Wednesday, November 30, 2016

B-Western Wednesdays: Johnny Mack Brown Double Feature - Man from Sonora (1951) and Outlaw Gold (1950)

There’s a reason why I tackled two entries for this week’s edition of B-Western Wednesdays.  I put one of Johnny Mack Brown’s Monogram vehicles in the DVD player (Outlaw Gold [1950]) last week and the moment the closing credits rolled, I completely forgot what the damn thing was about.  (This sort of thing doesn’t lend itself to good film reviews, by the way.)  And I felt guilty about this—though in my defense, I didn’t make the doggone movie—because I like generally like JMB, even in his “plump” period (this wasn’t my idea—I read it from a commenter over at the [always reliable] IMDb).  Brown is just a darn likable cowpoke; I’ve reviewed one of his Monogram features here previously and mentioned this anecdote:

…by all accounts from the people with whom he worked, Brown was the epitome of the true Southern gentleman.  He made many films with … Marshall Reed, who once related to a fan at a western film convention that Johnny would always tell his cast at the wrap: “Thanks for letting me make this film with you.”

For the record, Outlaw Gold finds our hero as a U.S. Marshal assigned to investigate a robbery involving government gold from Mexico, with the help of his deputy sidekick Sandy Barker (Milburn Monsante).  In the process of their search, the two men witness Joe Martin, the editor of Latigo City’s newspaper, and his daughter Kathy (Jane Adams) bushwhacked by assailants unknown.  Pretending not to know one another, Brown (as Johnny Mack Brown—the role he was born to play!) and Sandy agree to escort the Martins back to town; Johnny Mack will ride up ahead to interview some local ranchers and deputy Sandy continues on with Kathy and the injured Martin (shot in the arm by the desperadoes).

In Latigo City, Sandy wangles a job as a printer with the Martin’s paper…and Johnny, just arriving, is around long enough to witness Joe’s assassin finish the job with a rifle from an upstairs window.  Johnny soon finds himself accused of the deed!  Not to worry, Mr. Brown is eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, leaving him and Sandy to suspect that the man (George McDormand) who seemed mighty anxious to point fingers in the first place may be involved in some shady chicanery.

I don’t want to point fingers myself…but I suspect the reason why Outlaw Gold dissipates in the memory banks after one viewing is because apart from Myron Healey’s role as an ex-con named Sonny Lang (who’s harboring a grudge against Johnny Mack)—Healey manages to bring a little shading and nuance to what could have been a one-note performance—no one in the cast of Gold is a particular standout, nor is the plot all that memorable (though there is an amusing scene where Sandy produces the fruits of his first printing job—it looks like a ransom note).  The cast of Man from Sonora (1951), on the other hand, has a bit more “oomph” even though, like Gold, the plot of the film is little more than paint-by-numbers.

Sonora puts a twist on the hero’s occupation: Johnny Mack Brown (still playing himself) is a retired lawman who loses his valued horse “Rebel” to a gang of masked hombres who have just held up a stage on its way to Silver Springs.  (One of the men had to shoot his injured horse, and that’s why he “liberated” Johnny’s steed.)  Arriving in town, Brown gets reacquainted with his old pal Frank Casey (Lyle Talbot), who’s the law in Silver Springs, and Johnny tells the sheriff about the three men who put the snatch on Rebel.  Johnny’s got a hunch that one of the outlaws, Duke Mantel (Lee Roberts), is throwing a few back in the saloon, because of his loud, distinctive laugh (the masked man who swiped Johnny’s horse had a similar guffaw).  When Johnny enters the watering hole as the guest of Ed Hooper (House Peters, Jr.), Duke and his pal Pete (John Merton) start a little trouble…and Frank is forced to lock up both Duke and Johnny.

Hooper bails Duke out—Duke works for him as one of his “peelers”—and along with banker Fred Allison (Sam Flint), informs lawman Casey that his pal Johnny must vamoose out of Silver Springs; it’s all politics, you understand—Casey’s hands are tied in the matter.  This will prove most beneficial for Johnny Mack Brown; it will give him the opportunity to drop by Hooper’s spread and look for the missing Rebel.

There are a good number of serials/B-Western veterans in Man from Sonora: I always smile whenever I see John Merton onscreen (I read somewhere that whenever an oater or chapter play was being cast they took special pains to make sure Merton was on the list because he had several mouths to feed), and he’s in his element here as one of Peters’ henchmen.  Peters’ villain is a real piece of work, cold-bloodedly gunning down John and serial hero Dennis Moore (as a bad guy!) when things start to close in on him.  Phyllis “Gypsy” Coates, who also appeared in Oklahoma Justice (1951), is the banker’s daughter and kind of sweet on Johnny (there is no kiss at the fadeout, however, because Johnny has no use for wimmin folk despite always being courtly in their presence) …though as in Justice, Coates has very little to do.  Western veteran Pierce Lyden appears briefly as a harness salesman who draws his rations early (allowing Dennis Moore to impersonate him).

Both Outlaw Gold and Man from Sonora are present and accounted for on the Warner Archive MOD set Monogram Cowboy Collection Volume 1, which is also available for rent from the good people at ClassicFlix.  This past weekend, Rancho Yesteryear was the beneficiary of a Starz/Encore/Movieplex “freeview”—and I had hoped to snag a download of The Lone Star Trail (1943), a Johnny Mack-Tex Ritter Universal B-oater that I watched on Encore Westerns back in what I jokingly call my “carefree bachelor days” (before the ‘rents and I decided to share living space).  But I wasn’t able to get it off the On Demand in time.  Bummer.the doggone thing--because   And I felt guilty about this--though  credits rolled, I completely forgot what the damn thin

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