BILL ELLIOTT (Part 4)
TUCSON RAIDERS (‘44 Republic) Republic pro-claimed: “Red Ryder…Number one comic strip hero of fans coast to coast! Dashing, fearless, exciting…riding to his most amazing action adventure on the trail of desperate killers who terrorize the west.” Red Ryder on the B-western screen was completely different than Fred Harman’s popular newspaper comic strip. No matter. The Republic series can stand on its own merits as one of the best B-western series of all time. And it all began here, as millions thrilled to watch Red Ryder (Elliott) and Little Beaver (Bobby Blake) step out of the pages of that illustrated book for the first time. In this first entry, Painted Valley is run with an iron hand by a crooked governor along with the president of the territorial bank. The Duchess (Alice Fleming) and Gabby oppose their rule but are helpless, so the Duchess sends for her nephew, Red Ryder, who sets a six gun trail to clean out the outlaws. Peggy Stewart makes the first of her several Red Ryder films.
MARSHAL OF RENO (‘44 Republic) A carnival of crime is preventing Judge Tom Chatterton from making Blue Springs the new county seat. Behind the lawlessness are several unscrupulous citizens of a nearby town wanting the same honor. Riding blithely into this situation are a pair of Eastern youths, Jay Kirby and Blake Edwards, who are mistaken for road agents. Outlaws frame the lawlessness on Kirby whose friend is unjustly killed. It takes Red Ryder to save Kirby and stop him from going on the revenge trail. Blake’s Little Beaver and Fleming’s Duchess take a back seat to the action in this entry.
SAN ANTONIO KID (‘44 Republic) Outlaws burn and raid ranchers off their crude oil rich land so they can buy it up cheap. It’s working until they raid Linda Stirling’s ranch and Red Ryder, Little Beaver, sidekick Earle Hodgins and the Duchess take a hand. It’s then the outlaws strike back by importing the notorious San Antonio Kid (Duncan Renaldo) to gun Red Ryder. Hodgins replaced Gabby in this one (Hayes left for the Rogers Pictures), then the sidekick role was dropped.
CHEYENNE WILDCAT (‘44 Republic) Red Ryder takes no prisoners as he and Little Beaver clear an old timer of murder and bank fraud and catch the real culprits who are trying to gain control of the bank. Little Beaver takes a more active role in this entry than in some. It’s a plum role for brains-heavy Roy Barcroft, introduced admiring himself in a mirror while singing “Oh Susannah”. Lots of subtle touches make this one of the best Ryders.
VIGILANTES OF DODGE CITY (‘44 Republic) High energy, non-stop action as Red Ryder becomes just a mite unpeaceable when badmen attempt to force Auntie Duchess’ freight line out of business and frame him for not only that—but for rustling his own horses due for Cavalry remounts. One of the best parts in the Ryder series for Blake as Little Beaver.
SHERIFF OF LAS VEGAS (‘44 Republic) Banker Selmer Jackson frames young Jay Kirby for the murder of his father/judge with whom Kirby had strong words over his gambling. Jackson needs to cover up an embezzlement of the judge’s funds and takes advantage when the Judge disinherits Kirby. When the whole town turns against Kirby, Red Ryder steps in to clear him.
GREAT STAGECOACH ROBBERY (‘45 Republic) Old time bank robber Francis MacDonald plans to return $150,000 he stole years ago—but mean, abusive schoolteacher Don Costello has other ideas. He enlists the aid of MacDonald’s son, John James, to rob the stage carrying Pop and the money. What he didn’t reckon on was the intervention of Red Ryder. The trail to redemption twists and turns many ways before the grim showdown, certainly the most downbeat of any Ryder western.
LONE TEXAS RANGER (‘45 Republic) When crooked Sheriff “Iron Mike” Haines and town blacksmith Roy Barcroft along with their gun-wolves frame and kill kindly Jack Kirk in a silver stick-up, the Duchess sends for her nephew, Red Ryder, to help out. Elliott catches Iron Mike in a robbery, killing him in a gunfight, but doesn’t tell anyone he was a crook. Iron Mike’s son then arrives from an eastern college vowing to get the man who killed his father, unaware his Dad was an outlaw. Bud Geary has a fine support role as a henchman with a sense of humor.
PHANTOM OF THE PLAINS (‘45 Republic) Red Ryder breaks up a wedding when his aunt, The Duchess, is about to marry crafty confidence man Ian Keith who is only after her money. Keith’s confederate, Virginia Christine, poses as a seamstress helping the Duchess with wedding plans. William Haade and Bud Geary, old cellmates of Keith, threaten to expose him if he doesn’t cut them in for a share of the Duchess’ money. A different and unique plot.
MARSHAL OF LAREDO (‘45 Republic) Saloon owner Roy Barcroft keeps his thugs in line through incriminating photographs taken by his flunky, Pretty Boy Murphy (well played by Don Costello as a scar-faced-by-fire photographer who is sadistically tortured with matches by Barcroft). When Barcroft’s lawyer, young Robert Grady (the only one Barcroft has nothing on), decides to quit the crooked saloon owner and go straight so he can marry Peggy Stewart, Barcroft murders Peg’s pop and blames Grady. Marshal Ryder and Little Beaver are charged with learning the truth before Grady is hanged before the very eyes of his beloved mother (Sarah Padden) who has just arrived thinking she’ll attend her son and Peg’s wedding.
COLORADO PIONEERS (‘45 Republic) A cross between “Oliver Twist” and John Wayne’s “The Cowboys” as Red Ryder and Little Beaver save two street urchins from a Chicago Fagin (Roy Barcroft) who urges the boys into helping him commit robberies. Red vouches for the boys, having them and a whole group of delinquents paroled to the Duchess’ ranch for rehabilitation. Meanwhile back at the ranch, The Duchess’s neighbor is trying to make sure the Duchess doesn’t get her cattle to market on time so he can grab off a hunk of her grazing land. His plan is foiled when Little Beaver and Red turn the kids into drovers. Tamer than some Ryder entries. Monte Hale, still being broken in by Republic, has a few lines as one of the Duchess’ cowhands.
WAGON WHEELS WESTWARD (‘45 Republic) Roy Barcroft and his outlaw band inhabit a deserted town in order to perpetrate a land fraud on wagon train leader Red Ryder and his friends. Elliott has one of the best saloon brawls of the series with Dick Curtis. Watch as Elliott signs a hotel registry for the Duchess. He writes Martha Wentworth’s name! However, in ‘45 Alice Fleming was playing the Duchess in the Ryder titles. Martha Wentworth didn’t become Auntie Duchess until Allan Lane took over the series a full year later. As a matter of fact, in ‘45 Wentworth wasn’t even employed by Republic! A no-prize to the first one who puzzles out this anomaly.
CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH (‘46 Republic) Ranks with the best of the Elliott Red Ryder westerns, even if the title is misleading. It’s not about a gold rush and California isn’t even mentioned! When the stage lines of Russell Simpson and daughter Peggy Stewart are robbed and plundered, Simpson’s friend The Duchess sends for her two-fisted nephew, Red Ryder, to get to the bottom of the outlawry. The head of the bandits gets ahold of the letter she has sent and hires the Idaho Kid to ambush Red and take his place. Things don’t go according to plans and, for a while, confusion runs rampant as to who’s who. Monte Hale, having been groomed for stardom by Republic for a year, has a one-line bit. Little Beaver has far more to do than usual, mimicking Simpson who incessantly uses the phrase “Ding dang it all!”
SHERIFF OF REDWOOD VALLEY (‘46 Republic) Red Ryder and Little Beaver help clear the supposedly notorious Reno Kid (Bob Steele) of trumped up robbery charges. The real culprits are bent on bringing the railroad to Indian Gap and obtaining a huge profit by selling illegally gotten land rights to the railroad company. Steele gets special billing, shown riding side-by-side with Little Beaver in the opening credits, unlike the opening to any other film in the series. Now, here’s a puzzle I’ve tried to solve for years. Alice Fleming plays Red’s aunt, the Duchess, who is carrying the character name Martha Wentworth. Oddly, there was an actress named Martha Wentworth who took over the role of Auntie Duchess when Allan Lane became Red Ryder in ‘46. Was Republic aware of this actress in ‘44 when they named the Duchess “Martha Wentworth”? Was it coincidence? How did Wentworth later come to the role herself?
SUN VALLEY CYCLONE (‘46 Republic) A neat idea centering around how Red acquired his horse Thunder is spoiled in several ways, primarily by the use of a flashback format which slows down the film. The action content is less than usual and the ending certainly needed to be punched up. The use of oft-seen stock footage of a horse fight, purportedly between Thunder and a paint, is ludicrous as the markings on the paint in the stock nowhere near match the markings of the horse in the new footage. Watch for Monte Hale in a brief bit.
CONQUEST OF CHEYENNE (‘46 Republic) Elliott’s final western as Red Ryder finds he and Little Beaver coming to the aid of the Duchess’ cousin, Peggy Stewart, whose property has attracted the attention of an unscrupulous banker due to its vast oil deposits. Jay Kirby, just off a run as Johnny in several Hopalong Cassidy pictures, is the young geologist/love interest for Stewart.