Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Phantom Rancher

Phantom Rancher (1940)
Dir. Harry Fraser
Staring Ken Maynard, Dorothy Short, Harry Harvey, Ted Adams

A cowboy named Mitchell (Maynard) arrives to claim his inheritance from his uncle, but encounters resistance from a community that didn't like the uncle. He dons a mask to help the townspeople keep their land from being turned over to businessman (Adams) that is trying to run them off.

This is a simple, quick B western dealing with a man putting on a mask in order to solve a problem in a community. It's star, Ken Maynard, was past his prime at the time that this film was made, and the story is very problematic. This is a great example of a movie where you have to suspend disbelief in order for the story to work. The identity of the Phantom Rancher is supposed to be mystery to the townspeople, but he wears the same distinctive shirt that Mitchell wears in every scene, with only the addition of the mask and a cape to conceal his identity*. But at the same time he spends scenes in costume talking to people in his normal voice, wearing normal clothes, and no one seems to realize that Mitchell is the Phantom.

Anyway, this movie is a simple story. Man comes to town to claim an inheritance from his dead uncle. Everyone in town hated the uncle cause they owed him money. The uncle was part of a scheme with some one (it's Collins, played by Ted Adams) to scam everyone out of their land. But Mitchell doesn't want to take everyone's land, and he knows that no one will accept charity from him because of how awful his uncle was. So he creates the Phantom, and begins to steal money from the bad guys and give it to the townspeople so they can pay off the mortgages on their land.

This is something that was most likely made quick and cheap, which is evident by mistakes like the masked character being called the "Phantom Ranger" in a letter he leaves but never at any other time in the movie, or an unintentionally humorous shot were the Phantom attempts to throw a lasso, fails, then tries again. They couldn't even do a second take to make their hero look better. I know that this is something that was made quick and cheap, but things like that just seemed unprofessional.

The best thing about the movie is Harry Harvey as the character Gopher. He comes across as the smartest person in the town (since he can see through Mitchell's obvious disguise), but he's also a comic relief character that works. He's fun in brief spurts, and doesn't stay around too much to wear out his welcome.

Overall it isn't an awful movie, but there are better things out there. It's a public domain film, so it's probably on YouTube and in many different western movie brick dvd sets, but there are better ways to waste your time.

*Ok, he wears a different pair of chaps as well. 

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