Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Wanderer of the Wasteland (1945)

In honor of the late Audrey Long I pulled out my copy of WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND (1945), a Zane Grey Western in which she starred with James Warren and Richard Martin.

With Tim Holt off serving in WWII, RKO starred Robert Mitchum and then James Warren in some of its mid-'40s "B" Westerns. The then up-and-coming Mitchum starred in NEVADA (1944) and WEST OF THE PECOS (1945), while Warren appeared in WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND (1945), SUNSET PASS (1946), and CODE OF THE WEST (1947).

Richard Martin appeared in both Mitchum films and in WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND, always playing Chito, the leading man's girl-crazy sidekick.

Holt resumed his place as RKO's "B" Western star with THUNDER MOUNTAIN (1947) -- after first taking the time to play a small role in a little film called MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946). Richard Martin also starred in THUNDER MOUNTAIN and a long-running friendship with Holt, off and on the screen, was born. Holt and Martin worked together steadily for half a decade, until RKO shut down making "B" Westerns in 1952.

WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND is especially interesting as it provides a back story for Chito. Chito's parents, Papa and Mama Rafferty (Harry D. Brown and Minerva Urecal) adopt orphaned Adam Larey (Harry McKim as a child, and later Warren). They raise Adam alongside their son Chito (Tommy Cook as a child, and later Martin).

Adam's mother had died as the family trekked to California, and immediately afterwards his father was killed and their savings of $10,000 was stolen. Once Adam reaches adulthood, he spends years looking for the brand which was on the horse of the man who killed his father.

One day he finds the brand on the luggage of lovely Jean (Long), and he follows her to her family ranch, where she lives with her crippled uncle (Robert Barrat), her shiftless brother Jay (Robert Clarke), and foreman Guerd (perennial "B" villain Harry Woods). Adam believes that Jean's uncle is his father's killer, which stands in the way of his romancing Jean.

It's a pretty good story, although the real treat for fans of the Holt Westerns is learning more of Chito Jose Gonzalez Bustamante Rafferty's background and meeting his oft-mentioned parents.

The star of WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND, James Warren, is adequate but on the bland side, lacking the charisma of a Mitchum or Holt. Warren was also a talented artist, and he left the movies in the '50s for a life painting in Hawaii.

It's a fun coincidence that Warren was played as a boy by Harry McKim, one of a family of child actors. Harry's brother Sammy also left acting in the '50s and became a Disney Legend as a Disney artist and mapmaker. I've had the good fortune to see many of Sam McKim's works on display over the years.

WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND provides a strong role for Audrey Long, who gets to ride, shoot, and assertively pursue Adam, the man she loves. She also has the chance to dress up in a beautiful gown for a party scene.

The movie has a fantastic cast in small roles. Look for frequent Tim Holt costar Nan Leslie in a bit part at a dance, Gordon Jones in a brief role as a sheriff, and Myrna Dell in an amusing scene as a lady pursued by Chito. Jason Robards Sr. plays a crooked card dealer.

WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND was directed by Wallace Grissell and Edward Killy. It was shot by Harry J. Wild in locations which included Lone Pine.

The Norman Houston screenplay was inspired by Zane Grey's novel. It runs 67 minutes.

The movie is available on DVD in the Zane Grey Collection from Lions Gate. The C&C Television print is adequate though not approaching the crisp, gleaming look of the Warner Archive's Tim Holt releases. Although RKO's Zane Grey Westerns fell into public domain, Western fans such as myself are very much hoping one day to see cleaned-up prints via the Warner Archive!


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