Ratings: Zero to 4 Stars.
WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND (‘45 RKO)
A winning Zane Grey-based story of murder, revenge and love is James Warren’s first of three RKO westerns replacing Robert Mitchum (who replaced Tim Holt—who returned from the war and replaced Warren). It’s a strong story well told with an unusual ending but the lack of physical action holds it back from being even better. Richard Martin (in his first as Chito) is Warren’s sidekick. We even get a chance to meet Chito’s Irish father (Harry Brown) and Mexican mother (Minerva Urecal). Watch for Myrna Dell in a bit as a girl on the street meeting with Chito.
SUNSET PASS (‘46 RKO)
Two express agents, James Warren and John Laurenz (as Chito!) go after stolen train robbery loot and bandits Harry Woods, Steve Brodie and Robert Clarke, whose sister (Nan Leslie) complicates matters. Strong Zane Grey “adaptation” with a fine cast and top notch RKO production values. Remake of the 1933 Henry Hathaway directed version with Randolph Scott. John Laurenz (1909-1958) spelled Richard Martin as Chito Rafferty, for whatever RKO reason, in two of the Warren Bs. Otherwise, his career is undistinguished. Laurenz’s gal is Jane Greer who was new to RKO at this time but went on to big things in “Out of the Past”, “Big Steal”, “Station West” and others. Tall in the saddle in the Elliott/Cooper/Scott mold, Warren had a promising career as a western star but gave up acting to pursue his love of art. He moved to Maui in the ‘50s where he established quite a reputation as an Hawaiian artist.
CODE OF THE WEST (‘47 RKO)
The third and final Warren RKO western based on a Zane Grey novel is his best, solidly directed by William Berke from a Norman Houston screenplay. Grey’s story was made in 1923 as “Code of the West” at Paramount starring Owen Moore and remade in ‘34 by Paramount as “”Home on the Range” w/Randolph Scott. Warren and sidekick Chito (John Laurenz) come to the aid of banker Harry Harvey who is able to lend homesteaders refinance money thereby spoiling the sneaky plans of saloon owner Raymond Burr and his hatchet-men to take over their land and sell it to the railroad. Warren must also contend with Harvey’s wayward son, Robert Clarke, and his sister, Debra Alden, with whom he falls in love. Burr bar-girl confidant Carol Forman sings in the saloon as does Chito at a campfire. Silent star William Desmond has a one-line bit as a rancher. Noted stuntman Tom Steele doubles Warren in two well-choreographed fights.
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