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Sunday, December 7, 2014

PALS OF THE SADDLE (1938)

The first of eight low-budget Westerns John Wayne made for Republic Studios as part of their ‘Three Mesquiteers’ series. (And as part of his post-BIG TRAIL/’30 career purgatory.) Mighty low fare on the Hollywood pecking order, shortly before director John Ford made him an A-list lead in STAGECOACH/’39. Even as a routine ‘oater,’ this is pretty dispiriting stuff, with Wayne & his ranch-hand buds mixing it up with some bad guys mining poison-gas minerals and good guys (actually a good gal) who turns out to be a government agent. Megger George Sherman (a specialist in this sort of work) calls for lots of undercranking to boost the outdoor excitement, rarely a good idea. But it’s better than his downright peculiar staging on interiors. (Line up; stare straight ahead; twist as needed.) Odder still, a Dadaist touch from one of Wayne’s mesquiteer pals who rides around with a ventriloquist dummy. Plumb lonesome, I reckon.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Cy Feuer, later the legendary producer of GUYS AND DOLLS & other B’way musicals, ran the music department @ Republic Pictures. Cheap Westerns got by with reused music cues, but listen out when some WANTED posters of Wayne go up. Feuer samples the intro to Un Bal, the second movement of Hector Berlioz’s SYMPHONY FANTASTIQUE. And it’s no slip, he brings the tag back when Wayne sneaks into the mineral warehouse. Berlioz would have loved it.

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