Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tonight's Movie: The Forest Rangers (1942)

THE FOREST RANGERS is a colorful, entertaining Paramount film, although the plotline at times stretches credulity.

Handsome forest ranger Don Stuart (Fred MacMurray) marries Celia Huston (Paulette Goddard) after a whirlwind courtship. Don and Celia are ecstatically happy, but when they return to the ranger station, local gal Tana "Butch" Davis (Susan Hayward) is green-eyed with jealousy. Tana is in love with Don, but he just sees her as "one of the guys." Pilot Frank Hatfield (Regis Toomey) carries a torch for Tana, to no avail.

Don and Celia struggle through various awkward incidents, sometimes instigated by Tana; most notably she deliberately strands the three of them alone together in the forest overnight, thwarting a honeymoon.

At the same time Don is coping with a series of forest fires set by an arsonist, and he's dismayed when Celia tries to have her daddy (Eugene Pallette) pull strings to transfer Don; Celia just wants a fresh start away from Tana's interference. Does Celia have what it takes to be a forest ranger's wife, or will Tana succeed in driving Celia back to the big city?

It's not much of a hardship watching good-looking folks like MacMurray, Goddard, Hayward, and Rod Cameron (as MacMurray's righthand man) in a beautiful Technicolor forest. (Location shooting took place in Boulder Creek, California.) The actors are personable -- although Hayward's character needs a good kick in the rear at times -- and MacMurray displays a beautiful singing voice on the Hollander-Loesser tune "Tall Grows the Timber." Paulette is sometimes made to look like a clueless idiot, but her innate spunk can't be kept down for long.

Goddard and Hayward had just made Cecil B. DeMille's REAP THE WILD WIND (1942), in which Goddard was a headstrong, tomboyish beauty and Hayward her sweet cousin; in THE FOREST RANGERS their roles were basically reversed, with Paulette the stand-by-her-man gal hit by love's thunderbolt, and Hayward the bratty tomboy who runs a logging operation.

The movie seemed to lose much attempt at realism in the fire sequences. The way the rangers approached the fires didn't seem to be professional know-how, but devil-may-care idiocy. Note, for example, the burning timbers falling to the ground around MacMurray in an early scene. There was no apparent reason for him to have tempted fate by standing so close to the fire while talking on a radio. That said, I can understand why these fiery scenes made a big impression on my husband as a child!

Likewise, the climax of the film, in which -- among other things -- the identity of the arsonist is disclosed, rated a big "Riiiigggght!" from me. The entire sequence, including the big reveal of the bad guy and also the gals trapped by a fire, struck me as on the silly side. Complaints aside, I found THE FOREST RANGERS enjoyable thanks to the cast and the film's great color look.

The supporting cast includes Lynne Overman, Clem Bevans, and Albert Dekker. The blonde friend looking for Paulette Goddard in the hotel early in the film is Karin Booth, who starred in MGM's THE UNFINISHED DANCE (1947) and was later the leading lady in numerous Westerns, such as CRIPPLE CREEK (1952).

THE FOREST RANGERS was directed by George Marshall. Marshall later directed MacMurray in AND THE ANGELS SING (1944), MURDER, HE SAYS (1945), and NEVER A DULL MOMENT (1950). He directed Goddard in THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940) and HAZARD (1948).

IMDb lists the film's running time as 87 minutes. The print I watched was 83 minutes long.

This film does not appear to have ever had a DVD or VHS release. It's yet one more Paramount movie which needs to be made more accessible to the viewing public.

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