Sagebrush Trail (1933)
” Romance rides in a drama of thundering hoofs and blazing guns!”
Director: Armand Schaefer
Cast: John Wayne, Nancy Shubert, Lane Chandler
Synopsis: Wrongly imprisoned for murder, John Brant decides his only option is to escape from jail and clear his name by finding the true killer.
At some point early in John Wayne’s long and illustrious career some brave and kindly director must have taken him to one side and told him that he fought like a girl. “You fight like a girl, John,” he must have said, “and if you don’t sort it out you’re going to be wasting away in B-movie hell for a long time to come.” Thankfully, judging by his later punch-ups, Wayne must have taken this advice to heart.
To be fair to John Wayne, he isn’t the only one who participates in the fights in this pic in the same fashion as schoolboys who stage mock punch-ups in misguided attempts to impress girls they fancy; there isn’t a decent brawler amongst the whole cast, which is a bit of a drawback when the story’s backdrop is the hideout of a bunch of western ne’er-do-wells and renegades. Big John falls into their bad company after escaping a wrongful prison sentence for murder. Of course, this being one of those ultra-cheap Lone Star programmers of which the most memorable aspect is the music that plays over the credits at both ends of the movie (and then rattles maddeningly around inside your head for about three weeks afterwards), we all know that Big John isn’t really a bad guy and that all will be happily resolved within the fifty-something minute running time.
As Lone Star efforts go, this one isn’t half-bad. There’s the seed of a decent plot here, sprinkled with a fair number of twists that at least take us to our predictable destination via a relatively fresh route, and there are plenty of impressive stunts courtesy of stuntman extraordinaire Yakima Canutt. The acting’s poor, and the soundtrack (on the UK DVD) is atrocious — it sounds as if the action is taking place during a torrential rainfall — but there’s a certain comfort to be found in the familiarity of films like this: you know what you’re about to receive and you’re never disappointed and — creative merit aside — if a film, however small and modest, provides what it promises to provide then it can never really be considered a failure.
(Reviewed 3rd August 2005)