Saturday, October 27, 2012

Son of the Border

By Ed Garea

Son of the Border (RKO, 1933) Director: Lloyd Nosler. Starring: Tom Keene, Julie Haydon, Edgar Kennedy, Lon Chaney Jr., Al Bridge, Charles King, & David Durand.

There are few things more enjoyable than a ‘30s B-Western, unless it’s a ‘40s Monogram or PRC Western. This one comes from RKO and stars Tom Keene, RKO’s cowboy star at the time. I love Tom Keene Westerns because (1) Tom couldn’t act; and (2) he wound up starring in Plan 9 From Outer Space (as Col. Edwards), as well as co-starring with The Bowery Boys in their 1956 epic Dig That Uranium! So we know that Tom’s B to Z creds are in order. An added bonus is the chance to catch the early Lon Chaney Jr., when he was working under the moniker Creighton Chaney.

The plot is simple: Rancher Tom Owens (Keene) is a force of good to be reckoned with in his little town. He’s after a stagecoach robbing gang, led by a baddie named Henchey (Bridge). He’s shocked (Shocked!) when he learns that his good friend Jack Breen (Chaney) is a dues-paying member of that very gang. He pulls Jack aside and tells him that if Tom were he, he’d beat it out of town, if he gets the drift. Good advice, but does Jack listen? Not on your life, otherwise we have no movie. And Jack is soon at it again, this time holding up a bank. But during the getaway Tom is forced to shoot Jack and kills his friend. Jack manages to conveniently die in the arms of his fiancée, former saloon girl Doris (Haydon), who encouraged Jack in his career choice. This earns Tom the everlasting hatred of Doris, who holds Tom entirely responsible. And she’s out for revenge.

In the meantime, the late Jack’s orphan brother, Frankie (Durand) arrives on the afternoon stage from Phoenix looking for big brother. He’s naturally devastated when he learns of his brother’s death. Tom takes charge of the lad and brings him to his ranch where, with the help of his trusted sidekick Windy (Kennedy) he teaches the boy about ranch life. But when young Frankie runs into Doris one day in town, she uses the opportunity to educate the lad all about his brother, regaling him with stories. Tom sees what’s going on and tells her to bug off, but she retorts that if he tries to keep her away, she’ll tell young Frankie all about Jack’s killing. Tom replies something to the effect of “So when is a good time for you to see Frankie?”

Cut to Tupper, the town’s friendly ticket agent. He’s revealed to us as the silent leader of the gang and tells Henchey to whack Tom in order to facilitate their gang’s planned robbery of the next stagecoach. Henchey naturally fails in his attempt. Tim, tired of Doris making his life miserable, decides to send Frankie back to Phoenix and buys a ticket for the very coach Tupper plans to rob. But Doris learns via the grapevine that Tupper plans to murder everyone on the coach and rushes to tell Tom. He sends her to get the sheriff while he and Windy intercept the bad guys and lead the coach to a town on the Mexican border, where they get into a shootout with the villains. Doris is wounded protecting Frankie and Tom, and Tom settles matters by killing the gang members and tossing Tupper through a window. Tom and Doris bury the hatchet and agree to take joint responsibility for raising Frankie. The end.

What’s even better is that all this takes place in only 55 minutes. Chaney, for his part, proves to be just as wooden as a young man as he was later in life. I also noticed that he always seemed to look regretful, whether at age 30 or 65. Kennedy as Windy the sidekick gives a decent performance. When I look at the portly Kennedy in the role I can only assume that he got that nickname because his favorite meal is beans. But there is zero chemistry between Keene and Kennedy, odd for a hero and sidekick. Haydon, who plays Chaney’s girlfriend Doris, scores in the looks department, but she’s even more wooden than Chaney. I loved the line that the crowd at the saloon misses her as a dance girl and attendance has gone down since she left, leading us to think she was doing something other than dancing.

If you’re looking for nonstop action and laughs galore, you just can’t beat a film like this. It’s the type of film one runs at a gathering and does an MST-like session with friends. It makes the time pass ever so well and can be a bonding experience if bad films are your thing. 

Postscript: This movie is so obscure that you can't order it on Amazon.

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