Saturday, June 29, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Border G-Man (1938)

I initially intended to follow up tonight's highly enjoyable pre-Code, BEAUTY AND THE BOSS (1932), with FIVE STAR FINAL (1931), a pre-Code newspaper movie with the same leading lady, Marian Marsh. FIVE STAR FINAL stars Edward G. Robinson.

Unfortunately FIVE STAR FINAL was a real downer of a movie, and threatened to become even more so as it went on. I virtually always finish movies once I've started them, but I felt that the movie was emotionally manipulative and decided to set it aside, at least for tonight. (If anyone wants to sell me on why it's worth enduring creepy Boris Karloff disguising himself as a minister and causing folks to commit suicide, feel free. It just wasn't working for me.)

Instead I turned my attention to the reassuring, smiling presence of George O'Brien as a BORDER G-MAN. BORDER G-MAN is a nicely entertaining hour-long RKO Western costarring the young Laraine Johnson, who would move to MGM the next year. At MGM Laraine Johnson was transformed into Laraine Day, the heroine of the DR. KILDARE series; by 1940 she was the leading lady of Hitchcock's FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940). Later still, she would become the offscreen "First Lady of Baseball" thanks to her marriage to Leo Durocher.

BORDER G-MAN is a "hybrid Western" in the style of some of the Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies; characters frequently travel on horseback and there's lots of gunplay, but cars, trucks, and telephones are also part of the story.

O'Brien plays Jim Galloway, sent by the Department of Justice to investigate strange goings-on at a ranch on the Pacific Coast. Galloway discovers a militia in training and uncovers a plot to smuggle munitions and horses out of the United States, in violation of the Neutrality Act.

As in his other films, O'Brien has a winning personality, balancing a light, humorous attitude with the ability to get the job done when things get rough. The scenes where he courts the initially antagonistic but spirited Johnson are a lot of fun.

Some of the best moments in the movie feature Ray Whitley singing with the Phelps Brothers, including Whitley's classic composition "Back in the Saddle Again." I really liked "To Watch the Settin' Sun," which had great mood. The Phelps Brothers appeared with Whitley in a number of other Westerns.

BORDER G-MAN was directed by David Howard.

BORDER G-MAN is not available on DVD or VHS; I was able to see it thanks to Turner Classic Movies. O'Brien and Johnson/Day made three films together in 1938; it would be wonderful if they were released on DVD in a set such as the three-film George O'Brien Collection released a few months ago by the Warner Archive. All three films in the Archive's O'Brien Collection costarred Virginia Vale; it would be great if the Archive were also to release the other three films O'Brien made with Vale. I'd snap up any further O'Brien collections in a heartbeat, as I have found them to be very enjoyable entertainment.

Previous reviews of George O'Brien Westerns: GUN LAW (1938), THE MARSHAL OF MESA CITY (1939), and LEGION OF THE LAWLESS (1940).


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