Sunday, February 07, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Wild Bill Hickok Rides (1942) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Bruce Cabot, Constance Bennett, and Warren William star in the Warner Bros. Western WILD BILL HICKCOK RIDES (1942), just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

Saloon owner Belle Andrews (Bennett) and unethical businessman Harry Farrel (William) relocate from Chicago to Powder River, Montana, in the wake of Chicago's great fire.

Farrel has plans to grab control of huge swaths of Montana land by dubious legal means, but the sheriff (Ward Bond) is in his pocket financially and backs Farrel's play.

However, Bill Hickok (Cabot) leads settlers as they fight back against Farrel, and Belle may switch her allegiance from her business partner Farrel to Hickok, with whom she's fallen in love.

WILD BILL HICKOK RIDES is an okay Western, nothing particularly special but reasonably entertaining. The 82-minute film is paced well and has a fair amount of action, including the Chicago fire and a train holdup at the outset and a dam breaking near the end. I don't know if the dam sequence was created for this film or borrowed from another, but the special effects as the water spreads are pretty good.

However, the characters are fairly one note, and as she doesn't have enough screen time, Bennett's deep affection for Cabot at the end seems a little abrupt.

The film does have a large cast of talented actors, including Howard Da Silva, Walter Catlett, Russell Simpson, Trevor Bardette, and J. Farrell MacDonald. Belle's chorus girls include Faye Emerson, in an early role, and Julie Bishop; Emerson and Bishop don't have significant speaking roles but are onscreen a fair amount of time.

Betty Brewer, who was about 16 when she filmed her role as Cabot and Simpson's ward, plays a girl who seems to be younger than the actress's actual age, and I must admit I found her "down home" frontier gal a bit tiresome as the movie went on.

WILD BILL HICKOK RIDES was directed by Ray Enright and filmed in black and white by Ted McCord. Location shooting took place at Iverson Ranch in Southern California.

Howard Jackson was credited with the musical score. Late in the film a brief strain of Max Steiner's score for DODGE CITY (1939) wanders onto the soundtrack; DODGE CITY was made by the same studio, hence its availability for "borrowing."

The DVD print is nice, with good sound quality. 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.


Blogger john knight said...

I love Ray Enright,but this is one of his lesser pictures.
I totally agree with your lovely write up Laura especially the irritating "uber
brat" Betty Brewer.
There are two main drawbacks in this film-the incredibly hokey script and the
casting of Bruce Cabot.
Cabot is an all time great bad guy but cannot hack it as a romantic lead.
This film looks like something Warners would have loved Errol Flynn to have starred
in but I cannot see Flynn, at the peak of his power at the time getting involved
with such a terrible script.
Cabot even seems to be wearing one of Flynn's outfits-he can wear the clothes but
cannot match the man.
The beginning seems to be a parody of the Atlanta section of GWTW.
Add to this a very dated African American character.
All Mr Enright can do is keep the darn thing moving as fast as possible (even by
his standards) so we don't have time to think about it too much.
Interestingly Joel McCrea was to play the Cabot role in KING KONG but was very ill
at the time. McCrea would have made a Monolithic Classic even more monolithic-he
would have "humanized" the humans,something Cabot could never do.
Having said all this It's rather enjoyable for all it's faults-big budget,loads
of extras and a lovely print from the cats at Warner Archive.

5:48 AM  
Blogger john knight said...

As an add on to the above I would like to mention another early Forties Western
WOMAN OF THE TOWN. This one has an excellent script but is scuppered by casting
Albert Dekker as Bat Masterson. Dekker just does not have the "heroic" stature
to cut it as a leading man,despite the fact that he was a fine actor.
Had say,Randolph Scott or Joel McCrea played the lead in WOMAN OF THE TOWN it
would today be regarded as a minor classic.

5:52 AM  
Blogger Laura said...


Enjoyed your comments! Re the "loads of extras" -- my husband and I happened to watch this one separately (I watched it during the Super Bowl and then he watched it the next day on an airline flight!) -- and we each said, "Wow, what was with all those extras?!" They seemed to have more than was really needed in a street scene near the end! Someone wanted to put as many people to work as possible that week, or something.

My husband hadn't read your comments and said to me they didn't have a very good script so they just kept it moving, which made me chuckle as it matched your review so closely!

Thanks for the tip on WOMAN OF THE TOWN, an unfamiliar title to me!

Best wishes,

11:00 PM  

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