Wallace Beery stars in the title role, playing an outlaw who hides out in a Mormon wagon train headed for Utah. He's accompanied by an even nastier confederate, Yancy (J. Carrol Naish), who thinks nothing of shooting a man in cold blood.
Bascomb is "adopted," so to speak, by Abbey (Marjorie Main) and her granddaughter Emmy (Margaret O'Brien), doing chores for them in order to pull his weight with the wagon train. He's charmed by the (inexplicable!) devotion of little Emmy and he occasionally reveals a kind heart, though he's still bad enough to plan to steal gold the settlers have brought on their journey to pay to build a hospital.
Eventually, though, Bascomb redeems himself by risking his life for the wagon train, which will mean giving up his freedom.
I'm not a fan of Beery, usually watching his movies because of other people in the cast; indeed, the pull here for me was to watch O'Brien, Main, Frances Rafferty, and Marshall Thompson. That said, Beery is quite good in this, in a performance that's more low-key and less obnoxious than some of his roles. He and O'Brien have a good rapport, with his brusqueness balancing her precocious sweetness. The take-no-prisoners Main is likewise well matched with Beery, as she can stand up to anyone.
Much of the movie was filmed on location in Wyoming, and the beautiful scenery and realistic locations give the movie added depth. Soundstage exteriors and back projections are used judiciously and unobtrusively. It's a very good-looking movie, filmed in black and white by Charles Schoenbaum.
The film's biggest drawback is its too-leisurely 112-minute pace. It could easily have been tightened up and had a few minutes pared down without impacting the story.
I've always liked Frances Rafferty, who played roles large and small at MGM in the '40s, and she's lovely in this. This was her last film under contract at MGM. She was best known for her work on the TV series DECEMBER BRIDE and its spinoff PETE AND GLADYS.
Marshall Thompson does a good job as Rafferty's love interest, an orphan who had been riding with Bascomb but had no interest in life as a criminal. They're an appealing young couple.
The excellent supporting cast includes familiar faces such as Sara Haden, Connie Gilchrist, Donald Curtis, Russell Simpson, Henry O'Neill, Arthur Space, Eddie Acuff, and Wally Cassell.
BAD BASCOMB was directed by S. Sylvan Simon, who directed many lesser-known but entertaining MGM films of the era. He was just 41 when he passed on in 1951.
The Warner Archive DVD provides a fine print, and the disc includes the trailer.
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 from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.