Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Durango Kid

When I was a mere sprout of a lad, I saw a double feature western movie nearly every Saturday afternoon. Often the movie featured Charles Starrett as the Durango Kid, so when someone tipped me to the fact that TCM was having a mini-festival of Durango Kid movies, I set the DVR.

The Durango Kid
is the first movie in the series, though apparently nobody planned it that way. But the movie was popular, and a few years later the character was brought back for another. And another and another until 60 or so features had been made. I remember the later ones best, after Smiley Burnette had become the comic sidekick.

In this first movie, there is (blessedly) no sidekick. There are, however, the Sons of the Pioneers, with a young and skinny Pat Brady thrown in for alleged comic relief. I didn't find myself laughing much during the opening barn-painting scene, but you can't beat the Sons of the Pioneers when it comes to singing cowboy songs.

The plot is pretty simple: Bill Lowry's father is killed by the bad guys because he (the father) is sticking up for "the nesters." Bill vows to find his dad's killer, and he does so as the Durango Kid. Everybody's pretty cavalier about the disguise. The marshal appears to suspect all along, and Bill even gets Bob Nolan to impersonate the Kid, with the rest of the Sons riding along as his gang. Bill hits at his secert identity to the chief bad guy, and at the end of the movie, the Kid is unmasked.

Starrett is an athletic guy, and he does just fine in the role of the Durango Kid. He might have been a pretty good actor if he hadn't become stuck in the role. Everything in the movie is entirely predictable, but it's fun in a nostalgic way.

There's stuff here that I might not have noticed if I'd seen the movie as a kid. For example, there are scenes from other movies cut in. One night scene of a house burning is painfully obvious, especially since the intercut scenes of the Kid are all daylight scenes. And the people in the house don't seem bothered at all by the raging inferno that's shown in the exterior shots.

And I have a major gripe. What I saw must have been a mutilated print. I didn't know TCM went in for that sort of thing, but I'm certain there are several minutes, maybe ten or so, missing from the movie. Either that, or it has serious continuity troubles. While that's not impossible, it seems more likely to me that TCM showed a bad copy. Of course I could be wrong. I often am.

I've watched only a few minutes of the second movie, The Return of the Durango Kid, but already things have gotten cheaper. The Sons of the Pioneers are gone, replaced by the Jesters, whoever they are. I do plan to see all of this one eventually, and maybe even one of the later ones. Too bad they didn't show one with Smiley Burnett, though.

13 comments:

Fred Blosser said...

I gather that TCM's policy is to use good prints when it has them or can find them, which seems to be usually but not always.

Their prints of classic Warners, United Artists, MGM, and RKO titles generally are pretty good; I presume they come from the catalog that Turner bought many years ago. TCM also seems to have access to nice prints of some Columbia movies that appear to have been restored recently by Sony (THE LINEUP, THESE ARE THE DAMNED). Otherwise, the programmers may have to run with what's available.

For example, they used to air AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS in the old crappy pan and scan version that was around forever on VHS and network TV. When Warners rehabed and remastered the movie a couple of years ago in widescreen, TCM began to show that print.

Several years ago, Cary Roan of the Roan Group told me that he had provided the Turner networks with some '30s and '40s public-domain titles in the best prints he could find, but he admitted that the best he could find wasn't always perfect.

Bill Crider said...

I wouldn't be surprised if nobody at TCM had even noticed the problems with this print. For that matter, I wouldn't even be surprised if it turned out that I'd dozed off and missed the crucial scenes. I should watch it again and see.

Ed Gorman said...

To me there is nothing worse than bad B westerns. Nothing. Most bad B crime flicks I can force march my way through. There'll be a scene, a bit of dialogue, a plot twist that grabs me and makes him hope for more of same. But with bad westerns...nothing. Every aspect of them is witless and lifeless. On occasion the Good Girl is pretty enough that you keep waiting for her next appearance but other than that it's time to change channels.

Bill Crider said...

The Sons of the Pioneers kept me going through this one, plus Starrett's charm. I have a feeling the others might be painful to watch.

James Reasoner said...

Somehow I've never seen a Durango Kid movie. They never played on TV here when I was a kid, and I've never run across any on videotape or DVD. But I'll generally watch anything with the Sons of the Pioneers in it.

Anonymous said...

I caught the last ten minutes of one that had Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys singing "Time Changes Everything." Made me wish I'd dubbed the whole movie just for Bob!

--Steve Mertz

Bill Crider said...

You can't go wrong with Bob Wills!

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

You remember the Jesters, Bill. They did an album with the Paragons.

Todd Mason said...

IIRC, according to a VIDEO WATCHDOG piece, they found the full cut of [THESE ARE] THE DAMNED in their library of television prints from the early 1970s. Shall have to dig that out, a fairly recent issue...unclear to me how that wouldn't be panned and scanned, unless (as is quite possible with a low-budget earliest '60s production) THE DAMNED wasn't a widescreen film.

Glen said...

In Wisconsin, where I grew up, there was no TV. Many Saturday's I went to the movie theater in our small town and went home as the Durango Kid. Long live the Durango Kid! Rocky Lane was another favorite.

Bill Crider said...

Rocky Lane was great. Lots of the guys from the old B-westerns were my heroes.

frontrowkid2002 said...

The Durango Kid pictures were shot on a very strict budget which did not allow for good quality prints. They were shot in 5 to 6 days, using stock footage from previous films and were released every two months to handle distributor demands. The use of certain music groups such as The Jesters, Texas Jim Lewis, etc., was aimed at a rural Southern audience who were already familiar with these groups through records and radio. Starrett became associated with the Durango Kid which helped him to compete against the many Western stars prevalent at that time. A series of comic books promoting the character also helped the success of the series at the box office.

Bill Crider said...

Great comment. Thanks. I should have guessed about those performers. I keep forgetting that adults went those movies, too.