Wednesday, December 21, 2016

B-Western Wednesdays: Partners of the Sunset (1948)

Rancher Bill Thompson (Steve Darrell) returns from a business trip to Tucson…and boy, does he have some swell news for his son Dan (Jay Kirby)!  Janice (Christine Larson), the pretty little gal at his side, is now his new mom…and no one should be surprised that Dan takes this bulletin with all the enthusiasm of a proctology exam.  It’s mostly due to Janice being old enough to be his younger sister, but that don’t make no never mind to Bill: they’re married, and if Dan doesn’t like it he can lump it.

Dan doesn’t like it, and so he vamooses from the ranch—bitter about the fact that his pop has reneged on his promise to bequeath him some of the horses they raise on their spread.  Ranch foreman Jimmy Wakely (himself) and chief-cook-and-bottle-washer “Cannonball” (Dub Taylor) ride into town in an attempt to patch things up between father and son.  Actively working against this reunion is stepmother Janice, who’s really a conniving little rhymes-with-witch out to take Bill’s fortune.  She’s assisted in this endeavor by her brother Les (Leonard Penn) …who isn’t her brother at all!  (Quel plot twist!)  The scheming pair cleverly frame Dan for his father’s murder, and it’s Jimmy (once again) to the rescue.

The fifty-three-minute length of Partners of the Sunset (1948)—and if you can figure out how that title connects with the plot of this movie, the phone lines are open—makes it just slightly longer than your run-of-the-mill episode of a typical TV western.  This doesn’t make it a terrible movie, you understand—it’s just that the overall presentation covers a lot of all-too-familiar territory.  Boyd Magers at Western Clippings gives this Jimmy Wakely programmer two stars, which seems about right…maybe I would bump it up half-a-star.  It’s painless to take, and Jimmy sings a couple of nice up-tempo ditties in It’s a Beautiful Day (Wakely sings and curries his horse as his bandmates accompany him on fiddle, guitar, and steel guitar—the way country music should be) and Press Along to the Big Corral.

The pluses in Sunset include a very good performance from Christine Larson, who’s a cut-above your usual B-Western ingénue—particularly when she’s fluctuating back-and-forth between sweet-as-apple-pie wifey and wicked stepmother.  She’s joined in her villainy by Leonard Penn (as Les, the “brother” who has difficulty keeping his hands off his sis), and between the two of them they are ruthless in their intentions to make sure Dan swings for fratricide (Les is really responsible for the vile deed, hitting Bill with one of those figurines that folks used to keep around the house for just such occasions).

You also can’t go wrong with having Dub Taylor as your sidekick if you find yourself in the occupation of singing cowboy; there’s a running gag throughout Sunset where “Cannonball” is desperately trying to catch an elusive fish (“Ol’ Smokey”) that will produce a stray chuckle or two, and Cannonball also gets some funny lines. (Jimmy: “What’s with the funny look?” Cannonball: “I always look this way!”)  The rest of the cast is dependable if not remarkable; the only name I recognized other than Wakely’s and Taylor’s was Marshall Reed, who was a regular on TV’s The Lineup (a.k.a. San Francisco Beat).  Marsh plays a bad hombre who agrees to help young Dan swipe those horses from his pa’s ranch, and winds up in a well-shot saloon donnybrook with Jimmy (well…more like Jimmy’s stuntman, Bob Woodward).  (Reed’s character connects right on Wakely’s button in one scene, which made me laugh out loud.)

Directed by master journeyman Lambert Hillyer (who helmed a previous Wakely vehicle covered in this space, 1949’s Gun Law Justice) and scripted by B-Western veteran J. Benton Cheney (I see Cheney’s credit on a lot of episodes of The Cisco Kid before I watch those Trackdown episodes I DVR off of Heroes & Icons), Partners of the Sunset is little more than a passable time-killer from one of the silver screen’s most engaging sagebrush presences...but that don’t make it all bad, as a cowpoke once explained to me.  It’s on DVD, available for purchase or rent on the Warner Archive MOD set Monogram Cowboy Collection: Volume 1.

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