Monday, October 22, 2012

Old and Faithful: "Yellowstone" (1936)

Do you remember when the Brady Bunch went to Hawaii, or Knott's Berry Farm? Or how about every sitcom family's trips to one of the Disney theme parks? The episodes were never very funny compared to the rest of the studio bound series, and mostly served as an infomercial for the location visited. I believe "Yellowstone" may have started the trend way back in 1936.

The pornographic-sounding Dick Sherwood (Henry Hunter) is a park ranger at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. He meets up with Ruth (Judith Barrett, a dead ringer for Fay Wray), a young woman staying at the park's luxurious hotel and waiting for the father she hasn't seen in eighteen years. Dick immediately starts putting the moves on Ruth, playing cute and annoyingly quoting out of his ranger manual. Ruth's dad, James (Ralph Morgan), arrives and is briefly reunited with his daughter before-dun-dun-DUN!- murder!

James' body is found after it gets blown out of a geyser (stop giggling), and the park is locked down as the large cast of suspects is interrogated by private detective Hardigan (a miscast Alan Hale, real life father of the Skipper on "Gilligan's Island"). Since the film is barely an hour, the climax comes quickly, with a hard-to-believe explanation.

Also hard to believe is some of the completely annoying supporting cast. Andy Devine volunteers little comic relief as Pay-Day, who wants to be a full-time park ranger. Raymond Hatton is along as Old Pete, who has tall tales to bore the cast and viewer with. Between these two and the sterotypical Chinese chef and Native American guy, you will be cringing often.

The scenery is gorgeous, it would be interesting to compare the locations on film to how they look today, over seventy years later. While four writers have their names on this fluff, possibly explaining the bizarre shifts in tone, director Lubin keeps things clicking along. Too bad about the two songs here, both impossible to comprehend and enjoy.

"Yellowstone" is a harmless B-movie hearkening back to yesteryear. Old Faithful, indeed. (* * *) out of five stars.