Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Northwest Rangers (1942)

I love watching an MGM "B" movie on a weekend afternoon, and thanks to the kindness of Kristina I was able to watch NORTHWEST RANGERS today, starring James Craig and William Lundigan.

The story seemed familiar from the moment I noticed that the lead characters were named Blackie and Jim, and partway into the movie I realized I was watching a Western remake of MANHATTAN MELODRAMA (1935), which starred Clark Gable, William Powell, and Myrna Loy.

Blackie and Jim are childhood friends who are adopted by a Mountie (Jack Holt) after their parents are killed in an Indian raid. Craig has the Gable role as Blackie, translated in this abridged telling of the story into an Old West gambler and saloon owner with a big chip on his shoulder. (I noticed that although Craig often had a mustache in his films, he doesn't have one here; perhaps MGM didn't want to remind viewers too strongly of Gable?) Lundigan has the Powell role, but instead of being a D.A., he's a Mountie like his adoptive father. Eventually the time comes when Blackie breaks the law and flees, and Jim has to bring in his man.

It must be admitted the film is pretty hokey at times, and the 65-minute condensation of the storyline doesn't allow for much subtlety in character development. However, while Blackie is a slightly over-the-top bad boy who's going to go his own way no matter what, there's not a lot Lundigan can do with an underwritten straight arrow role. Nonetheless, I enjoyed watching this fast-paced programmer.

The TCM UK page has some intriguing notes indicating that the film originally was going to have a different ending, which appears to have been closer to the ending of the original MANHATTAN MELODRAMA, and that scenes were shot with a jury trial.

Blackie and Jim vie for the affections of Patricia Dane as Jean. Dane is a lovely actress whose beauty and vivacity help make up for not always saying her lines believably. Dane was in a number of MGM films of the early '40s, including GRAND CENTRAL MURDER (1942); she was married to band leader Tommy Dorsey from 1943 to 1947.

The film has a crackerjack supporting cast which makes it fun to watch even if it's not Grade A cinema. Along with Holt as the dedicated Mountie, Keenan Wynn does an excellent job as Blackie's loyal dealer. John Carradine is the villain of the piece as a saloon owner, and Grant Withers is another bad guy who crosses paths with Blackie. Darryl Hickman and Drew Roddy play Blackie and Jim as young boys.

Part of the fun of watching a movie like this is spotting up-and-coming actors. Hugh Beaumont and Jim Davis, who would each go on to star in a popular TV series, have small roles as Mounties. Kay Medford, seen last night in THE UNDERCOVER MAN (1949), has a small role as a saloon girl. Look for Ray Teal as a poker player.

NORTHWEST RANGERS was directed by Joe Newman. Location scenes were filmed in Idyllwild, California.

NORTHWEST RANGERS would make a good double bill with PIERRE OF THE PLAINS, another 1942 MGM "B" movie set in Canada.

Unfortunately, this film isn't available on DVD or VHS, but it can be seen from time to time on Turner Classic Movies. Perhaps at some point in the future it will be released by the Warner Archive.

The trailer is available at TCM's site here.


Blogger Unknown said...

Oooooh, I HAVE to see this!

My Mountie collection is aching for this one! James Craig is wonderful!

Clayton @ Phantom Empires

12:10 AM  

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