Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Rough Riders in Arizona Bound & Below the Border

The Rough Riders are the Three Musketeers transplanted to the Old West.  Just as many people nowadays have a romanticized view of America in the late 19th century, and have co-opted the phrase “three musketeers” to signify three friends who stick together through life’s adventures, the Rough Riders were Monogram Pictures idealized version of the trio that saved people from harm.  The Rough Riders in Arizona Bound was the first of eight feature films produced by the studio in the early 1940s.

Arizona Bound packs a lot of action into this black-and-white, 53-minute long movie.  It opens with the main Rough Rider, Buck Jones, sitting outside at his Arizona ranch gazing at the stars and telling his companion how glad he is to have hung up his guns.  The other man doesn’t believe him and is proved right when a telegram comes seeking Buck’s help in Mesa City, where a stagecoach line keeps getting robbed of its gold shipments and US mail.

Next we see the various townspeople introduced; some are good guys, some not, and it’s pretty clear from the beginning who is who in Arizona Bound.  A lot of the action takes place in a saloon and when a preacher enters, he does so with a bang—literally.  He tries to get a man who has crossed him to do a dance but this scene ends differently from the one in The McCreedy Bust: Going, Going, Gone where Kid Curry eventually does a jig, although at one point, the preacher in this movie does say, “They’re getting better every minute.”

This preacher, however, turns out to be another Rough Rider, played by Tim McCoy.  The third member of the trio is played by Raymond Hatton.  Naturally, before Arizona Bound is over, there are several confrontations with the bad guys, deceptions by the good guys to trick the bad guys, good guys who get mistaken for bad guys, and a climactic showdown accompanied by overwrought and melodramatic music typical of movies of this time period.  And, of course, a happy ending with all the loose ends tied up, along with the bad guys.

As the first in a series of Rough Riders movies, Arizona Bound sets the stage very well.  The song opening and closing the movie provides background information.  One feature of this franchise is that the audience doesn’t know at first that the three men are working together, so the explanation in the end scene that explains how they all came together to solve the problem in Mesa City is helpful. The rallying cry, “Looks like here’s where the Rough Riders ride again!” is heard for the first but definitely not the last time.

*     *     *     *     *

If only the condition of the print on the DVD I watched was better!  Rough Riders: Below the Border has a lot of positive features but sound and picture quality were not among them.  Sometimes it was hard to hear what characters were saying and often the picture was blurry or perhaps there was ghosting of images, which made it difficult to completely enjoy the movie.

Rough Riders: Below the Border is a 57-minute black-and-white film from 1942.  It stars Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, and Raymond Hatton, who were famous B-Western stars of the early 20th century.  Although the movie’s duration is approximately the same as that of a TV show, there is so much action happening and so many characters that it seems “bigger” than a TV show.

The movie starts off with a scene of two Mexican women and an American man on a stagecoach, which shortly thereafter gets robbed by bandits.  We also see a sheriff and some townspeople talking, and it appears that something shady is going on although it is hard to tell due to the poor audio quality.  Then there’s a scene of an Anglo man driving a buggy into town, which is named Border City, and it turns out he is there to pick up the ladies; it also turns out he is sweet on the younger one.

Each subsequent scene reveals a little more of what is really going on but Rough Riders: Below the Border takes its time letting the audience know.  Several scenes occur in a saloon and revolve around the swamper.  If after listening to how the Jordan girls (Lisa and Cindy Eilbacher in The Posse That Wouldn’t Quit) described their days on their ranch, including swamping out the place, one wasn’t sure what that meant, the character in this movie makes it abundantly clear.  One scene was similar to the one in The Day They Hanged Kid Curry when Heyes and the Kid were trapped in the cave.  However, in this film, the outcome was quite different.

Interestingly, the Rough Riders, who turn out to be a gang of three lawmen who work undercover, hail from Wyoming, Arizona, and Texas, all places that episodes of Alias Smith and Jones were set in.  There is also a theme song, sung at the beginning of Rough Riders: Below the Border and again at the end, which explains who they are and what they do.

This film is one of a series and there were eight Rough Riders movies.  It’s a shame that the poor quality of the DVD detracted from my enjoyment of the move but since the plot was well-paced, I may seek out the other films anyway.