Sunday, March 4, 2012

Rare Westerns on Netflix Instant Watch Capsule Reviews, vol.18

Jubilee Trail (1954)

A newlywed couple (Joan leslie and John Russell) help New Orleans showgirl Vera Ralston escape a detective trying to pick her up for supposed crimes she’s committed. Apparently she has an honest enough face that the couple are sure of her innocence. Anyway, they bring her along on a wagon trip to California, and in pure soap opera fashion, Russell finds out that he’ll have a new baby waiting for him when he arrives in California…from another woman. Uh oh. This gives the wagon ride two strains of dramatic conflict, however soapy and forced, on top of the requisite Indian attack. The movie really drags at 103 minutes, padded with several lame musical numbers featuring Ralston (including a hand clapping song that predates Pia Zadora). However, the color photography is nice, Joan Leslie is adorable, and Buddy Baer is memorable in his small role as a Siberian bear trapper that flirts with Ralston.

Very good Trucolor transfer, and previously only released on VHS.

The Great Sioux Uprising (1953)

Lyle Bettger plays a crooked horse trader that steals horses from some Sioux Indians
in order to sell them to the U.S. Calvary, killing several Sioux in the process. Jeff Chandler plays an army doctor who tries and prevent an impending war between the Sioux and the local whites, while also thwarting Lyle and overcome his fear of performing surgery. Caught in the middle is the lovely Faith Domergue, a competing horse trader who takes a shining to Jeff while avoiding Lyle’s advances. The movie suffers from a main plot largely conveyed through boring exposition, and the central triangle and the side plot of Jeff overcoming his fears as a doctor are both pretty limp and uninteresting. However, Jeff and Faith are very likeable and make the movie watchable.

A bit dull and fuzzy, looking like it originates from a very good analog master. Still, a pretty solid color transfer. Previously only available on VHS. No longer on Netflix instant, but maybe it'll pop up again at some point, and also some kind soul put it up on Youtube.

Wild Horse Ambush (1952)

The “Rough Ridin’ Kids” Michael Chapin and Eilene Janssen are out to foil two alleged wild horse tamers who are running a Mexican counterfeit scheme. We’re talking fake-o pesos out the wazoo. Instead of being useless or merely kidnapping fodder, these kids are resourceful to the point of cartoonish absurdity (in a good way). Michael doesn’t initially trust a Mexican agent investigating the fake bills, so he manages to get a horse to knock him out so he can bring him to the authorities to check if he’s kosher, and the agent doesn’t mind in the least being knocked out by an 11-year-old. Then there’s the best scene, where Eilene hides from the counterfeiters by sitting under a blanket and playing a Mexican song on guitar, singing in perfect Spanish. Sure it’s a little racist, but talent is talent, and the kid’s got it in spades. While these kiddie B-westerns can easily become annoying, these kids are unlikely, wish fulfillment heroes for other kids, but doing it in a borderline surreal and entertaining way, and both young actors are cheerful and amusing (well, Eilene mostly). A fun, curious breeze at only 54 minutes.

The black and white transfer is excellent, and it was never released on home video. The “Rough Ridin’ Kids” starred in several other movies, including The Dakota Kid (1951), which is also on Netflix instant. The transfer on The Dakota Kid is also very good, but a notch duller and less detailed than the transfer for Wild Horse Ambush, and it was also never released on home video. While not as fun as Wild Horse Ambush, Dakota Kid does have an amazing banjo/song and dance number by Eilene.

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