Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Duke Toils: "The Star Packer" (1934)



The Duke is U.S. Marshal John Travers in this odd western written by director Robert N. Bradbury.

Travers (John Wayne) travels to a small town in order to investigate a crime wave instigated by "The Shadow," an easily identified villain. With his trusty sidekick Yak (Yakima Canutt), Travers also finds himself smitten with Anita (Verna Hillie), the niece of town elder/ranch baron Matlock (George Gabby Hayes, before he became so ornery and Gabbyish). Travers works his way into the job of sheriff after his predecessor serves the shortest term in history, and eventually saves the day.

While the plot is standard B-movie fare, Bradbury creates two giant leaps of bad screenwriting in the film. In some of the opening scenes, for some unknown reason, Travers robs a stagecoach before the real villains get a chance at it. When the villains do come along and find out someone beat them to it, they end up shooting the driver and his shotgun-toting companion, killing one of them. This little plot point is not brought up for the rest of the film, making you wonder if Travers knew what he was doing when he held the thing up. The Shadow's identity is pretty well-known, but I won't spoil it for you. Although, the cook at the Matlock ranch holds onto some pretty important information, letting Anita in on the secret in one scene. The problem is, why did the cook never speak up before, considering his role on the ranch?

The messy screenplay aside, "The Star Packer" serves as a showcase for Yakima Canutt's amazing stuntwork, although his portrayal of Yak, Travers' Native American sidekick, is a little embarrassing. This is a poverty row pic, but Canutt makes it watchable, as does Wayne's earnest performance. Slightly recommended. (* * *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Star Packer