Saturday, March 19, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Bullet Code (1940) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

BULLET CODE (1940), a favorite George O'Brien Western, is one of nine titles in the George O'Brien Western Collection. The set was recently released by the Warner Archive.

O'Brien teamed with actress Virginia Vale for six films, half of which were previously released in a three-film George O'Brien Collection, also available from the Archive. Their remaining films are all included in this brand-new set.

O'Brien had some excellent leading ladies, including Marjorie Reynolds and Laraine (Johnson) Day, but I especially enjoy the pairing of O'Brien and Vale, whose chemistry has a little extra spark to it. Indeed, in an interview Vale once described O'Brien as "a gem of a fellow," and she clearly loved working with him.

The talented Vale could sing and, tired of the dresses from RKO's wardrobe department, she even designed her wardrobe for another O'Brien Western, STAGE TO CHINO (1940)! She was also a competitive figure skater in the early '40s, and after retiring from films in 1945, she spent over 50 years as a judge for the U.S. Figure Skating Association.

In this 58-minute film, O'Brien plays Steven Holden, a cattle drive foreman who accidentally shoots young Bud Mathews (Robert Stanton, later known as Kirby Grant), or so he thinks. Bud, who had gotten into trouble colluding with some cattle rustlers, was really killed by some bad guys who, as it happens, were working for the banker (Walter Miller) trying to steal Bud's father's ranch!

Steve goes to visit Bud's father (Howard Hickman) and sister Molly (Vale) and immediately pitches in to help save their ranch and bring the villains to justice. The bad guys include frequent O'Brien villain Harry Woods, always so good as a heavy.

I view BULLET CODE as a model "B" Western, fast-moving and engaging, with good action scenes, a bit of comedy, a little music, and a touch of romance. What more could a fan want?

For more background on this film, including quotes by Virginia Vale, please visit my 2013 review.

BULLET CODE was directed by David Howard. The movie was shot in black and white by Harry J. Wild.

The supporting cast includes Slim Whitaker, William Haade, and Bob Burns. Musicians in the movie's first scene included Spade Cooley on the fiddle.

Howard Hickman, who plays Virginia Vale's father, played countless doctors, judges, professors, and military officers in his long career. GONE WITH THE WIND fans may recognize him, as the year previous to BULLET CODE, Hickman played John Wilkes, the owner of Twelve Oaks and father to Ashley (Leslie Howard).

Previous reviews of films in the George O'Brien Western Collection: LAWLESS VALLEY (1938), RACKETEERS OF THE RANGE (1939), TIMBER STAMPEDE (1939), and TROUBLE IN SUNDOWN (1939).

The BULLET CODE print is for the most part very good. There was one brief scene which was noticeably darker and rougher than the others. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


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