Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Rollin’ Plains Review

Rollin’ Plains (1938)
Dir. Albert Herman
Starring: Tex Ritter

“It beats me how Tex can keep a singin’ all the time. We ain’t been to a town yet where he weren’t fighting for this or for that.” That’s the first (unsung) line in the movie, spoken by Ananais (Horace Murphy) as Tex ends the song Rollin’ Plains, the eleventh movie Tex Ritter had made since starting his film career in 1936. That line and its breaking the fourth wall surprised me for a film made in 1938, but it’s even more amusing knowing about the career of Ritter, who went on to make about forty singing cowboy movies. The film opens with Tex, Pee Wee (Snub Pollard), and Ananias going to a town called Powder Flats to deal with a dispute between some cattlemen and some sheep herders. After arriving in town and splitting up to investigate. While looking in the local hotel Pee Wee and Ananias meet Mr. Moody, and Tex meets his daughter Ruth, who originally sent a message asking for help. It turns out that the very religious John “Gospel” Moody owns the local water rights, and is very anti-violence.  After hearing some trouble outside, Moody is forced by Pee Wee to take a gun with him as he goes to investigate. Trigger Gargan (Charles King), the leader of the sheep herders, is told by Moody to leave the land, but Trigger notices the gun, and after a quick cutaway a man is dead and everyone in the gang of sheepherders is claiming that Moody shot him. And not it’s up to Tex to free the framed Moody, and get rid of the crew of sheep herders.

After getting a pardon from the governor and making his way back to Powder Flats, Tex is ambushed by the sheep herders, and his badge, guns, and the letter freeing Mr. Moody are stolen. Tex breaks Moody out of jail and takes him out of town.  This gives Tex some time to deal with the problem of his stolen guns and badge, and to give his sidekicks the opportunity to tell local business man Dan Barrow (Karl Hackett) where Moody is. Shortly after, the bad crews find Moody and shot him, with Tex and crew narrowly saving him. With the help of the sheriff, Moody is (falsely) declared dead, and after his brother Cain comes to claim his share of Gospel’s land, Tex devises a scheme where Gospel pretends to be a ghost in order to trick a confession out of Cain. This leads to a pretty standard shootout and Barrow getting his comeuppance by falling off a cliff.

The movie screams along at a quick pace. It’s short, but at the same time there doesn’t feel like there is any moment that drags in the movie, and it doesn’t feel like the musical numbers bog down the movie. For me the highlight musically was the song Me, My Pal and My Pony, but other than that and the title song there was only one other song in the film during a bar scene. Charles King was good here as the leader of the evil sheep men, and after it’s revealed that Barrow is in charge of them it felt disappointing due to King having more screen presence than  Karl Hackett. Tex Ritter gets some heroic moments to shine, notably a bar fight between Tex and Trigger that I thought was good and very well staged, especially for the time that the film was made. You can tell that it’s actually Ritter and King performing the fight, and not stunt doubles which adds to it. At this point Ritter and King had made several movies together, and they were probably pretty comfortable with each other and confident in what they were able to do which probably helped the scene.  The sidekicks provide some comic relief, but they can get a bit annoying at times. They probably played better to audiences at the time the film was released, but now they come across as too broad and cartoony. The sheriff of the town seems a bit useless, dismissing the claims that upstanding religious man Gospel  could be innocent, but as soon as Tex tells him that he just stole his badge and gun back from Trigger and his men says “Trigger Gargan eh? I might of known it.”

A good chunk of time at the beginning of the movie is devoted to the sidekicks exploring a hotel and meeting Mr. Moody .  This was interesting to me because the scene that introduced Moody is staged like a haunted house film, and later in the movie they use a lot of the same types of staging to create the scene where Tex tricks Cain into confessing about the shootings.  This scene is probably the standout of the film for me, it was a pretty inventive way to deal with the bad guys. The movie has a reoccurring theme about dead people, with the line “What’s a matter? Dead men can’t hurt you”* spoken at the beginning, and the resolution that came due to a “dead” man.

Overall I liked the movie, and thought that it was a good singing cowboy film. It’s not a movie that tries to reinvent anything, it just tries to tell a story and it succeeds in that respect. I’d recommend it. It’s a fun way to spend an hour, and it’s widely available for free at several different places on the net due to its public domain status.

*I liked that exchange: TEX:  What’s a matter? Dead men can’t hurt you. ANANIAS: It ain’t that, it’s the guy that made them dead I’m worried about.” Also this one between Ananias and Barrow: ANANIAS: Have some Apple? It’s good! BARROW: No thank you. ANANIAS: You’re welcome. Don’t know why I liked that one so much. It was probably the politeness.

No comments:

Post a Comment