of course he would.

What woman, faced with the choice of getting it on with John Wayne or Jim Rockford’s dad would choose the latter? Unless they’re blind of course.

What with Wabi being ever so slightly darker than Felice he finally realises that it will never work out between them. Besides, Felice has no feelings for him anyway, thus allowing the narrative to neatly sidestep the minefield subject that is miscegenation. 

Despite the movie standing out from most of the previous Lone Star efforts with some really spectacular location footage, I couldn’t help but feel that the story goes on just a bit too long.

LaRoche is foiled in his attempt to get the gold map, so he sets out to attack Newsome’s store, with Rob then gathering all of the available locals and mounted police to foil LaRoche in return. By this point the movie is transformed into a live version of a Roadrunner / Wile E. Coyote cartoon, in which LaRoche as the coyote just doesn’t know when to give up. 

The film finishes with an interminable horse chase interspersed with some stunt shots from previous Lone Star John Wayne films. Rod and LaRoche fight it out one last time, LaRoche getting shot by a Mountie and falling to his death.

Rod then takes Felice away, leaving Wabi to count his blessings he didn’t end up swinging by his neck from the nearest tree for trying to court a white woman. So all in all a happy ending for everyone concerned.

The story, although rather more ambitious than previous JW titles up to this point, is rather too complicated and far-fetched at times. Still, a slight notch up from the usual Lone Star fare.

For more John Wayne 1930s movies we have reviewed a few.

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