Saturday, May 24, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Wildcat Bus (1940) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

WILDCAT BUS is just the sort of film I love to explore, a 64-minute RKO "B" movie starring Fay Wray. One of the things I very much appreciate about the Warner Archive is a movie like WILDCAT BUS being available on DVD.

This story of a mob campaign to put Wray's Federated Bus Lines out of business is no classic, but it has its varied "B" pleasures and I enjoyed it. After all, where else can you see Mrs. Meade of GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), actress Leona Roberts, as the head of an organized crime gang? Roberts' Ma Talbot appears on the surface to be a slovenly old landlady, but that's just a cover for the calculating crime boss.

Roberts' gang also includes good old Joe Sawyer, billed Joseph here, and Don Costello. The gang causes a series of accidents to befall the bus line, which threatens to put it out of business.

Charles Lang -- who later became a screenwriter -- stars as a formerly wealthy young man who ends up driving his fancy car for the gang's "wildcat bus" line, an unlicensed operation which is skimming Federated's passengers.

Paul Guilfoyle, who appeared in so many of Lew Landers' films, plays Lang's former chauffeur, who goes to work as a bus driver for Federated; Guilfoyle may offer the film's most appealing performance as the loyal employee turned friend. One of the fun little sidelights to the character is that he compulsively straightens up the papers on Wray's desk.

I enjoyed things like seeing the rural California roads and vintage gas station sign, and the back projection San Francisco was quaintly charming. Plus there's the fun of spotting Keye Luke in an unbilled role.

I always like watching Wray, though she didn't have a very scintillating role in this one. (For vintage Wray, I recommend THE AFFAIRS OF CELLINI and THE RICHEST GIRL IN THE WORLD.) It's interesting to note that Wray was several years older than her leading man, Lang.

WILDCAT BUS was directed by Frank Woodruff. The story and screenplay were by Lou Lusty. The movie was shot by Jack MacKenzie.

The print of this relatively unknown little film is quite good.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Anytime I watch Joe Sawyer I'm a kid again. Sgt. O'Hara!

8:39 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I love Joe! I especially enjoyed OPERATION HAYLIFT (1950) which he also cowrote based on a real incident.

Best wishes,

9:51 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

If you love Joe Sawyer, you should catch the Roy Rogers B-Western West of the Badlands (a.k.a. The Border Legion) sometime—he's a lot of fun in that as an egotistical outlaw chief.

5:46 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for that recommendation, Elisabeth! Sounds like fun. :)

Best wishes,

12:11 PM  

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