Texas Terror (1935) Lone Star, Dir: Robert N. Bradbury, b/w, 51m
Cast: John Wayne, Lucille Brown, Leroy Mason, Fern Emmett, George Hayes, Buffalo Bill Jr.
When the film starts, John Wayne as John Higgins is – unusually – the local sheriff so we just know he’s going to be due for a fall early on in the proceedings.
Just to prove my point his friend, Old Dan, walks into the office flashing around mucho dinero with which to restock his ranch signalling things are going to go South before the end of the first reel.
Sure enough poor Old Dan isn’t given a chance to get any older on account of receiving a headful of lead from a gang of bank robbers.
Our hero doesn’t know this and after a shoot-out with the robbers is left convinced he’s accidentally plugged Old Dan himself. It’s at this point that we get to see for the very first time Wayne actually imbuing his character with a bit more depth than usual, emoting at the death of his friend and giving up his badge in order to assuage his guilty conscience.
Also, just an observation but I think this is the first time you get to see Duke with turned up ankle cuffs on his jeans, just like he wears them in “Stagecoach”.
There’s no reason to be down at heart though because the new sheriff turns out to be “Gabby” Hayes, although this time around he’s not as “Gabby” as he normally is.
Then the film suddenly fast-forwards to a year later and boy, has JW let himself go. He’s got a very strange-looking beard that looks like it’s almost been painted on and a set of clothes that make him look like “Gabby’s” older brother.
He’s even lost the turned-up jeans which is a hell of a shame because they really tied the whole cowboy sheriff ensemble together.
Twelve minutes in and suddenly a motorized horseless carriage appears. I hate this frequent mix of the old and the new. This is a Western and it’s got John Wayne in it so how come there are cars all of a sudden?
The jalopy is carrying Old Dead Dan’s daughter, Bess, played by Louise Brown, who’s come back West from the East, to inherit the ranch from her dear departed daddy. And just in case you’re not aware of who she is then she tells you. “I’m Bess Matthews and I own the Lazy M ranch. There must be thousands of cattle and at least a hundred cowboys and just think, I’m going to be boss’.
She makes the speech straight to camera although she’s actually talking to the guy who drives the car, which is kind of a weird thing to observe if I’m honest but obviously someone thought it was a good idea at the time.
On top of this, Lucille Brown was not a very good actress and probably knew it too, seeing as she made only three more films after this and retired from the trade for good.
There follows a sequence that is so ridiculous I’m still not sure I witnessed it. A gang of outlaws hold-up the car on account of it’s actually a stagecoach, shoot the driver and take the bag of money that’s usually available for stealing.
JW gives chase, takes out the last outlaw at the back of the pack, retrieves the bag of money then rides back to the stage car with the outlaws, more the Inept Bunch as opposed to the Wild Bunch, in hot pursuit.
Bess, who has missed the whole thing on account of wandering off to look at some flowers, promptly faints at the sight of JW and his penciled on beard, later referring to him as “Bluebeard”.
JW then dumps her in the car and drives it into town before skedaddling out of sight. John Wayne. Driving a car. In a Western. There’s something about that statement that just doesn’t sit right with me.
The plot thickens even more when “Gabby” persuades JW to get a shave and take over as foreman at the Lazy M.
There’s absolutely no chance Bess will recognize the mean ornery JW without his beard, on account of she possesses the IQ of the average tree stump. Just to disprove my theory she remarks to JW in his newly-shaved guise as having a voice that reminds her of the horrible swine, Bluebeard.
JW then attempts some ill-advised humour, speaking in a high voice and telling Bess he could always change the way he talks. I’ve said it too many times but I’m going to say it again – JW is not supposed to be funny. It just doesn’t work.
Naturally, the course of true love hits the skids when, at a local barn dance, Bess finds out from a certain Joe Dickson and the man who actually killed her father, that it was JW what done the dirty deed hisself.
In the meantime, JW overhears a couple of outlaws planning to steal the barn dance takings whilst everyone is in engrossed in a ‘milking contest’. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to find out that it was just cows being milked. After all, you never know what those grizzly pioneers of old used to get up to come sundown.
JW then overhears news of even more dastardly behavior from Dickson and his gang in which they intend to rob all the horses from the Lazy M.
He recruits help from Chief Black Eagle, a friendly sort of cove and his equally friendly band of Indians, sorry, I meant Native Americans, no, sorry again, American Indians, oops, no, I meant to say First Americans, sorry, wrong again, indigenous peoples of Americas, no, okay, one more try then, those guys the cowboys used to shoot all the time.
Glad we finally sorted that one out.
The chief talks in that old-fashioned stilted pidgin English that most of those guys the cowboys used to shoot all the time spoke in Hollywood Westerns movies for many years ie. “Men no steal horse. Me. My people. Your friend. We fight.” He even says “How” in greeting. It’s that enlightened.
Once the horse rustlers have been overpowered JW chases after Dickson and just smacks him a couple of times in the mouth. I guess Duke must have been having an off day.
For some reason JW doesn’t get his old job back at the Lazy M. In fact, he wanders off for two months after which Bess, with the help of her new foreman and Chief Black Eagle, finds JW alone in his cabin in the woods.
She enters the cabin, JW turns and calls out her name, then the scene fades to the foreman and the Chief waiting outside. There then follows this exchange:
[Foreman] “She’s been in thair two hours a’ready”
[Chief] “Maybe she go live there”
[Foreman] “Yeah. Women sure are queer critters”
In the words of John Wayne himself, that foreman has to be “a whole other kind of stupid” not to figure out what Bess and her beau were getting up to for two hours. In cowboy terms I believe it’s known as “pirooting”, but then I’m guessing most of you knew that already.
I was quite surprised by how entertaining this Lone Star entry was. One to check out if you get the time – but no peeking inside the cabin.