While the men unload the wagons and make permanent camp, Jim and Mary scale the cliffs to the cave above. Mary finds Chuckwalla’s landmark and Jim, running to the cave entrance with the good news…
…gets his ass blown to smithereenies because someone thought it would be a good idea to store a metric ton of explosives right directly under the cliff facing where Jim (Dick Foran) is having a shoot-out with Wolf Reade (Charles Bickford) and his men. Okay, he’s not really blown to Kingdom Come…and neither are his riders, because (this is footage from the Director’s Cut—what we commonly call in serial circles as “the cheat”) we see Tombstone (Buck Jones) and the others reposition themselves behind some rocks near the cave entrance. As for that honkin’ big explosion.
…well, it misses Jim and Mary (Jeanne Kelly) by that much. I thought for a moment there that the rest of the Death Valley Riders were going to have to go on another digging exposition but they have been spared a cave-in. Check out the glee on the face of Reade’s second-in-command, Butch (Lon Chaney, Jr):
Inside the cave:
“Darn it…I broke a nail!”
MARY: Whoo…I think I’m all in one piece…
Outside the cave, Wolf and his gang make their way toward the entrance…and instantly find themselves repelled by the Riders’ returning gunfire. (“Run away! Run away!”) Back to the cave:
MARY: What happened?
JIM: One of those stray bullets must have hit the powder… (He feels something underneath him)
MARY: What’s the matter?
Jim finds that he’s sitting on a broken axe, and an investigation of the cave wall behind them soon reveals a rich vein of gold. “Oh, Jim,” gushes Mary, “it’s beautiful!” Jim goes over to the cave entrance and calls out for Tombstone, who’s a little busy exchanging bullets with Wolf and Company. While Tomb heads for the cave, henchman Pete Gump (Richard Alexander) advises his fellow goon Dirk (Roy Barcroft) to “get down lower.”
“Ah, they couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn,” scoffs Dirk, as the hat on his head is shot off by renowned shed shooter Pancho (Leo Carrillo). Pancho excitedly rewards his marksmanship with a drink of water from a canteen…which is shot out of his hands by a pissed-off Dirk. Pancho returns the fire, and brags to Tex (Glenn Strange): “This time I got him!” The two of them then run toward the cave entrance as well, where Tombstone is still shooting at the outlaws. Jim motions for Tomb to join him inside the cave, and Pancho and Tex are soon followed by Borax Bill (Guinn “Big Boy” Williams) and Smokey (Noah Beery, Jr.)
(Jim shows his pal a huge hunk of gold that he chipped away from the cave wall)
TOMBSTONE (spitting on the rock and shining it up): Durned if you haven’t! I’d like to have a piece of that in my tooth!
JIM: Yeah…but now that we’ve found it—how are we gonna get out of here to file it?
Outside the cave, Wolf barks at his men to hold their fire…
BUTCH: Don’t worry about him—he’s hid out of range…
WOLF: Trigger! (Trigger makes his way down to where Wolf is hiding, and he fires a shot at the cave after being fired upon) Hold your fire, I tell ya! No sense wasting ammunition…now look…we got ‘em trapped up in that cave…there may be another way out…I want you to circle ‘round to the other side and find out…
As Trigger (Jack Rockwell) carries out Wolf’s directive, we go back inside the cave to find Jim “making out a location note” as Mary looks on. Pancho walks up and asks: “Mister Jim…what did you did with your canteen?”
PANCHO: You didn’t brung it? Well, who’s got it—nobody…? We can’t do without water! Say—if I ever catch that man who shoot that canteen from my hands I’ll make him prove it!
JIM (after a pause): Pancho…bring me one of those torches…
Pancho, handing him the torch, jokingly tells Benton “you can’t drink that”—prompting Jim to reply: “I know…but if there’s another way out of this place I’m going to find it.” Pancho offers to go with him, but is told to stay put, particularly if Wolf and the others decide to rush the cave.
Wolf then becomes aware of a powerful stench in the vicinity…which can only mean the arrival of Rance Davis (Monte Blue), confederate to the master villain of this piece, Joseph Kirby (James Blaine).
WOLF: So you’ve crawled out of your hole now that the shootin’s stopped?
“For your information, smartass, I was evicting a family of prairie dogs…”
WOLF: Yeah, that’s right…I forgot…you’re smart…
DAVIS: You know very well if Benton finds out I’m tied up with you I certainly can’t go back and join up with his outfit again!
I have a sneaking suspicion Benton already knows you’re not on the up-and-up, him being so clever and all.
WOLF: Well, now that you’re here you might as well be of some use…get up the mountain and bring them horses of ours down closer…that safe enough?
Davis looks at Wolf as if he’s got a devastating putdown at the ready…but upon seeing his drawn gun decides it might be inappropriate. While Jim continues to look for a back door, Butch has spotted something that might be useful to Wolf’s diabolical machinations.
BUTCH: Under the wagon…their canteens!
WOLF: You’re right, Butch…we cut off their water, we got ‘em where we want ‘em!
WOLF: Get down there and get them canteens…
BUTCH: Who, me?
“Couldn’t you send Pete? After all, he has a tendency to disappear from this serial from time to time…why not make it permanent?”
BUTCH: Hey—what are you trying to do, get rid of me?
WOLF: Maybe…go on…get goin’…
Now, in one of those glaring continuity errors that makes serials so much fun, we see Butch leave his gun on one of the rocks…but when he starts down toward the wagon he’s fired upon by the Riders—and he’s able to return fire as well. (And he’s not using his finger and going “Bang bang!”)
Meanwhile, almost as if it were scripted, Jim and Trigger stumble upon the back entrance to the cave at practically the same time from opposite directions (inside and outside the cave). Fortunately for Jim, he spots Trigger first so as the goon approaches the entrance he gives him a surprise sock…
…and the two stuntmen roll down to this piece of ground outside the cave, distinguished by its glaringly phony background. (I had a hearty tee-hee over this.) After tussling with Trigger, Jim sends him reeling down a far-more realistic bit of scenery…
…so much for that. Well, Rance has completed his homework assignment—bringing the horses down from higher ground—and Butch has snatched up all the canteens; now he must make his way back to where Wolf and the others are positioned…and Smokey is not making that easy for him. Pete spots Butch and laconically comments: “Hey, Wolf…here’s Butch…” (Translation: “I’m glad that essobee didn’t send me down there after the water…”)
WOLF: Good work, Butch…you’re all right…
BUTCH (as he flips a rock, George Raft-style): Yeah…sometimes I wonder how you get along without me…
“Why do you think I sent you down there in the first place, puddinghead?”
WOLF: Where’d you find this?
BUTCH: The base of that cliff…
WOLF: Butch, we’ve got it…that’s Chuckawalla’s mine!
BUTCH: Sure…the Lost Aztec!
DAVIS: I’ll go into hiding and figure out a way to join up with Benton’s outfit!
WOLF: Never mind Benton! Our business is to get to the claim office and file on that ground!
DAVIS: Yeah…yeah…yeah…sure! I’ll go right now! (He turns to leave)
WOLF: No you won’t…I will…
“Butch, I’m leaving you in charge,” orders Wolf after he’s established he trusts Davis about as far as he can throw him. “You keep them holed up there…”
“Don’t worry,” assures Butch, “I’ll keep ‘em…” Rusty arrives with the Riders’ horses at this time, and Wolf announces his intention to ride Benton’s horse.
Did he say he was going to ride Jim’s horse? Loyal, faithful ol’ Smoke? You ride that horse in a dream you better wake up and apologize, my friend; Jim, having emerged from the cave, watches Wolf from a distance as he tries to saddle up and he whistles loudly. The horse recognizes his master’s signal and decides the only way Wolf Reade is getting on him is if someone drapes him over so he can carry him to Boot Hill. As Smoke bucks and rears, Butch remarks to Rance: “What’s the matter with that horse—is he loco?”
As Jim continues whistling and confounding Reade’s plan to pilfer his mount, Pancho and the others watch from the cave entrance. “Mister Jim give the Wolf pack the double-up cross!” beams Pancho. Wolf even tries to tame the fired-up stallion with a whip…but that just seems to piss the horse off even more.
(Jim whistles again)
DAVIS (to Butch): Hear that?
“Yeah…sounds like the teakettle’s ready…”
DAVIS: That’s Benton!
BUTCH: Wolf! That’s Benton calling his horse!
WOLF: Get after him!
Wolf and Butch jump on their horses to take after Jim as a worried Mary watches from the cave. “Oh, Pancho,” she wails, “they’ll kill him—he doesn’t have a chance!” “Take it easy,” Tombstone reassures her. “He’s all right.” And indeed he is, for Smoke comes running after Jim whistles again and both horse and rider are soon hauling ass toward Panamint.
So the remaining four minutes of this thing is basically Wolf and Butch chasing Jim on horseback. During this sequence, Wolf fires off a shot that apparently catches Jim in the shoulder.
BUTCH: Nice shooting! You got ‘em!
WOLF: Hang on…
BUTCH: Hey…he’s goin’ into the dunes…
WOLF: Right into that sandstorm…he won’t come out of that…come on…