Monday, June 20, 2022

Tonight's Movie: The Return of Wildfire (1948)

I have a soft spot for "B" (and "C"!) films produced by Robert Lippert, and my favorite to date is THE RETURN OF WILDFIRE (1948).

THE RETURN OF WILDFIRE has an excellent cast, headed by Richard Arlen and one of my personal favorites, Patricia Morison. The movie also stars Mary Beth Hughes, James Millican, Reed Hadley, and Chris-Pin Martin, who all later appeared together in Lippert's RIMFIRE (1949).

The movie also features the famed movie horse Highland Dale, who I wrote about last month in BLACK BEAUTY (1946).

Arlen plays Dobe Williams, a wandering cowpoke who comes to the rescue of Judy Marlowe (Hughes) when she's thrown from a horse in the desert.

Williams gives Judy a ride back to the ranch she runs with her father (Stanley Andrews) and sister Pat (Morison), and he's promptly hired to work on the ranch. The flirtatious Judy has a relationship with ranchhand Frank (Millican), but she also chases after Dobe. Dobe, in the meantime, is more interested in the quieter, more responsible Pat, who returns his interest.

Frank owes a gambling debt to Marty Quinn (Hadley) which must be paid off by arranging for Quinn to buy the Marlowes' cattle to help him corner the market. The Marlowes have other ideas, however, which leads to a saga of murder and betrayal...all in a well-paced 83 minutes.

This was quite an engaging film thanks to the strong cast, good-looking sepia-toned cinematography by Ernest Miller, and some excellent location shooting at Southern California's Vasquez Rocks. I shared photos of Vasquez Rocks, a frequent Western movie location, after I visited in 2020.

The dynamic with the two sisters, one good and one not so good, with similar romantic complications, reminded me a bit of the previous year's Randolph Scott film GUNFIGHTERS (1947), where Dorothy Hart and Barbara Britton played the good and bad siblings.

One of the nicest surprises in THE RETURN OF WILDFIRE is that Morison sings in two scenes, including a really nice number during a campfire scene. Despite her talent, which was utilized in Broadway and touring musicals -- as a child I saw her as the Baroness in a Los Angeles production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1972) -- it was a rarity for Morison to sing on screen. At the end of that very same year, 1948, she would star in the original Broadway cast of the classic musical KISS ME, KATE.

Good or bad, Hughes is always an entertaining screen presence, and I've come to appreciate Arlen as a leading man in numerous "B" films, including the Western SECRET VALLEY (1937), which I wrote about for Classic Movie Hub a few years ago.

THE RETURN OF WILDFIRE was directed by Ray Taylor and Paul Landres. According to IMDb, Landres ended up shooting half of the film when Taylor wasn't available, but he did not receive onscreen credit. The screenplay was by Carl K. Hittleman and Betty Burbridge, based on her story.

Mark Thomas McGee's book TALK'S CHEAP, ACTION'S EXPENSIVE: THE FILMS OF ROBERT L. LIPPERT indicates the film was well received by critics and exhibitors, with Variety saying it was "beautifully lensed...has been given twists that lift it above the usual Western filmfare."

Steve at Mystery File liked this one pretty well too last year, saying it was "well played, and with a terrific finish."

THE RETURN OF WILDFIRE is available on a double-feature DVD disc with LAST OF THE WILD HORSES (1948) from VCI Entertainment. LAST OF THE WILD HORSES stars James Ellison along with Hughes, Millican, Hadley, and Andrews; it was partly filmed on location in Oregon.


Anonymous Barry said...

As you must know I saw The Return of Wildfire on its initial release, loved it. I have two copies, the one you have and from Grapevine Video. I also liked the second film, last of the Wild Horse. Love Jimmy Ellison and Mary BethHughes. i am one of the others, who rooted for her to end up with Dick Arlen. She was not really a bad girl at all just flirtatious. Same thing with Barbara Britton in Gunfighters, she really loved the other guy.

8:59 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older