Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tonight's Movie: The Texans (1938)

THE TEXANS is a '30s Randolph Scott Western which has a somewhat creaky, frustrating plotline, yet nonetheless provides 93 minutes of fun entertainment.

It's Texas just after the Civil War, and Scott plays Kirk, a former Confederate soldier who meets up with a beautiful girl, Ivy (Joan Bennett), who is running guns to renegade soldiers who refuse to believe the South has lost forever. The soldiers include Ivy's sweetheart, Alan (Robert Cummings). Before you know it, Kirk and Ivy are driving 10,000 head of cattle to Abilene, with many adventures along the way. Will the cattle make it to Abilene and escape the nasty Northern tax collector? And will Ivy choose Alan or Kirk?

That's about the sum total of the plot, which in many respects is simply a nice, old-fashioned Western with an excellent cast of players, including Walter Brennan, Francis Ford, and May Robson (playing her role as Bennett's grandmother too broadly for my taste). Bennett never looked more lovely, but her Ivy is so silly, continually making wrongheaded choices, that one wonders if Scott is attracted by anything other than Ivy's looks. Scott, as ever, is a stalwart, resourceful hero.

The depiction of the Reconstruction "carpetbaggers" is way too cartoonish; if some of the very real problems of Reconstruction had been presented more seriously, it would have been more believable. The depiction of the nasty Northerners is offset by an ultimately positive depiction of the gallant U.S. Calvary.

And despite the photo at the top of this post, there is a serious lack of romance in the film, conveyed mostly by Scott casting a few longing looks Bennett's way.

Some beautiful location shooting (probably including some stock footage) is mixed with soundstage shots and back projections -- sometimes all in the same scene, which can be a bit jarring.

Despite my critical comments, I had a good time watching this movie. I suppose part of the fun was mentally dissecting what I would have liked to see done better, but it was well-paced and entertaining, despite the flaws. There's nothing like Randolph Scott and a good cattle drive!

The movie was directed by James P. Hogan, who worked on many films in the BULLDOG DRUMMOND series and died fairly young.

THE TEXANS has been released on VHS and is also available on DVD in the Classic Western Round-Up, Vol. 2 collection. The other films in the set are CALIFORNIA (Ray Milland), THE MAN FROM THE ALAMO (Glenn Ford), and THE CIMARRON KID (Audie Murphy).


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