John Wayne plays a guy who comes home to find that his parents have been murdered by an outlaw called Zandri (Earl Dwire) and his gang, who steal all their cattle. It's a lot of cattle, and how one old man and woman could have taken care of them isn't explained. For that matter how Wayne knows that Zandri is responsible isn't explained, either. Nor is what Zandri does with the cattle. We're told that Zandri is half Apache but that he pretends to be Mexican and speaks the language like a native. That's the first big laugh of the movie as soon as you hear him talk.
Gabby Hayes plays a rancher with a beautiful daughter, Ruby (Sheila Terry). Zandri plans to kill Gabby and kidnap Ruby, but she overhears his fiendish plan. She and Gabby escape and meet up with Wayne, who decides to get Zandri.
But enough about the plot, such as it is. What about the good stuff? Well, there's a secret tunnel, which is always good to have. There are some good stunts (Yakima Canutt is on hand), including Wayne does himself when he rides a log down a long aqueduct. Or something. And the bad stuff? The dumbest sheriff in movie history. A stunt with a horse that involves a tripwire. I wouldn't have thought twice about this as a kid, but it was terrible to see this time.
The best part of the movie involves Gabby, who's felled by knife thrown by Zandri. Gabby collapses with the knife buried in his back. Wayne finds him and knows he's dead. But he's not. Imagine the surprise of the audience when Gabby shows up later on. Wayne asks him about the knife. "Just a scratch," Gabby says.
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There are some more amazing things, but I don't think I'll write about them. The Lawless Frontier was never intended to be a good movie, just a disposable item for the bottom of the bill. If you're desperate for some western action or to see John Wayne as he starts to build the screen persona that served him so well, it's worth a look. You can watch it on your computer. Otherwise, skip it.