Thursday, June 04, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Stage to Chino (1940)

It's been over a year since I last watched a Western starring the appealing team of George O'Brien and Virginia Vale. Tonight I finally caught STAGE TO CHINO (1940), the last of their half-dozen films together for RKO which I needed to see.

In this action-packed film Caroline (Vale) is trying to secure a mail contract for her stage line. She's being plotted against by her Uncle Charlie (Carl Stockdale) and Dude Elliott (Roy Barcroft).

O'Brien plays Dan Clark, an undercover postal inspector who gets to the bottom of the nefarious goings-on, unexpectedly aided by a traveling salesman (Hobart Cavanaugh). The sooner Dan solves the ongoing crimes, the quicker he can spend his time romancing lovely Caroline!

This is a typically enjoyable O'Brien-Vale entry, with perhaps O'Brien's most impressive stuntwork of the series. During a big barroom brawl sequence he jumps up on the bar and swings from a lantern! Even more impressive, he transfers from one moving stagecoach to another, and it's shot in such a way that there is no doubt it's the athletic O'Brien doing his own stunt work.

In Boyd Magers' book WESTERNS WOMEN, Vale confirms that O'Brien did the stagecoach stunt work himself and said, "I never saw him use a double. He was a superb athlete and very strong. He picked me up like I was a feather."

Vale also said STAGE TO CHINO was her favorite of their six films together. She liked her role, and what's more, she convinced the producer to let her design her dresses! To that point she'd always been assigned generic clothes from the wardrobe department. She made some sketches, chose the fabric, and the wardrobe department made them up for her. (There's an especially notable scene where she models a lovely new dress for O'Brien.) She said, "They were reused, I've seen them time and time again in Westerns." I wonder if any of them turned up worn by the leading ladies in Tim Holt Westerns!

The supporting cast of STAGE TO CHINO includes Glenn Strange, William Haade, Harry Cording, Martin Garralaga, and Ethan Laidlaw. Music is provided by Pals of the Golden West, headed by the yodeling Nora Lou Martin.

STAGE TO CHINO was directed by Edward Killy and filmed by J. Roy Hunt. The movie runs 59 minutes.

In response to a letter I sent the Warner Archive for their podcast, George Feltenstein and his colleagues indicated that at some point in the future there will be more George O'Brien Westerns on DVD. Hopefully the three O'Brien-Vale Westerns which aren't yet out will be in a future collection.

Reviews of all five of the other George O'Brien-Virginia Vale films: THE MARSHAL OF MESA CITY (1939), LEGION OF THE LAWLESS (1940), BULLET CODE (1940), PRAIRIE LAW (1940), and TRIPLE JUSTICE (1940).

February 2016 Update: STAGE TO CHINO is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive in the nine-film George O'Brien Western Collection!

June 2016 Update: My review of STAGE TO CHINO in the George O'Brien Western Collection is here.

3 Comments:

Blogger Jerry E said...

Great to see a review for this really fine series western - one of the very best, I think. One small correction (?) if I may, Laura; I think "TRIPLE JUSTICE" was actually the final film as he and Vale's characters were married finally. Nice way to end a series.

3:08 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Jerry!

You're absolutely right about that! My wording was way too ambiguous, I meant to say it was the last of their movies I needed to see, but it read as you interpreted it! Cleaning that up now. :)

O'Brien's physicality in these movies is always impressive but he really blew me away in this one.

Best wishes,
Laura

9:17 AM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Laura! I think Tim Holt and George O'Brien's B-westerns were some of the best in the genre.

6:51 AM  

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