Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Tonight's Movies: Arizona Legion (1939) and The Fighting Gringo (1939) - Warner Archive DVD Reviews

I've loved the Warner Archive's nine-film George O'Brien Western Collection so much I haven't wanted the movies to come to an end!

It was finally time to watch the last two films in the set, the RKO Westerns ARIZONA LEGION (1939) and THE FIGHTING GRINGO (1939).

ARIZONA LEGION was one of three films in which O'Brien costarred with Laraine Day, then billed as Laraine Johnson. They're an appealing couple, and hopefully their other two films, BORDER G-MAN (1938) and PAINTED DESERT (1938), will be brought out on DVD by the Warner Archive at a future date.

This was the last of O'Brien's films with Day; later in the year she left RKO for MGM and began playing Nurse Mary Lamont in CALLING DR. KILDARE (1939) and later films in the Kildare series. Just 18 months after the release of ARIZONA LEGION, Day was starring in Alfred Hitchcock's FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940).

Day plays Letty, who is completely dismayed by the inexplicable behavior of her fiance, Boone (O'Brien); Boone has taken to juvenile behavior like shooting up things in town for fun and hanging out with the wrong crowd. It gets so bad that Letty eventually gives him back her ring.

Unbeknownst to Letty, Boone is working undercover to infiltrate a gang of robbers, and the governor has made him captain of the first group of Arizona Rangers.

O'Brien was more than two decades older than his leading lady but the difference is really not apparent, especially with the ultra-athletic O'Brien jumping onto his horse without stirrups and jumping off of a stagecoach. They have a nice chemistry, even with most of their early scenes spent arguing; I love the way Day's eyes sparkle when she realizes the truth about her errant fiance.

The supporting cast includes Chill Wills, Carlyle Moore, Tom Chatterton, Harry Cording, Monte Montague, Bob Burns, and Glenn Strange, who was also in THE FIGHTING GRINGO. The movie runs 58 minutes.

ARIZONA LEGION was directed by David Howard. It was filmed by Harry J. Wild at Southern California locations including Corriganville and the Iverson Ranch.

The print was occasionally lightly scratched but on the whole it looks quite good.

It was amazing to revisit THE FIGHTING GRINGO (1939) knowing that leading lady Lupita Tovar just celebrated her 106th birthday! You read that correctly.

In an interview Tovar called George O'Brien "a sweetheart; we were very, very good friends...[O'Brien's] daughter, Orin O’Brien, and my daughter, Susan Kohner, who is a little younger than Orin, were childhood friends and are still friends today! Orin has been playing bass with the New York Philharmonic since 1966. When they were little girls we’d go to the O’Brien ranch for the weekend. They still see each other often."

O'Brien plays Wade Barton, who saves the life of a pretty senorita named Anita (Tovar) and helps her father (Lucio Villegas) when he's forced off his land by Ben Wallace (William Royle). Wallace is so dastardly that he also kills the brother (LeRoy Mason) of his own fiancee (Mary Field) in order to gain her family's land as well!

This is a most pleasing O'Brien Western with lots of great atmosphere, from the opening sequence of cowboys singing to the unique "shower" system owned by the barber (Cris-Pin Martin) to the Mexican Hat Dance performed at a fiesta.

As someone who watches many "B" Westerns, I also enjoyed the familiar sets. The ranch owned by Mary Field has been seen in countless movies. Incidentally, the movie provides Field with a very good role.

Another of the really fun things about the movie is spotting future Oscar winner Ben Johnson in a Mexican cantina. You can pick out the baby-faced Johnson over O'Brien's shoulder. Johnson was only 20 or 21 at the time, and this was his very first movie! IMDb also credits Johnson with stunt work. A decade later O'Brien and Johnson would each play significant supporting roles in John Ford's classic SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949), which was just released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive; my recent review is here.

THE FIGHTING GRINGO was directed by David Howard. It was filmed by Harry J. Wild and runs 59 minutes.

I have previously reviewed ARIZONA LEGION here and THE FIGHTING GRINGO here. Both reviews were written in 2013.

THE FIGHTING GRINGO had an occasional scratch but was for the most part an excellent print, probably even better than ARIZONA LEGION.

There are no extras with either film.

The George O'Brien Western Collection is one of my all-time favorite Warner Archive releases, which I'll be returning to many times in the years to come. Most highly recommended.

Previous reviews of films in the George O'Brien Western Collection: LAWLESS VALLEY (1938), RACKETEERS OF THE RANGE (1939), TIMBER STAMPEDE (1939), TROUBLE IN SUNDOWN (1939), PRAIRIE LAW (1940), STAGE TO CHINO (1940), and BULLET CODE (1940).

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.


Blogger Clayton said...

When I see these westerns I get excited; I love the 30's shoot-em-ups! I recently did a list of my fave screen cowboys, and half of them come from this period. Wowsa. I really have to get these...just my sort of thing.

Clayton @ Phantom Empires

1:43 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

If you like '30s Westerns, this is the set for you, Clayton! These films are terrific "Western comfort food." I've seen many of them twice already and am sure I'll be watching them again in the years to come. :)

Best wishes,

3:21 PM  

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