“ Genre: War & Western - Western / Theatrical Release: 1934 / Universal, suitable for all / Director: Robert N. Bradbury / Actors: John Wayne, Verna Hillie, George 'Gabby' Hayes, Yakima Canutt, Billy Franey ... / DVD released 2003-08-11 at Cinema Club / Features of the DVD: Black & White, PAL „
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An outlaw called the Shadow and his band of merry men are terrorizing a small town, even going as far as to murder the Sheriff. John Travers, horrified by what is going on, determines to rid the town of the evil Shadow, particularly when the beautiful Anita Matlock is threatened on her ranch. He manages to capture two of the Shadow's men and finds out how the Shadow, whose face is not known even to his men, gives out orders. Travers and his trusy Indian companion, Yak, then plan to set up a trap for the Shadow. Bearing in mind that the Shadow is a multi-murderer, will they be successful? Or is John Travers going to be the Shadow's next victim?
During the 1930s, a series of B Westerns were churned out, many of them starring the up-and-coming actor, John Wayne. In this film, he plays John Travers, who plays a rather formulaic good guy, determined to beat the bad guys. There really isn't much about the role that stands out; John Travers is really just a means to tell the story and we find out very little about him as a person. There is an attempt to soften him by introducing Anita, but there really isn't enough time to develop anything other than the basic role. It is great to see John Wayne so young and handsome though - the camera certainly loves him and it is no surprise that he became so successful.
Anita Matlock is played by Verna Hillie, an actress whose career spanned just the 1930s. All that is required of her is to look beautiful, although she does have a touch of steel, and this she does very well. The most stand-out role is probably Yak, played by Yakima Canutt (another example of a white man playing an Indian), yet it is not his acting that makes an impression. He is the stunt man for the film and does some amazing things, including throwing himself from one horse to another while both are at full gallop and diving into a lake from the top of a cliff. As an actor, he is a little embarrassing, being forced to adopt that pidgin English that Indians supposedly used - I'm sure that isn't his fault though.
The story is very transparent. There is an attempt to make it more interesting by keeping the audience guessing about the identity of the Shadow. It is, however, obvious to anyone exactly who the Shadow is, so there is little mystery about it. It doesn't completely ruin the story, because there is still minor interest in how Travers is going to unmask him, but it does mean that there is little that is memorable about it. That really is all there is to the plot and despite the fact that the film is only 54 minutes long, much of it is made up of horse chases and fighting to bulk it up. The year in which the film was made, 1934, John Wayne also made 8 other films, so it is clear that a minimum of effort was put into making it.
Made in 1934, the film is obviously in black and white. On top of that, the picture really isn't all that clear and there are some examples of poor editing. It does help to hide a couple of things though - it isn't blatantly obvious that Yakima Canutt is not Indian, because we never see his face all that clearly. The lack of clarity isn't enough to make the film impossible to follow, but I've no doubt that it is something that will bother a great deal of people. If you have an interest in film history, however, it is worth a watch - bearing in mind that the film is now nearly 80 years old, it is not surprising that the picture is dodgy.
There is a certain amount of violence in the film, although the fighting, in particular, is so obviously staged, it is almost painful to watch. However, there is nothing terribly frightening, so the classification of U is probably about right - in some ways, it is perfect, because I think the film will appeal most to children. There are, however, a couple of instances where horses are clearly injured, mainly as a result of Canutt's stunts. As they are forced to fall at high speeds, I can't imagine that they survived, or, if they did, they would have been crippled. This wouldn't be allowed nowadays, for good reason, and I hate to think of those beautiful animals dying for the sake of a film.
There are no extras with the DVD - not surprising for a film of this age.
I'm not particularly a fan of Westerns, but I am fascinated by film history and, as Westerns were once so popular, I found it interesting to watch. Anyone who is a fan of Westerns and John Wayne will also want to take a look. I'm not sure that it is going to appeal to many other people, however. The lack of plot, the cruelty to horses and the poor quality of the picture are bound to be off-putting to many. Nevertheless, the film is less than an hour long, so it isn't going to waste too much time, so if you think you might enjoy it, give it a try by all means. Three stars out of five.
The DVD is available from play.com from £2.87. I've also seen it in Poundland.
Running time: 54 minutes