Thursday, April 5, 2012

Rare Westerns on Netflix Instant Watch Capsule Reviews, vol.23

The Phantom Plainsman (1942) 

The Three Mesquiteers (Bob Steele, Tom Tyler, Rufe Davis) are enjoying life as cowboys as always, albeit in 1937. However, this simple and innocent life is turned upside down when they find out that the owner of the ranch they work for is selling horses to the Nazis!  I don't know that a few horses is really gonna speed up Hitler's plan for world domination, but even so, you don't tug on Superman's cape, and you absolutely do not help out the Nazis, even if it's to help an old Nazi lady cross the street.  No matter, the Mesquiteers will see to it that the ranch owner loses and justice wins and Hitler gets another well deserved kick in the pants. Not the camp classic it sounds like it might be, this is instead a bland B-western story about shady horse trading inexplicably transferred to the World War II era. Really, the only differences are that the villains have a slight German accent, and there is a pretty rad horse and car chase instead of the usual horse and wagon chase. Still amusing though, with some cool stuntwork, and Rufe providing comic relief that is actually amusing and not broad like you would expect.

Excellent black and white transfer, and never released on home video. There are a bunch of Three Mesquiteers movies, but the characters and actors changed along the way. John Wayne even starred in several in the late 30’s. here are the rare ones on Netflix instant, which were never released on home video, except for Riders of the Black Hills, which saw a VHS release. 
Riders of the Black Hills (1938) 
Cowboys from Texas (1939) 
Pioneers of the West (1940) 
Pals of the Pecos (1941) 
Shadows on the Sage (1942) 
Raiders of the Range (1942) 
The Blocked Trail (1943) 

The Laramie Trail (1944) 

Bob Livingstone comes to a town to claim a ranch, but encounters a man who was accused of murder, but Livingstone believes he is innocent and investigates. A surprisingly complicated B-western mystery, this is interesting and unpredictable, carried by the stoic but charismatic Livingstone, but suffers from convolution and a plot conveyed too much through exposition. Still, a valiant and never boring attempt to make an extremely twisty mystery out of a familiar B-movie plot. Some occasional borderline hard boiled dialogue, too: 
Lawyer justifying taking a case because he needs the money: Lawyers have to live, don’t they? 
Livingstone: Why? 

Excellent video transfer, although the audio is pretty scratchy, which caused me to stretch my earholes to hear some of the dialogue. Never released on home video, and there are two more rare westerns on Netflix Instant starring Bob Livingstone that have never been released on home video: 
The Big Bonanza (1944) 
Beneath Western Skies (1944) 

Outlaws of Santa Fe (1944)

Don “Red” Barry (sort of a deadly serious cowboy version of Red Skelton) robs banks with his father, but dad is shot during a robbery attempt. While dying, he tells Red that he actually isn’t his father, but that his real father was actually a lawman who was killed in Santa Fe. Red immediately reforms and decides to become a hero. I guess he really wants to take after his father, whether his father is a crook or a saint. Anyway, he saves Helen Talbot and her little sister Winky (who manages to be bossy without being completely annoying) on the way to Santa fe, where he intends to return the money he stole from the robbery, as well as taking out whoever killed his real father. He has a broad comedic sidekick that gets a little annoying, but there are a few amusing scenes with a funny old man deputy. A better than usual Republic cheapie, and Red Barry is actually pretty good in the role, especially considering that he manages to somewhat pull off an immediate about face from crook to hero. 

The transfer is pretty soft, and there are vertical damage lines during the first reel or so. Still, it’s fairly watchable. Never released on home video, and here are other Netflix Instant titles starring Red Barry that have never been released on home video: 

Frontier Vengeance (1940) 
One Man's Law (1940) 
Texas Terror (1940) 
Death Valley Outlaws (1941) 
Carson City Cyclone (1943) 
California Joe (1943)

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