Wednesday, September 21, 2016

B-Western Wednesdays: Trouble in Sundown (1939)

As he opens the Sundown State Bank for another day of fiduciary operations, president John Cameron (Howard C. Hickman) boasts to the customers waiting in line that the vault where their money is stored is “burglar-proof”—because he’s the only one with the combination.  Then the door to the vault swings open, and the dead body of the night watchman falls to the floor.  (Apparently it is not watchman-proof.)

The bank has been robbed of its $90,000 in cash reserves…and the depositors?  Well, they are not happy campers.  Suspicion for the theft falls on Cameron; after all, he’s the only one who could have conceivably opened that bad boy up!  As upright and outstanding citizens Tex (Monte Montague) and Dusty (Ward Bond) start riling up their fellow Sundownians for a party (necktie, that is), Clint Bradford (George O’Brien) just happens to ride into town with his sidekicks Andy (Ray Whitley) and “Whopper” (Chill Wills).  Clint, who’s kinda sweet on Cameron’s daughter June (Rosalind Keith), tells the beleaguered bank prez to hie himself to a cabin in Red Rock Canyon and hide out there since the crowd is turning ugly (and that’s not much of a turn).

Naturally, Cameron is innocent of the robbery: the mastermind behind the heist is crooked real estate agent Ross Daggett (Cy Kendall), whose eevill scheme is to get control of the bank so he can then get his greasy fingers on all of the ranches in the valley (Cameron is carrying a lot of these people on the bank’s books, and they won’t be able to settle up until after the fall cattle drive).  Daggett sends Tex and Dusty to Red Rock Canyon so that those two goons can terminate the banker with extreme prejudice, making it look like a suicide.  They’re able to coerce Cameron into signing a suicide note, but before they can continue with their foul deed Clint comes riding up with deputy Larry Harrison (Jack Perrin).  There’s a shoot-out; Deputy Larry is gunned down…and if that robbery deal wasn’t bad enough Cameron has a murder rap to beat.  (Not one of his better days.)

The last time we visited with R-K-O cowboy star George O’Brien on the blog was when his offbeat oater Gold Raiders (1951—with the Three Stooges!) was reviewed on B-Western Wednesdays in 2012.  Best known among classic movie fans for his John Ford Western silents (The Iron Horse, 3 Bad Men) and the F.W. Murnau masterpiece Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), by the time the movies started to talk O’Brien had a new career as a cowboy star—he inked a contract with independent producer George A. Hirlman in 1936, and those B-Westerns were subsequently released by R-K-O.  Then R-K-O decided to eliminate the middleman, and O’Brien began to make programmers for the studio directly.

I caught Trouble in Sundown (1939) on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ some time back, and all I can say is that it better take care if I find it’s been creeping ‘round my back stairs.  (Hey…when was the last time you read a blog post with a Gordon Lightfoot reference?)  All seriousness aside, I’ll state up front that it’s also available on a 3-DVD set entitled the George O’Brien Western Collection…but having not viewed it in that fashion, I simply have to go by what I DVR’d from TCM.  Their print is in better shape than it should be, though its opening titles are a little rough (I strongly suspect the film’s negative got the “Movietime” treatment that a lot of the entries in the R-K-O library received when they sold many of these titles to TV).

Despite the shabbiness afforded its opening titles, Sundown is not a bad little B; O’Brien is a real two-fisted he-man hero, and he doesn’t have to resort to any fancy Dan singing or strumming a guitar (well, he’s got Ray Whitley to do that: Ray sings Prairie Winds and Home on the Prairie with the Phelps Brothers).  Chill Wills is never my first choice as a comic relief sidekick but he’s easy to take, and Rosalind Keith is sweet as George’s girlfriend (the wrap-up to this one suggests that the two of them will be tying the knot).

Sundown’s strengths include a really first-rate supporting cast: you’ve got Ward Bond paying his dues as one of the henchmen, and Cy Kendall—known for his villainy in serials like The Green Hornet (1940) and Jungle Queen (1945)—doing that voodoo that he do so well as the unscrupulous Daggett (his name should have given him away).  (Also, too: Cy is billed as “Cyrus W. Kendall”—nice goin’, podnuh!)  There’s a plethora of veterans in this one as well: John Dilson, Lloyd Ingraham, Tom London—it’s a casting call for a Lone Ranger episode!

I also enjoyed how George rounds up the bad guys in this one—I won’t give it away, because if you haven’t seen it you should—a very clever plot twist courtesy of Oliver Drake, Dorrell McGowan, and Stuart E. McGowan (from a story by Charles F. Royal).  B-Western director David Howard directed this and several other entries in the O’Brien franchise, keeping things moving like any good traffic cop.

The original title of this oater was A Knight in Ghost Town—which I actually like better, and it would have spared you that lame joke I made several paragraphs earlier.  I really dig the R-K-O Westerns because even when they were forced to skimp on the budgets…they always have a professional-looking sheen.

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