THE STORM RIDER is a Western starring Scott Brady, Bill Williams, and Mala Powers. Coincidentally I watched it right after STEP BY STEP (1946), which starred Brady's real-life older brother, Lawrence Tierney. Although the brothers look fairly different, there were a couple of moments where I was struck by the resemblance suddenly peeking through.
I found THE STORM RIDER to be a nice surprise, one of those unsung Westerns which had quite a bit going for it in its short 72 minutes. It has a tight, well-plotted story, lead actors who brought out more in their characters than was in the script, and a notably good score by Les Baxter, which uses atypically forceful arrangements of "Greensleeves" to strong effect.
A group of small ranchers led by Captain Cruickshank (William Fawcett) hire Bart to lead them in a battle against a big rancher, Bonnard (Roy Engel). The ranchers include a lovely widow, Tay Rorick (Powers), who is desperately attracted to Bart but is unaware he killed her (no-good) husband. The fact that the sheriff also loves Tay sets up additional conflict with Bart, while fences are cut down and a range war ensues.
Brady is excellent as a man who doesn't dare sleep in his own bed, where he'll be most vulnerable to attack. It's never made clear who attempts to kill him in his hotel after he rides into town, but perhaps it doesn't matter -- the scene illustrates that this is a man with a dark past.
Powers aptly conveys a certain wildness under Tay's proper exterior; perhaps that's how she initially ended up with her late husband instead of the sheriff, and it also helps explain her instant attraction to the gunslinger, despite having a fondness for the sheriff.
The sheriff, for his part, regrets having been shy about expressing his feelings for Tay in the past and is determined not to miss his chance with her this time around.
I liked that the film doesn't always follow formula expectations. For instance, Bonnard is the bad guy but he's not a stereotypical villain; he's a man who wants what he wants, but he's not a killer. When Bonnard's own hired gun (George Keymas) crosses the line, Bonnard suffers an agony of regret and changes his tactics. I also found the ending somewhat surprising, though in retrospect it made sense and was memorable.
In an interview with Mike Fitzgerald available at Western Clippings, Mala Powers said, "Scott and I got along just fine. Of course Bill and his wife, Barbara, were old friends by now. My part was a feisty Texas girl. She had spunk, owned her own ranch, hired and fired people. I enjoyed playing her!"
THE STORM RIDER was directed by Edward Bernds. It was filmed in Regalscope by Brydon Baker.
I'd certainly love to see this released in a widescreen DVD one day. It's a good film which I'll want to return to in the future.
The past week's movies, in general, illustrate anew the value in seeking out lesser-known films and discovering what they have to offer. I very much appreciate that both Netflix and Amazon Prime make so many "off the beaten path" titles available for viewing.