"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Border Patrol (Harry Sherman Productions/United Artists, 1943)


Russell Simpson does a Judge Roy Bean act




 
 
Starting in 1904, Clarence E Mulford wrote a series of magazine short stories and popular novels with the central character of Bill ‘Hop-Along’ Cassidy. His hero was a coarse-tongued, dangerous rough but once Hop-Along was transferred to the silver screen, starting in 1935 with Hop-Along Cassidy, starring the then forty-year-old William Boyd, the character was toned down into the clean-living sarsaparilla-quaffing do-gooder we all know today.
 
Clarence E Mulford does some filing
 
It was to become a hugely successful franchise. After 41 films, the Harry Sherman Productions (amusing logo of ox-drawn wagon on a plinth) shifted from Paramount to United Artists in 1942. 13 movies followed before Sherman gave up (he wanted to break into A-pictures) and Boyd himself bought the franchise, continuing to distribute through UA. Twelve more episodes were made before, with B-Westerns’ decline, they finished in 1948.
 
Our hero (Topper, left). Hoppy, right.
 
It was certainly not the end of the story, though, because Boyd was very far-sighted, selling the project to NBC TV as the first major regular Western show. At first, they were simply cut-down Hoppy films but then Boyd began making new half-hour episodes especially for TV, with the great Edgar Buchanan as his sidekick. Parallel with this, a very popular radio series, again featuring Boyd, began in 1950.
 
Merchandising
 
Early merchandising boosted profits. For example, in 1950 Hoppy appeared on the first lunchbox to carry an image; manufacturer Aladdin Industries moved from selling 50,000 units to 600,000 units in just one year. There was a syndicated comic strip.
 
Comic strip
 
In the films, Hopalong (the hyphen got dropped along the trail) usually traveled with an amusing old-timer (Gabby Hayes, then, eventually, Andy Clyde) and a juvenile lead to romance any dames that came their way (James Ellison was the first but there were several; by the time of Border Patrol, Jay Kirby was doing duty).

The movies were not junk, by any means. Many were photographed by Russell Harlan (Ramrod, Four Faces West, Red River, no less) and the music was sometimes by Paul Sawtell. Direction was often by Lesley Selander, a prolific Western expert who did 124 ‘B’ and TV oaters, 1925 – 68. He knew what he was doing and the movies crack along at a lively pace. A lot of the pictures were written by Michael Wilson (later of Lawrence of Arabia fame) and the screenplays were professional, tight and economical (he usually had less than an hour to fill).
 
Not junk
 
That’s all rather a long introduction to a short film. But Border Patrol is a 53-minute blast. One of the main reasons is the excellent Russell Simpson as a Judge Roy Beanish rogue. Simpson was usually wheeled out to be a Mormon elder, parson or town worthy. Here, though, he is splendid as Orestes Krebs, the utterly villainous mayor, sheriff, judge and sole owner of the mine in Silver Bullett.
 
Judge Roy Bean in a suit
 
He’d started in the 1914 Cecil B DeMille/Dustin Farnum version of The Virginian (he was also in the 1923 one, as Trampas, no less), was in the 1930 Billy the Kid and the 1932 Law and Order, several great John Ford Westerns, some Errol Flynn ones, Broken Lance, The Tin Star, and he was still going strong as the sheriff on John Ford’s The Horse Soldiers in 1959. That’s an impressive Western CV. Good old Russell.
 
Town boss Simpson gets the drop on the pards. That's Bob Mitchum on the extreme right.
 
And, of course, it was the first Western of a great star. The chief thug-heavy Quinn is played by one ‘Bob Mitchum’. And he has a speaking part! He has the honor of being shot by Hoppy himself. I bet he was proud.
 
Bob Mitchum, foreman of the jury. He looks as enthusiastic as usual.

There’s an exciting climax as the good guys (and gal) fight it out with the bad guys (no gal). All in all, 53 minutes well spent, pardners.  

Aw shucks, held up by a goldarned gal


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