Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Code of the West (1947) at the Lone Pine Film Festival

CODE OF THE WEST (1947) is one of a couple films I watched at the Lone Pine Film Festival which was based on a story by Zane Grey.

CODE OF THE WEST was the third and final RKO "B" Western starring James Warren, following WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND (1945) and SUNSET PASS (1946). Warren and Robert Mitchum kept the RKO "B" Western franchise going while Tim Holt was serving in WWII; Holt returned to RKO "B's" with THUNDER MOUNTAIN (1947), released a few months after CODE OF THE WEST.

CODE OF THE WEST is a solid 57-minute Western with a good supporting cast. Bob Wade (Warren) and his pal Chito Rafferty (John Laurenz) save Ruth Stockton (Debra Alden) and her banker father (Harry Harvey) from robbers.

The robbers, including Matt (Steve Brodie), work for saloon owner Boyd Carter (Raymond Burr). Veteran Western villain Harry Woods plays the evil marshal who's in cahoots with Carter. Carter wants to push ranchers out and claim their land, as he's been tipped off a railroad will be coming through that way and he stands to make a fortune.

It's a familiar Western tale but it's nicely done, including great-looking Lone Pine locations. Warren, who looks a bit like Bill Elliott, is bland but acceptable in the lead role.

This was just Burr's third film, and he's already a highly effective villain. In his very next movie he'd be menacing costar Brodie in Anthony Mann's great little "B" noir DESPERATE (1947).

This was one of two films in which Laurenz played Chito, the other being SUNSET PASS (1946). Richard Martin, who had played Chito in WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND and two earlier Mitchum Westerns, returned to the part with THUNDER MOUNTAIN and played it for the rest of the series, until RKO shut down its "B" Western unit in 1952. Laurenz had none of Martin's charisma and charm, and I was amused to note a comment by an IMDb reviewer, "It was practically sacrilegious to see someone else as the happy go lucky Chito." Martin certainly took that role and made it his own, one of the standout performers of "B" Westerns.

CODE OF THE WEST was directed by William Berke and filmed in black and white by Jack MacKenzie.

It's available on DVD in the Zane Grey Collection from Lions Gate.

Coming next: The other film I saw at the festival which was based on a Zane Grey story, RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE (1941).


Blogger Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Why was it, I wonder, that so many Zane Grey books were "adapted" into films that have absolutely no connection to the books outside the title? I've read Code of the West—it's about a flighty young 1920s flapper who comes west to visit her schoolteacher sister and causes all sorts of trouble for the sincere young rancher's son who's captivated by her. No gunfights and not even the same character names. :)

8:12 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Ha, that's funny, Elisabeth! I guess the studios must have liked the odd.

Thanks for that insight into the book versus the movie!

Best wishes,

8:15 AM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

You know, I never thought about the Bill Elliot resemblance before, but you're right. That second picture in particular brings it out!

I'm a little curious as to what you'll make of Bill Elliot himself... if he'll come across on the blander side too, or if he'll seem more like 'still waters run deep.' Seeing him in early non-starring roles, where he plays nervous and/or neurotic city slickers, one can better appreciate what a total 180 turn he took when he became a cowboy star. Tight-lipped, grimly humorous, and with a deadlier edge than some other B-western leads is how I think of him.

I really enjoyed some of his "Wild Bill" Columbia B's. All the titles run together in my head, so I'd have to ask my movie serial/b-western expert brother which were which! Elliot also did some good A-Westerns for Republic later on, like THE SHOWDOWN, THE SAVAGE HORDE, AND HELLFIRE. There. I can remember those titles (lol).

10:21 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

I am going to very interested too, Maricatrin, in Laura's take on Bill Elliott. He has been a personal favourite of mine for many years. I like your own description of him as a western lead very much - spot-on.
Of his Columbias I particularly like 'TAMING OF THE WEST' and 'RETURN OF WILD BILL' though there are plenty of other good ones. Then there was his terrific Republic B series of 8 co-starring Gabby Hayes and Anne Jeffreys.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Maricatrin and Jerry, I'll be taking my first look at Elliott as a Western leading man very soon, as I'll be reviewing his two-film Warner Archive set with FARGO and THE HOMESTEADERS, leading up to reviewing the Archive's brand-new release of an eight-film Elliott set!

Maricatrin, that's an interesting comment about being able to see the contrast in Elliott's performances over the years. I'm sure that seeing him in some of his Westerns will make his face jump out more quickly to me in his earlier supporting roles, just as I'm sure I'm going to be recognizing Dick Foran a whole lot more than I used to! (Funny thing, Gordon Elliott, as he was billed then, has been in a couple of the Foran films!) I appreciate the impressions you and Jerry have shared of his typicals characters!

As my appreciation for Anne Jeffreys has really been growing over the last couple of years, I'd love to get my hands on the movies she made with Elliott at some point!

Best wishes,

7:33 PM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

Thanks, Jerry, glad you liked the description:-) I enjoyed TAMING OF THE WEST very much; I don't recall seeing RETURN OF WILD BILL yet. And oh yes, the Elliott-Jeffreys films were really good too, I had forgotten they were from Republic.

4:30 PM  

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