Saturday, June 15, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Return of the Frontiersman (1950)

I recently read a review of RETURN OF THE FRONTIERSMAN (1950) at Jeff Arnold's West, and the movie sounded like so much fun that I immediately pulled my Warner Archive DVD off the shelf.

As Arnold's review communicates, this may not be a great film but it's a solid, action-packed Warner Bros. Western which flies by in 74 minutes. Add in an appealing cast and it's definitely a fun little movie. I'm glad I finally caught up with it.

Gordon MacRae plays Logan Barrett, son of tough yet kind Sheriff Sam Barrett (Jack Holt). Sam's the type of sheriff who leaves the cells unlocked and lets his prisoners play checkers on the front porch. But at the same time, he's no pushover; when Logan gets in trouble after a fight in a saloon, the sheriff immediately holds a trial and sentences both his son and Kearney (Edwin Rand), the man Logan was brawling with, to ten days in jail.

Unfortunately Kearney later turns up dead and Logan is seen standing next to his body, so the townsfolk, including Logan's father, think the worst. Logan ends up back in jail but breaks out with the help of his friend Larrabee (Rory Calhoun), the town newspaper publisher, so that he can work to clear his name.

Eventually Logan ends up on the run, 39 STEPS style, with Janie Martin (Julie London), niece of the town doctor (Raymond Bond). Although Janie is initially angry at having to help Logan, she gradually comes to realize that he's an innocent man...but if he didn't kill Kearney, who did?

And who committed a huge stagecoach robbery witnessed by Logan and Janie?

The answers unfold quickly in this briskly told tale. This is one of those films which actually might have benefited from a few additional minutes, particularly to provide more character development for Julie London, but what made it to the screen is enjoyable.

MacRae is appealing as Logan, and in one of my favorite scenes, he even gets the chance to sing in the jailhouse. London doesn't sing in this one, but she looks lovely in a role which some sources indicate was refused by Alexis Smith.

The film reunited London and Calhoun, costars in the excellent THE RED HOUSE (1947) a handful of years before. This is one of many Westerns made by both Calhoun and Jack Holt; sadly, Holt passed away in January 1951, at the age of 62. This was one of his last few films.

An unbilled Richard Egan, in one of his earliest movies, has a noticeable role, and the cast also includes Fred Clark and John Doucette.

RETURN OF THE FRONTIERSMAN was directed by Richard L. Bare, who among other things went on to direct 11 episodes of the MAVERICK TV series, as well as the Randolph Scott-James Garner Western SHOOT-OUT AT MEDICINE BEND (1957).

The movie was filmed in Technicolor by J. Peverell Marley. It looks to have been filmed on Southern California movie ranches and locations; I'd love to know where the waterfall seen during the climactic fight is located.

The Warner Archive DVD, first made available in the Archive's earliest days roughly a decade ago, is an attractive print. There are no extras on the disc.

RETURN OF THE FRONTIERSMAN is also shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.


Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Hi Laura,
In answer to your query re the waterfall in the final scenes, I contacted my friend John Brooker who knows so much re such things (he has been to these locations). Filmed at Iversons Ranch and Bronson Canyon; the waterfall is less certain but he believes it could be at Yosemite. Sounds reasonable, doesn't it?
Best, Jerry

11:14 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Jerry!

I wondered if the cave was Bronson Canyon, that would make sense! I've actually done some Bronson research recently, as we hope to visit and take some pics before too long. It's apparently pretty easy to access the cave area. A shot in this video from inside the cave looks like MacRae's view in the movie.

Iverson would make sense for some shots too, and I believe there were some additional Southern California locations for the many chase scenes.

I'm somewhat dubious about Yosemite, as it would be quite a trek for a film of this budget for one sequence, a couple three hours further north than Lone Pine. I popped the disc in and looked at it again with my husband; there's a stock establishing shot near the start of the waterfall sequence which I do think may be Yosemite, though I doubt the company actually went there.

My husband wonders if the weaterfall seen in the fight scenes was something built on a backlot; the environment looks pretty realistic to me, and some Googling provides the possibility those shots were filmed in Southern California, somewhere like Sturtevant Falls and Escondido Falls.

My husband knows a couple additional people with extensive knowledge of So. CA Western locations, and if he learns anything additional I'll be sure to post here. Thanks so much for contacting John and sharing the info!

Best wishes,

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think I knew that GORDON MACRAE did a western movie. He and DORIS DAY made a good team. They did ON MOONLIGHT BAY and its sequel BY THE LIGHT OF THE SILVERY MOON. Both movies had LEON AMES & ROSEMARY DECAMP as the parents to Doris. Billy GRAY played her younger brother and the delightful MARY WICKES played the housekeeper. Gordon and Doris also did TEA FOR TWO with EVE ARDEN, a good and unique actress. Gordon was a likable actor and a very good singer! Classic TV Fan

3:13 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

MacRae is very good and natural in RETURN OF THE FRONTIERSMAN. Based on a quick glance at his credits I believe this is his only Western, unless you count OKLAHOMA!

I share your enjoyment of his films with Doris Day. Like him a lot.

Best wishes,

5:56 PM  

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