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.