Once in Casco, Jessie steals away from the old man—and gets a Lucy Ricardo-like idea to don male garb so she can continue on to Prescott, grab a freight to Frisco, and be with the man she loves. As the stage departs Casco—with “Jesse” and Birdie (Carol Hughes), a lady friend of Chito’s, on board—Clint and Parnell have another go at getting rid of Father Arnold…only to discover he’s not on the stage (he’s back in Casco, looking for his “daughter”). Thatcher’s goons decide to take a strongbox filled with $20,000 to make up for their oopsie…but in their getaway, Jessie gets a look at Parnell under his kerchief. The hunt is now on to round up the bandits—and to protect the only witness.
Western Clippings gives Stagecoach Kid (1949) a laudatory four-star rating…and despite my stated dislike for Richard Martin as Tim Holt’s sidekick Chito, I am in agreement that Kid is one of the best entries in the R-K-O Holt series. It’s well-written (story and screenplay by Norman Houston) and well-directed (the indefatigable programmer-meister Lew Landers), with a superb supporting cast that includes Joe Sawyer (who worked in various “mug” roles at Warner’s over the years), future Lassie ranger Robert Bray, Thurston Hall, Carol Hughes, and Kenneth MacDonald—again surprising me by playing a man on the right side of the law (he’s the sheriff of Casco).
It’s Jeff Donnell’s performance as Jessie/Jesse that makes Stagecoach Kid a favorite here at Rancho Yesteryear; I’m a big fan of the actress and her appearances in such classics as The Power of the Whistler (1945), The Phantom Thief (1946), In a Lonely Place (1950), and The Blue Gardenia (1953). (Director Landers worked with Donnell in the 1942 Boris Karloff-Peter Lorre oddity The Boogie Man Will Get You.) Jeff later played George Gobel’s wife Alice on his comedy-variety series in the 1950s, and recurring roles on both Dr. Kildare and Julia.
Jeff has a difficult task in Kid; the character she portrays is a spoiled, selfish woman…and yet the actress makes her quite likable with her insouciant approach to the role. When she’s first introduced to Martin’s character—he announces he’s “Chito Jose Gonzales Bustamente Rafferty” with his usual flourish—her response is a thing of beauty: “Who cares?”
But there’s something mighty distasteful about this romance: if we accept Dave’s assertion of “Yeah, I knew you were a girl the whole time”—then why does he resort to caveman tactics like giving her a swift kick in the ass and, later, turning her across his knee for a spanking? I could comprehend this behavior if he were disciplining an unruly kid (I don’t endorse it, mind you—but I understand) but if Dave hasn’t been fooled by “Jesse” he kind of comes across as a macho dink. That part of the picture left a bad taste in my mouth (it’s been suggested by a few that Kid is a western remake of It Happened One Night), and the implication that the two will happy-ever-after once the theatre lights go up doesn’t ring true.
Carol Hughes, who does fine work as Birdie, was originally going to play Donnell’s part but settled for a supporting role due to a scheduling conflict. My copy of Kid was obtained, of course, from The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™…but if you’re TCM-deprived (something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, by the way), it’s available on the Warner Archive MOD collection Tim Holt Western Classics: Volume 2.
o protect the only witness.
gets a look at Parnell under his kerchief. The hunt is now on to round up the bandits--and the man