John Wayne – The Man From Utah – 1934

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

Cast: John Wayne, Polly Anne Young, Anita Compilo, George Hayes, Edward Peil, Yakima Canutt

Maybe it’s because I overindulged just a tad too much during the Xmas holiday but the minute Duke hove into view on horseback strumming a geetar and miming to another terrible song al la Riders of Destiny, I just wanted to pull the covers over my head and tell the world to go away. Singin’ Sandy again? Please. Say it isn’t so. Wasn’t once enough?

John Wayne in The Man From Utah poster

The Xmas fairy must have heard my plea because thankfully John Wayne isn’t playing Sandy, he’s a cowboy called John Weston and, apart from the singing bit at the beginning, this one gets off to a spiffing start.

Duke wanders into the middle of a shootout and helps the marshal, played by Gabby Hayes, by taking out three bank robbers, one of whom he shoots in the back, taking a page out of the Bruce Dern Gunplay 101 manual.

There then follows a totally redundant horse chase, initiated when Gabby tells his men to get hold of Duke, who rides off with Gabby in pursuit.

After Duke conveniently falls from his horse, Gabby tells him he just wanted to offer him a job. Why he didn’t make that plain back in town is one of those mysteries that will forever keep me awake.

It appears there’s a suspicious gang of hornswagglers going round the territory organizing crooked rodeos fixed in their favour, with any outsider who tries to take part falling prey to death by snake poison, administered via a needle infected with rattler venom which the varmints place under the saddle of the unsuspecting rider.

Gabby nominates Duke to go undercover and bust the gang, headed up by a certain Spike Barton, played by Edward Peil, wide open. In another of those wild coincidences that seem to permeate these early JW efforts, Duke then helps foil a stagecoach holdup by the very gang he’s been tasked with taking down whilst riding over to the town of Dalton where the next rodeo is to be held.

There then follows a six-minute stock footage sequence of a real rodeo in which a bunch of proper cowboys show off their skills by dancing through ropes, chasing helpless calves that don’t want to be chased before throwing them to the ground and tying them up when they don’t want to be tied up, before then trying to ride very large psychotic bulls that throw the riders high into the air before attempting to stomp them to death in full view of an adoring crowd.

No wonder Duke requires a double.

To be honest the film is a bit slow, with the protagonists just kind of strolling through the story without any real sense of urgency. Overall though, the Lone Star series of films are starting to get better, with Gabby getting Gabbier as the series continues and, in the vernacular of the day, the dames getting more classy as well.

During the course of the film, Duke has to choose which one to have a date with and goes for the Spanish lady Dolores, played by Anita Campillo. Not surprising considering JWs penchant for the Mexican ladies.

Duke eventually inveigles his way into the gang and offers to throw the rodeo in their favor. Cue another whole heap of stock footage, culminating in JW winning the contest and thus double-crossing the gang at the same time.

On top of that he then rides down the gang leader, after which he walks away at the end with the main female character, Marjorie, played by Polly Ann Young. I’m betting he still hankered after the villainous yet sultry Dolores though. 

I know I would have.

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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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