Monday, October 24, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Trail of the Vigilantes (1940) at the Lone Pine Film Festival

One of the films I most enjoyed at this year's Lone Pine Film Festival was TRAIL OF THE VIGILANTES (1940), starring Franchot Tone.

Franchot Tone in a Western?! Yes, and he's absolutely delightful.

The movie plays somewhat like a precursor of the James Garner comedy classic SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969), with Tone starring as a cagey Eastern marshal. Sometimes he's able to outwit his enemies, who are surprised by his audacity, and when in turn they sometimes get the best of him, he goes along with it with laconic humor.

Tim Mason (Tone), aka "Kansas," is sent to a wild and woolly Western town after the murder of a newspaperman. Working undercover, Kansas is hired by rancher John Thornton (Charles Trowbridge) -- whose young daughter Barbara (Peggy Moran) immediately likes what she sees and is determined to land her man, not taking no for an answer.

Kansas learns that local ranchers who aren't paying the local "Cattleman's Association" are having their cattle stolen; in reality, the association is a shakedown racket run by Dawson (Warren William, always a wonderful bad guy).

Kansas realizes that Dawson and his men plan to make off with the Cattleman's Association funds and takes the box first, then is arrested for theft. Will Kansas be able to make the case against Dawson?

Kansas initially battles and is tormented by Swanee (Broderick Crawford) and Meadows (Andy Devine), but they end up being his pals, along with the crazy Bolo (Mischa Auer).

Peggy Moran also adds to the humor, with her "never say die" pursuit of Kansas. Moran, born October 23, 1918, retired from the screen in 1943, after marrying director Henry Koster, a happy union which lasted until Koster's death in 1988. Moran herself passed on following a 2002 car accident.

This movie is a great deal of fun, and I'm surprised it isn't better known today. (The fact that it's a hard-to-see Universal Pictures film may account for some of that.) According to IMDb, director Allan Dwan was responsible for having the original screenplay rewritten as a Western spoof. The film was written by Harold Shumate.

In addition to having a sense of humor, the film also has some nice action, including good "classic Hollywood" stunt work as Crawford chases William across the town rooftops in one of the final scenes.

The supporting cast includes Samuel S. Hinds, George Chandler, Ray Teal, Porter Hall, and Paul Fix.

The movie was shot by Milton Krasner and Joseph Valentine.

TRAIL OF THE VIGILANTES is is not available on DVD, and it should be. At the present moment it's available on YouTube, but it could disappear at any time. I was fortunate to see it in Lone Pine, where some of the exteriors were filmed.


Blogger DKoren said...

How neat! I'd love to see Franchot Tone in a Western, and a fun one like this sounds even better. Hopefully, there will be a DVD release at some point.

6:51 PM  
Blogger mel said...

My mouth started watering when I read your review of this film. I love Western spoofs. How lucky of you to have seen it at the Lone Pine Film festival.

Many thanks for the YouTube link - I can't wait to watch it!

12:07 AM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

I saw this years ago, and also recall it as pretty amusing and offbeat (my only disappointment was that William and Tone didn't interact with each other more. A verbal sparring match between those two would be something to see.) I agree, Peggy Moran added nicely to the fun, playing it mostly comedic like everyone else. Her out of the blue rant to Tone that finished with "and your nose was aristocratic!!" got a good laugh out of me.

8:35 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Deb, I think you'd get a kick out of this one if you like Franchot Tone! It's a shame so many Universal films are difficult to see. This has such a great cast, deserves more exposure.

Mel, the print on YouTube looks fairly rough from the bit I saw, but I hope you're able to enjoy it! If you like spoofs you will hopefully enjoy the goofy attitude. I'd love to know what you think.

Maricatrin, how great to hear from someone else who's seen this fairly rare film! I agree, having Tone and William spar more could have been fun. I really hope we get a nice copy of this available one day, it's a movie I'm sure I'd enjoy revisiting.

Best wishes,

8:14 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

My print was subpar(poor contrast levels) but the fun of this spoof shined . The chemistry of the players and physical comedy,almost slapstick,kept my interest. Stuntwork and horse riding skills were tops for a quickie.Does Kansas stay at the ranch to romance Barbara or is he just trading clothes with Swanee?

3:45 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm glad you got to see it, even in a poor print. Really hope it will have a proper release one day so that more people can enjoy it.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Best wishes,

8:44 AM  

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