Kirby and Davis, presumably upright citizens of Panamint, but secretly in league with Wolf Reade, notorious bandit, send Wolf to attack the incoming stage.
Among the passengers are Mary Morgan, co-heir with Jim to the Lost Aztec Mine, and
, one of Jim’s riders. Tombstone
Jim and his riders arrive just as Wolf and his pack rush the stage. During a terrific running fight…
A few things that I’d like to point out in this chapter’s “crawl” before we continue our exciting serial…
1) Jim and his friends never officially organize as “Riders of Death Valley.” I mean, it’s not like they had a meeting and formed a charter or anything like that.
2) “Presumably upright citizens of Panamint” – yes, I did snort when I read that. (“In reality, however, they are thoroughly unrepentant rat bastids…”)
3) “Lost Aztec Mine” – Since it’s been discovered by the late, lamented desert rat
Chumbawumba Chuckawalla Charlie…shouldn’t it
be renamed the “Found Aztec Mine”?
4) “Jim and his riders arrive just as Wolf and his pack rush the stage…” I see what you did there. (Wolf. Pack. Wolfpack! Get it?)
Well, last week we ended our first chapter with the image of a stagecoach plummeting to its doom…and while we saw Tombstone (Buck Jones) and Mary Morgan (Jeanne Kelly) leap from the stage to safety, we’re not so certain as to what became of Jim Benton (Dick Foran). Worry ye not, gentle readers—there is a quick shot of Jim jumping to…well, somewhere (we later learn he’s clinging to a cliff face below) so he’s okay.
Incidentally, my BBFF Stacia asked in last week’s comments if the wagon over the cliff bit originated in Riders of Death Valley (1941) because the very same cliffhanger makes an appearance in Raiders of Ghost City (1944). I don’t know the official serial that footage first appears in, but I’m pretty certain it has been recycled on many, many occasions. Anytime you see an Indian uprising in one of these old Universal serials…even money it’s been recycled from a previous chapter play from the silent era. In fact, one of the reasons why Foran’s character is dressed in black throughout Riders is not because he was doing it before Johnny Cash made it a fashion statement…but because it’s easier to match footage swiped from the four Universal serials made featuring Johnny Mack Brown (also clad in black duds): Rustlers of Red Dog (1935), Wild West Days (1937), Flaming Frontiers (1938) and The Oregon Trail (1939).
So much for my digression. You’ll also be pleased to know that Tombstone’s horse Silver also survived the stagecoach plummet…although the way that nag kept appearing and disappearing in back of the stagecoach during last chapter’s chase it shouldn’t surprise too many people. In the distance, Reade henchman Butch (Lon Chaney, Jr.) looks on in delight as two other thugs in Wolf’s employ, Trigger (Jack Rockwell) and Pete (Richard Alexander) come riding up. (There’s always a henchman named “Pete,” I’ve decided.) Rockwell is a familiar face to fans of serials and B-westerns; he essayed the important henchman role of Bart in Raiders of Ghost City, and also appeared in Don Winslow of the Navy (1942) and Daredevils of the West (1943).
BUTCH (laughing): Well, that takes care of
…what’s left of him ain’t worth haulin’ out… Benton
TRIGGER: Yeah? What about the money that was on that stage?
BUTCH: Well…it’s a cinch it won’t get to Hogan in time now…
TRIGGER: You ain’t gonna leave it down there, are ya?
BUTCH: That’s up to Wolf…
Butch is going to turn out to be the perfect henchman. He would never get a foolish idea in his head like try to take over in the final chapter; instead, he rightly defers to his boss in all important matters. The scene then abruptly shifts to
and Mary, lying on the desert sands when they hear a voice calling from the
canyon. Since the voice addresses
“Tomb,” Tombstone reasons that it’s
Jim (“That sonofagun is still alive!”)
JIM: How do you do! Will you tell that big stupid lug that you’re with to throw me a rope!
JIM: I’ll tip yours if I ever get up there!
grabs a rope from Silver and throws it down to Jim, who loops it around him…and
Tombstone ties the other end to his
saddle horn, giving Silver a nudge to go forward. As Jim is pulled out of the chasm, he gets to
his feet and starts to throw a punch at his friend…but is interrupted by the
arrival of Pancho (Leo Carrillo), Borax Bill (Guinn “Big Boy” Williams), Smokey
(Noah Beery, Jr.) and Tex (Glenn Strange), as the four of them ride up.
PANCHO (tipping his hat): Senorita…
Pancho stops short, realizing that Mary may not have received the newsletter that Chuckawalla drew his rations in the last chapter.
JIM: It’s all right, Tomb…boys, see if you can get Hogan’s money out of the stage…
BORAX: We better tend to them horses first!
PANCHO: Yeah…we get the horses first, and then we get the dinero double pronto…this way…come on!
We quickly return to the area where Butch, Trigger and Pete are observing…and two more members of the Reade gang ride up. One of them, a goon named Rusty, will no doubt be a familiar face to those of you who patiently sat through Don Winslow of the Navy—it’s our old friend Ethan Laidlaw, who emoted so memorably in that chapter play as “Spike.”
BUTCH: How come?
RUSTY: He got out of that wreck alive!
BUTCH (after a pause): Let’s get to Wolf!
You see? Butch knows his place in the henchmen hierarchy—all decisions need to go through the Wolf Man. (See what I did there?) The gang rides off, and after a fade to black the scene comes back up on…
Panamint! You’ll get used to seeing this screen capture a lot, because they use the same footage every time they want to establish the action has moved back to town. Look for the gent in the right hand corner there, puffing on his pipe. (He does that all the time.)
The interesting action is inside the Panamint City Bank, where Rance Davis (Monte Blue), presumably upright citizen along with his partner, Joseph Kirby (James Blaine), is mere minutes away from taking over the jernt from president Lafe Hogan (Jack Clifford). The fourth man in the room is Judge Knox (James Guilfoyle), whose sympathy towards Hogan and his tenuous financial situation is kept noticeably in check.
HOGAN: You wouldn’t hold me to the minute…would you, Kirby?
KIRBY: Sorry…when I make a bargain, I expect to live up to its letter—and I expect the same of the other party…
HOGAN: But Kirby…
KNOX: Stop whining, Hogan…
“Oh…bite me, Your Honor…”
KNOX: …you signed this note, didn’t you?
HOGAN: Yes, but…
KNOX: …there’s no “buts’ in this note…
Heh heh…he said “but.”
KNOX: What beats me is how in tarnation you came to do a thing like this? But you did it…and I’m afraid you’ll forfeit your bank for it…
HOGAN: But it’s not fair!
KNOX: I’m not talking about what’s fair…I’m telling you what’s the law…
I know somebody who’s not getting a complimentary bank calendar this year. “You got four minutes yet,” gloats Kirby. “Maybe the stage will get here…”
HOGAN: Yes…and maybe it won’t!
KNOX: Aw…buck up, Hogan…take your medicine like a man!
HOGAN: It’s all right for you to talk…but you’re not losing a bank!
KNOX: Yes…because I wouldn’t sign such a crazy note!
Well, what do you care…you overpaid feeder at the public teat. The fact that Kirby and Davis just so conveniently happen to have the transfer papers already drawn up and ready to be signed doesn’t tip Knoxsie off that something may be rotten in Panamint, so Hogan starts to sign, admitting he’s licked. But before he can put his John Hancock on the dotted line, Jim enters the bank and fires off a round at the clock on the wall, stopping it at high noon.
JIM: Hogan…we brought your money…looks like we’re just in time…
KNOX (after glancing at the clock): Kirby, I’m afraid you can’t go into the banking business right now…tear up that note, Hogan…and don’t you ever do such a crazy thing again!
“Yes, Dad.” As
HOGAN: You can bank on that, Judge…Kirby…I’m paying off right now…
(A customer starts to come into the bank but is stopped by
CUSTOMER: Well…did it go broke?
While Jim continues to grin like the Cheshire Cat,
sets out to demonstrate that he and Kirby are not quite licked yet.
JIM: Miss Morgan?
JIM: Oh…is that so? (
nods assent) Where did you find her? Davis
JIM: Tsk tsk tsk…too bad…
…uh…I don’t think that’ll be necessary… Davis
JIM: Hey, Tomb…bring Mary in…
Standing by the door,
motions for Mary to enter the bank and Jim introduces her to Kirby, Davis and Judge
Knox. Now…you would think that an
officer of the court (Knoxsie), having witnessed such chicanery first-hand,
would be dragging Davis by his city
slicker tie down to the local hoosegow…but he does not do this. Instead, he pronounces that he’s satisfied
Mary is the real article after she produces several letters from her
father. This would seem to indicate in
no uncertain terms that the Judge is on Kirby’s payroll.
KNOX (as Jim makes no attempt to hide the sh*t eating grin on his face): For lack of any evidence to the contrary, I’d say these letters are genuine…
JIM: Of course, if you gentlemen would like some further proof…
KIRBY (interrupting): Oh, no…no…I don’t think we’ll need that…of course, you understand—we’re merely trying to protect your interests…
“By considering a scheme to have someone in town impersonate you…heh heh…just kidding…” Oh, you are marvelous…you dinkerplatz.
KIRBY: I don’t want to appear vicious....but I’d like to suggest a third party be appointed to accompany this expedition…to sort of…look after your interest…
Mary tells Kirby that she doesn’t think it will be necessary, seeing as she has every confidence in Jim…and besides, she’s too ladylike to tell the lying essobee what she really thinks of him. But Jim informs Mary he’d only be too happy to take along anyone Kirby suggests, so Kirby volunteers—oh, here’s a plot twist you probably weren’t expecting—“Honest” Rance Davis.
is amenable to this, and so Jim says he’ll handle all the arrangements so that
they can leave in the morning.
I’m very surprised that Kirby seems to be taking this all in stride…perhaps I may have misjudged the man…
KIRBY: So that accounts for your failure…all right…tell the Wolf that
has Chuckawalla’s chart…the expedition leaves in the
morning… Benton will be with them…and don’t let anything happen to the girl! Davis
BUTCH: Don’t worry…I’ll look after the girl…
KIRBY: You’ll report to the Wolf…take your orders from him…I don’t want this job messed up like the other…get your men together…
Then again…I could be a horrible judge of character. Interestingly, even though Butch has temporarily switched his allegiance by conferring with Kirby, he still maintains the respect for the hierarchy…treating the Kirbster with the proper deference and respect the man has paid for…er, I mean earned.
The next scene finds all of
Riders—with the exception of leader Jim—headed out in the direction of the Lost
Aztec Mine. Tombstone
leads the way, followed by a wagon being driven by Borax Bill…and then the rest
of the merry crew. As Tombstone
signals Borax to stop, Mary and Davis go riding up to Tombstone.
The screen then opens up into a “V” shape, showing Jim Benton galloping heck bent for leather on his trusty steed Smoke. It’s almost as if he’s being chased…but there is no footage of anyone pursuing him. Instead, he rides past a group of rocks where Butch, Rusty and a third henchman are waiting as if to ambush him. And they do not disappoint—Rusty lassos him and pulls him off Smoke as Butch and the third man run to Jim and begin to truss him up like a prized hog.
The screen cap above shows a pretty good picture of that “third man”—he answers to “Dirk”—and he’s none other than the baddest serial villain of them all, Roy Barcroft…here in his halcyon henchman days.
BUTCH: All right,
…where’s that map? Benton
JIM: I don’t know what you’re talking about…
BUTCH: You know what I’m talking about all right! Are you going to give me that map or would you rather have Wolf work you over?
RUSTY (running up):
’s riders are coming up the draw! Benton
BUTCH (manhandling Jim): All right,
—where’s that map?!! Benton
JIM: Now I know I don’t know what you’re talking about!
BUTCH: This isn’t gonna be easy for you…get up that hill!
During this scintillating exchange, Jim manages to work one of his spurs loose to leave on the ground…though how Rusty managed to avoid stepping on it is a question I will assign you for next week’s homework. The unholy three march Jim up to where their horses are waiting and two of the men help the tied-up Jim onto his horse. Back at the draw:
PANCHO: Mr. Davis! You mean to told you think Mr. Jim tell a lie and don’t tell the truth?!!
PANCHO (as he grabs his gun): That’s my business!
As the men dismount and help Jim down off his horse (nice of you to do that, by the way), Wolf continues being a crankypants.
JIM: He figured it was more your type of work, Wolf…
WOLF: That’s right, Benton…and I’ll enjoy it… (He reaches for his gun)
BUTCH: Hold on now, Wolf! He ain’t got the map and he won’t talk…
WOLF: Oh, he won’t? Perhaps I can change his mind…bring him inside…
“And prepare the comfy chair!” They take
WOLF: You might as well tell me,
…I’ve made tougher hombres than you give up the information
I’ve wanted… Benton
JIM: Wolf…you’re wasting your time…that map is hidden in a safe place, but…I’ve forgotten where…
WOLF: Well, maybe I can help your memory…the iron hot, Butch?
BUTCH (as he holds a branding iron in the fire of a stove): Not hot enough for him…
Outside the hideout, Trigger takes a trip to flavor country, blissfully unaware that
BUTCH: Yeah…let me run my brand on him, Wolf…
Jim looks up to see
in the window and he smiles. When Wolf
asks him if he’s changed his mind, he kicks at the table, hitting Wolf and
sending him to the floor. Tombstone
bursts into the cabin, with both barrels blazin’…
JIM: Nice to see ya, Tomb!
keeps a bead on everybody, Jim disarms each bandit and shoves them to the side
of the cabin where Wolf is kneeling on the floor. “You won’t get away with it—this place is
surrounded!” barks Wolf.
“You try and stop us!” jeers
as he and Jim haul ass out the door.
Wolf and his gang soon follow, and Jim and Tombstone
manage to jump on their horses and ride off in the nick of time.
But let’s not start sucking each other’s you-know-what’s yet. Wolf and his team do some hard riding and are rapidly catching up to our fleeing heroes…and upon seeing them ride into a gulch, he directs Dirk and Trigger to ride off in one direction while the other three continue to follow Tombstone and Jim. There is much riding and much shooting…with no one in Wolf’s gang apparently able to hit a moving target. It would appear that they don’t have to, though…because of this…
Yes, Clark Gable, Monty Clift and Marilyn Monroe apparently started a wild stallion stampede for our heroes…though you could also argue that the Reade gang’s inability to hit anything with bullets might have got the horsies riled up, too. “Stampede in front of us and Wolf and his gang in back of us…some fun!” hollers