Sunday, July 03, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Topeka (1953) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Over the last couple days I've enjoyed recent action movies and computerized animation, so tonight seemed like a good time for an old-fashioned, homespun Western. That title would be TOPEKA (1953), part of the Warner Archive's eight-film Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection.

TOPEKA is somewhat like the last film I watched in the set, WACO (1953), inasmuch as Elliott's character, Jim Levering, is an outlaw. Unlike WACO, there's not even a sympathetic reason for his character being a crook. That aspect doesn't quite sit right with me, as I prefer Elliott as an upright lawman, but setting that aside, it's a pretty good story.

Jim, his righthand man Ray (Rick Vallin), and three confederates have committed a string of bank robberies and are getting tired of running. They decide to move in on Topeka, where Mack Wilson (Harry Lauter) is raking in "protection money" from all the local businesses. Jim and the gang figure they'll clear out Mack's men and take it over for themselves.

The men are so successful in putting an end to Wilson's racket that Jim is offered the job of sheriff. He accepts, with Ray as his deputy, and the plan is that the gang will learn everything there is to know about the town and eventually clean it out themselves.

Jim and Ray don't count on growing to like the respect they have as lawmen, and it doesn't hurt that Jim is sweet on Mary (Phyllis Coates), the waitress at the local cafe. Trouble brews when the other three men grow restless...

This was an interesting film with echoes of films like BUY ME THAT TOWN (1941) and LARCENY, INC. (1942), as crooks discover the pleasure of honest living.

Elliott is his usual taciturn self, with Vallin providing a little more sympathetic color as his pal. Coates doesn't get a chance to do much, but she does have one key scene where she provides Jim with some valuable information as he's deciding whether to stay on the straight and narrow path.

The movie also has a good score by Raoul Kraushaar. It's a solid film, directed by Thomas Carr and filmed by Ernest Miller. The movie runs 69 minutes.

The supporting cast includes I. Stanford Jolley, Fuzzy Knight, John James, Bob Burns, and Denver Pyle.

Previous reviews of films from the Wild Bill Elliot Western Collection: WACO (1952), KANSAS TERRITORY (1952), REBEL CITY (1953), and THE FORTY-NINERS (1954). I'll be reviewing the final three films in the set in the future.

Like the other films in the set, TOPEKA is a good black and white print. 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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