The Star Packer (1934)
“He Dared Death In The Outlaw’s Lair!”
Director: R. N. Bradbury
Cast: John Wayne, Verna Hillie, George ‘Gabby’ Hayes
Synopsis: A gang working for The Shadow is terrorising the town. John Travers decides to take on the job of sheriff and do something about it.
Another of Wayne’s countless early Westerns churned out by the no-budget Lone Star Studio, this one pretty much follows the same formula as every other movie Wayne made for them. Perhaps this one is a little (unintentionally) funnier than the others: Yakima Canutt plays an Indian in this one, wearing a bad wig and mangling the English language in the same way that all Hollywood Indians did until the 50s or 60s; in another side-splitter, the evil Shadow, a villain who is rustling cattle and robbing stagecoaches, tries to frighten the heroine off her ranch by standing at her bedroom window and pulling faces at her. The heroine is played by Verna Hillie, a capable enough actress for a movie of this quality, but whose career never amounted to much. Strange how these Lone Star flicks of Wayne’s mostly kept the same gang of males for each film (Canutt, Hayes, Dwire, etc) while the leading lady always changed. The ladies always wear modern dress too, as if some Lone Star producer has simply plucked her off a Hollywood street on the day shooting was to begin.
This one tries to inject an air of mystery into its proceedings by concealing the identity of the dastardly ‘Shadow’, although it is obvious from around the 84th second who the culprit is. For some reason, he communicates with his henchmen by issuing instructions from behind a dark gauze situated in a fake safe embedded at head height on a wall. Seems to work though — they never seem to catch on to who they’re working for until Wayne unmasks him. The standard of film-making is pretty basic too: camera looks up, camera looks down, camera looks left, camera looks right. Rarely does the camera move if it doesn’t have to. Nevertheless, THE STAR PACKER attempts a climax that is almost epic by Lone Star’s standards with a dozen or more good guys on horseback chasing an equal number of bad guys across the rugged terrain. As usual with these films, though, the best aspect is the superlative stunt-work carried out by Canutt (sans bad wig).
(Reviewed 7th August 2005)