Review 5 of another handful of John Wayne movies I missed when they were released. See how this all came about by reading the article The 10 Best John Wayne Movies of My Childhood.
In a rare 1940s excursion into Technicolor Duke plays Johnny Munroe, a mining engineer in charge of building a tunnel under the Andes mountains.
There’s a pre-echo of the scene from Rio Bravo when Wayne kisses Walter Brennan on his forehead, Duke doing the same to James Gleason in this film. Twice.
The apparent villain here is the villainous looking Sir Cedric Hardwicke, the tycoon of the title who has hired Munroe and his crew to blast their way through the mountains.
Co-scripted by Borden Chase, on paper this RKO production looks promising but alas, even with the combined talents of everyone involved, the film still fails to deliver.
The extremely easy-on-the-eye Laraine Day plays Wayne’s love interest and eventual wife and, wouldn’t you just know it, she’s Hardwicke’s daughter as well.
Directing honours go to a certain Richard Wallace, famous for previous efforts such as Eight Girls in a Boat and, my particular favourite, A Girl, a Guy, and a Gob. It’s too long with a running time of nearly 130 minutes, and too short on action.
I have to admit I found myself skipping large chunks of the film in which nothing seemed to be happening other than two people talking to each other, instead of watching JW dynamite his way across South America.
What with this being set in pre health and safety days there’s an awful lot of risk taking involved when it comes to handling the dynamite. The inevitable consequence of this is large helpings of cave-ins, injuries and general industrial mayhem.
You just know the guy who utters the words “it’s great to be alive” after an explosion will inevitably suffer the curse of Richard Jaekel, another actor who rarely ever made it through to the last reel in the 1940s. In this case it’s a character by the name of Curly.
When the doomed Curly cops it, JW honours his dying wish and cancels the tunnel, opting to build a bridge instead. After this point JW loses the light touch and goes all mean and ornery, flouting safety rules and dissing his men in order to finish the job he started for his wife’s father.
It’s a strange transformation of character and jars with what has gone previously, with JW openly declaring he’s only in it for the money.
Anyone called Ricky Vegas should never be trusted, and Anthony Quinn as Vegas doesn’t disappoint, refusing to line the tunnel with concrete which leads to even more death and destruction.
I first saw this many years ago on TV and in those days anything with Wayne in it was always worth catching. Watching it again after all these years I didn’t appreciate the first time around that the film is turgid to say the least.
The model work is laughable, a combination of Meccano and Lego that belies the $3 million budget. JWs lack of interpersonal man management skills means his work force desert him in his hour of need.
His estranged wife returns, which brings the work force back together, indicating that it takes the love of a good woman to build bridges.
After making Tycoon Duke went on the following year to star in Red River, Fort Apache and 3 Godfathers, so I guess I’ll give him a pass on this one.
Wake of the Red Witch (1948)
You can tell almost from the opening credits that this is going to be a somewhat more classier affair from Republic this time – Herbert Yates allegedly gave the film a budget of $1,000,000 - and I’d say this is probably the best of the Republic Studio John Wayne vehicles from the 1940s.
Reunited with Gail Russell of Angel and the Badman fame from the previous year, JW is back at sea in Reap the Wild Wind mode as Captain Ralls – he doesn’t appear to sport a Christian name in this one unless it’s either Duke or John – and he commands a sailing ship belonging to a company called Batjak – sounds familiar?
Duke channels his inner Captain Bligh – a character that also informed his portrayal as the belligerent cattle driver Thomas Dunson in Red River– as the mean and ornery Ralls. ‘Strange, sadistic and cold’ as Gig Young describes him in voiceover narration.
It turns out he’s actually a violent drunk as well, almost killing a man with his bare hands who had dared to defy his orders. From that moment on I knew this film was one of those rare beasts – a film in which JW doesn’t make it to the end credits.
He scuttles his own ship, carrying a cargo of 5 million in gold, and is charged with barratry – nope, me neither. Seems he has a beef with the owner of Batjak, a certain Mayrant Sidneye, played with villainous relish by Luther Adler.
We know he’s the villain because he’s in a wheelchair, sports a scar on his forehead and laughs out of context a lot.
Duke, along with Gig Young and – yes – Paul Fix, are lured to a distant island by Sidneye, telling Wayne he’s going to get his revenge for the scuttling of his ship.
There’s a certain noirish element to the film with the use of a flashback to explain the enmity between Ralls and Sidneye. During this sequence who should pop up in an uncredited role as an island native but the one and only Henry Brandon, eight years before he faced off against Wayne as Scar in The Searchers.
There’s another familiar face in the film as well, the smaller brother of the squid that offed JW in Reap the Wild Wind. This time, however, our boy comes out on top in the encounter with the rubber thing from beneath the sea.
It turns out Cap’n Ralls and Sidneye both lust after the same woman, the beautiful Angelique Desaix, played by the beautiful Gail Russell. She only has eyes for Duke of course but, without relaying the whole of the plot that you can read for yourself online – or better still watch the film yourself – Angelique marries the villain before dying in the arms of Ralls who then decides to avenge her death by scuttling Sidneye’s boat.
Towards the end, the story takes a rather surreal turn with Sidneye practically declaring his love for Ralls. It’s as if he relishes the ongoing enmity between them, and that the world will be a sadder place for him with Ralls gone.
And go he does, our boy drowning whilst trying to retrieve the gold from the Red Witch.
One of the better non-Western JW vehicles if I’m honest, and definitely worth checking out if you’ve not yet seen it.
The Fighting Kentuckian (1949)
Now this is a bit of a strange one.
John Wayne and Oliver Hardy (the larger of the Laurel and Hardy comedy duo), together for the first, and last time on the big screen. I’m tempted to quote the old line ‘that’s another fine mess you’ve got me into, Mr Wayne’, but it’s a relatively entertaining film, if not a JW classic.
I note that this is also a ‘John Wayne Production’ so I’m assuming Duke had something to do with the casting of Olly, who doesn’t really do much other than play his famous screen incarnation dressed up in fringe leather frontier getup and a beaver hat.
Wayne still seems to be wearing the same duds he had on in Allegheny Uprising, still apparently auditioning for the part of Davy Crockett.
The story, such as it is, revolves around a ‘little known episode in American history’, in which a bunch of French exiles who followed Napoleon settle in America in the 1840s.
Wayne and his fellow Kentuckian militia wander through on their way to – actually I don’t know where they’re off to – but Duke, playing a character by the name of John Breen, ends up scoring with Vera Walston after only 7 minutes into the picture which I think is a record even for him.
Mind you, she does look particularly ravishing – which is probably why Republic studio head Herbert Yates left his wife and kids for her - and that French accent sure helps things along, Vera in turn falling head over heels with “Shonbreen” as she calls him.
Wayne and Hardy sing a marching song together which is something I never thought would be captured on celluloid.
Another unique aspect of the film is the sequence in which Wayne converses with himself, his alter ego addressing him as a voiceover. Weird.
At some point in the proceedings he and Hardy end up posing as land surveyors so cue a bit of Hardy stumbling around, falling into the water – twice – and other moments of hilarity to justify his presence in the movie.
I could go into the plot in more detail but basically you get your usual skulduggery, land grabbing shenanigans going on which, naturally, JW stumbles into, but I’m not sure it’s going to make that much difference.
If you’re a John Wayne fan – and if you’re not what are you doing reading this in the first place – all you’re going to be looking for is as much action as possible, a couple of punch ups, JW coming out on top as a good guy and the female characters throwing themselves at his feet.
If so, then The Fighting Kentuckian is right up your happy trail, although I have to admit there’s not as much action as I seemed to remember, watching it again after almost forty years or so, and personally I found it a bit wordy.
The inevitable clash between the good guys and the bad guys takes place, good triumphs over bad and Wayne ends up getting hitched to the lovely Vera. Just as the happy couple are about to ride away Wayne and Hardy exchange a friendly wink.
Wayne states to his new bride, ’we can’t take him on honeymoon with us, can we?’. I’m assuming the question was rhetorical. At least I’m hoping it was.
Trouble Along the Way (1953)
John Wayne may have liked the word Republic in 1960 but in the early 1950s t he sure as hell wasn’t that enamoured with the studio of the same name, and he and Herbert Yates finally parted company in 1952.
Wayne embarked on a series of films for Warner Brothers over the next few years of which this is one. It’s an innocuous piece of heart-warming fluff, helmed by Warner’s in-house director Michael Curtiz, that whiles away the time in a pleasant fashion but it’s not exactly ground –breaking material.
Duke plays Steve Williams, a wise-ass former football coach and single father to a wise-ass 11-year-old daughter – we know she’s sassy because she calls daddy by his first name.
He’s approached to help revive the fortunes of a college by the head of the institution who wants JW to help build up a football team. And that’s about it really.
The film is kind of predictable, with a few marriage issues thrown in courtesy of the ex-wife, played by Marie Windsor, an actress renown for noir movies such as Force of Evil, The Narrow Margin and Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing.
Into the mix walks Wayne’s co-star from They Were Expendable, Donna Reed, as a social worker inclined to give Windsor custody of the daughter.
The screenplay is quite amusing at times, having been written by Melville Shavelson, the future director of the disappointing Cast a Giant Shadow. I note James Edward Grant is listed as an uncredited contributor to the script, something I sensed before being made aware of the fact, due to dialogue such as ‘Why don’t you get yourself a man’, and another one of those ‘Republic.
I like the sound of the word’ sermons, only this time it’s about being a parent instead.
Ten out of ten by the way to whoever managed to get the line ‘Drop over tonight, Steve, I’ve got some money in my sugar bowl for you’ past the Hays Code.
As anyone who reads these articles knows, I’m not a real fan of Wayne playing contemporary characters but I was quite won over by his performance in this effort.
It’s a pity that the streamed version of the film I watched was abridged so I can’t honestly say that I saw the whole film. I’m betting however that Donna Reed’s prim social worker falls for hunky JW and that he also ends up with custody of the daughter.
Tell me I’m not right.