Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Unknown Valley (1933)

A year before costarring in the charming Western THE MAN TRAILER (1934), Buck Jones and Cecilia Parker costarred in UNKNOWN VALLEY (1933).

Like THE MAN TRAILER, UNKNOWN VALLEY was written and directed by Lambert Hillyer.

UNKNOWN VALLEY has an atypical Western plot, with overtones of the classic R.D. Blackmore tale of LORNA DOONE. If the storyline is a bit surprising, it's also well executed and quite interesting.

Joe Gordon (Jones) wraps up work as an army scout and heads west to join his father as a gold miner. When he arrives in town to meet his father, he gets word from friends that his father is missing and possibly dead. He heads across a desert in the direction of his father's last known whereabouts.

Joe collapses at the edge of the desert but is spotted by settlers in the title valley, where a religious group has lived cut off from the outside world for many years. It's no Shangri-La, however; no one is allowed to leave, even accidental visitors like Joe.

Joe is cared for by a kindly older man (Arthur Wanzer) in the community, and he's viewed with fascination by an orphaned young girl, Sheila (Parker), and her brother Shad (Bret Black). Sheila and Shad must sneak into Tim's cabin to spend time with Joe, as there will be punishment from the town elders if they're caught with him. Pretty, innocent Sheila quickly falls for the dashing cowboy from the outside world.

When it's announced that Sheila will shortly have to marry one of the elders, Joe agrees to help Sheila and Shad attempt an escape. Meanwhile, his father's fate is still an open question.

It would be interesting to know for sure, but as noted above, it seems that Hillyer must have been partly inspired by LORNA DOONE. There's a hidden entrance to the mysterious valley, a thuggish clan that lives cut off from most of the world, and the most beautiful girl in the valley in need of being saved by an outsider who has fallen in love with her.

If the film is odd at times -- the fate of Joe's father is creative, to say the least -- it's also quite entertaining, with the story running a quick 69 minutes. Jones and Parker are an appealing team, and Allen Siegler's photography at the Iverson Ranch is effective.

This is the second Western in a row in which Ward Bond plays a bad guy, and he's particularly loathsome in this as one of the elders who has a secret scheme to get rich. Frank McGlynn Sr. plays the most senior elder, with the cast rounded out by Wade Boteler, Alfred P. James, Edward LeSaint, Clarence Geldart, and Slim Whitaker.

UNKNOWN VALLEY is available on DVD.

A brief review by Walter Albert at Mystery File describes the film as "an unusual Western...An intelligent film." At DVD Talk Stuart Galbraith IV wasn't quite as taken with the film as I was, but he still termed it "engagingly odd" and "a welcome curiosity for B-Western fans."

UNKNOWN VALLEY makes two Buck Jones movies in a row I've really enjoyed, and I'll definitely be watching more!


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