1/2/07

611 Last of the Wild Horses

(1948, Western, b&w)

Ungodly coincidences of the Old West.

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

A failed highwayman turns to the side of good in an Old West range war.

Summary:

A man with both a girl and a horse?  Isn't that Old West bigamy?A voiceover rambles regretfully about the fading Old West culture and the lost herds of wild horses. He tells us about the location used in the film (the Rogue River near Jacksonville, Oregon) and then lets us slip peacefully into the opening credits, where an incomprehensibly edited hayloft fistfight and a violent Albert Glasser soundtrack immediately pummel us with implied punches and a staccato horn section.

The movie actually begins some time later with a man named Duke Barnum, who wears a white hat and a black bandanna. He waits on a hilltop to rob an approaching stagecoach, but is distracted by three men attacking a kid on horseback. His virtuous instincts kick in, and he delays the bad guys before they can steal the kid’s small herd of horses. The kid gets away, but when Duke turns to leave, one of the bad guys tries to shoot him in the back. Duke makes them all dismount, take off their boots, and walk back to wherever they came from.

He rides on, but his horse throws a shoe. Fortunately, beautiful young rancher’s daughter Jane Cooper happens past and leads him back to her father’s ranch house. The wheelchair-bound old man Cooper greets Duke and invites him to sit down for a drink while someone reshoes his horse. The sheriff and his deputy arrive while they talk. Apparently, the stagecoach driver just happened to see a man in a white hat and a black bandanna on top of a hill, and they naturally assume that this man wants to be a robber. Also, the three barefoot bad guys just happened to be employees of the wheelchair rancher’s establishment, the Double C. They arrive shortly after the sheriff, and everyone draws their guns.

The sheriff pulls rank and takes Duke into town. Apparently, the kid he rescued just happened to be a beautiful young woman named Terry, who convinces her goofy foster father to provide Duke with an alibi. The foster father (called Remedy because he fancies himself a doctor) blackmails Duke into working for him on his tiny ranch.

Now we get to the main conflict of the film. Old Man Cooper’s men have been rounding up horses from the wild herds, not leaving any for anyone else in the valley. This threatens the town’s fragile wild horse-based economy. Some anachronistic exposition reveals that Cooper’s evil foreman Riley is deliberately antagonizing the smaller ranchers. Like most B-movie villains, his evil plot is less than lucid. Apparently he hopes that the resulting strife will cause the town to collapse completely, leaving him to swoop in and take control. To this end, he waits until Cooper finally sees reason and agrees to let the wild herds replenish themselves for a year. Then he rounds them up anyway, discarding a Double C brand at the scene of the crime. When the other ranchers become threatening, he manipulates the sheriff into deputizing his henchmen, allowing him to plant phony evidence in his rivals’ barns and murder them for “resisting arrest.”

Duke leverages his occasional dalliances with Cooper’s daughter to get himself an audience with the crotchety old rancher. Oblivious of his foreman’s devious machinations, Cooper refuses to call off his deputized ranch hands, believing the planted evidence to be proof of his competitors’ guilt. While he leaves, Duke just happens to drop his black handkerchief.

A few moments later, Cooper just happens overhear Riley plotting with one of his stupider henchmen. He pulls a gun on his traitorous employees and calls for Jane to get the sheriff. Jane is off smooching with Duke, and when Cooper looks around for her, Riley kicks away his gun and strangles him with the black handkerchief he just happened to find.

Naturally, Duke goes on trial for Cooper’s murder. With the judge and jury somehow in Riley’s pocket, they find him guilty. After the sentencing, Remedy and Terry smuggle him a gun, allowing him to flee. He tries to go back to Jane to protest his innocence, but Jane sees him and shoots him from afar.

Meanwhile, the stupider henchman who witnessed Cooper’s murder has fled to a nearby town. He sends a letter to Riley, demanding payment for his continued silence. Remedy just happens to be collecting the mail down at the post office, and the postman just happens to mention that he needs the letter delivered to Riley at the Double C ranch. Remedy opens it and reads the truth of Cooper’s murder. While he’s riding, Riley just happens to come up behind him. Despite the fact that Riley has no reason to threaten Remedy, the goofy old rancher panics and rides away, dropping the envelope in the process. Riley recovers the envelope and realizes what must have been in it. He chases Remedy to a river and shoots him in the back while he rides across it. Remedy and the letter float away.

Jane follows Terry to Duke’s hideout. She has had an inexplicable change of heart (first she didn’t believe him to be guilty, then she did, then she didn’t again) and urges him to run away and save his own life. Remedy arrives, waterlogged and wounded, to provide evidence of Riley’s guilt. Terry takes it to the sheriff while Duke heads into town for a reckoning with Riley. There’s a brief gunfight wherein Duke kills Riley’s henchman and chases Riley into a hay barn. They have a long, incomprehensibly edited fistfight, recycled from the opening credits.

I’m guessing Duke won, because in the next scene he’s canoodling with Jane again. They ride out to Remedy’s ranch, where he’s spent his time recovering from Riley’s bullet by taking correspondence courses in art. A lovely young woman arrives by mail to be his model.

Introduction:

Sure, Mike's evil, but Crow's pretty much the same.Mike has programmed Tom and Crow with differing regional speech patterns. They become confused in conversation over such things as whether or not all soft drinks can be referred to as “coke,” and whether the umbrella term “show” can be used interchangeably with “movie.” Mike stops them, citing a difference between regionalism and just plain stupidity.

Host Segment One:

Dr. Forrester sends a Matter Transference Device up to the satellite via Umbilicus, despite Mike and the ‘Bots’ objections that to do so during an ion storm is inherently dangerous. In an alternate universe version of the Satellite of Love, Good Dr. Forrester receives the device, declaring that it was a good thing nothing untoward happened what with the ion storm and all. Tom and Gypsy find themselves transported from the normal universe to the alternate Deep 13, trapped with Evil Mike and Crow. Evil Mike berates Evil Crow, taking him for a little torture session in the agony booth.

Host Segment Two:

Good Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank sing the Joey the Lemur song (from Episode 210) while Tom and Gypsy scream in horror. “There are no lemurs in this movie!” Tom cries. In the normal reality, Evil Tom attacks Good Mike and Crow on the Satellite of Love. They push him down repeatedly while looking for Mike’s old Alternate Universe Manual.

Host Segment Three:

Thick-lipped, jewelry-clad Evil Gypsy vamps Evil Tom into planning a coup on the normal universe Satellite of Love. Quoth she, “I will be a captain’s woman!”

Host Segment Four:

Good Mike and Crow have found the manual and are trying to figure out how to fix the mixed-up universes. Evil Tom attacks them. Quoth he, “So you die, Captain, and we all move up in rank!” Mike pushes him down repeatedly while he reads. In the other reality, Good Tom and Gypsy discover Evil Magic Voice, who sounds just like Torgo. He recommends that they have Good Dr. Forrester send them back the Matter Transference Device. They do so, and reality as we know it is restored.

Host Segment Five:

The members of the restored satellite crew swap stories about the different realities. Alternate satellite dwellers Good Dr. Forrester and Frank call up on the Hexfield Viewscreen to regale them with Yakov Smirnoff-ish tales of their own universe and sing the Joey the Lemur song. Mike hangs up on them. Down in Deep 13, Evil Dr. Forrester and Frank enjoy the agony booth, which somehow remained in their universe.

Stinger:

Old Man Cooper cackles in his wheelchair.

Thoughts:

The pale-colored hat is ambiguous, but the weasely mustache marks this character as a villain.So, everyone in the valley makes their living from horses? Call me ignorant, but I’ve always been under the impression that horses are a means to an end. People use them, certainly, but in Western culture one does not drink horse milk or eat horse jerky unless one is desperate. No one in this valley seems to raise cattle, chickens, sheep, goats, or crops of any kind. Do they trade the horses with other towns for goods and services? Do they pack them in foam peanuts and ship them overseas? What’s the deal here?

But this is not the most heinous of this film’s crimes against plausibility. If you look back at the summary, you will see that the whole plot is a series of only tenuously connected events, held together by the most ridiculous of coincidences. I’m not saying that coincidences are universally bad. Even good stories have at least one or two. But once a coincidence has gotten the plot-ball rolling, one event generally leads to another, and then the rest of the story revolves around the resulting consequences. Not so with this movie. Duke gets involved with Cooper’s daughter because he “just happened” to meet her on the range. He’s saved from arrest because he “just happened” to accidentally save Remedy’s foster daughter from evil ranch hands. He gets indicted for Cooper’s murder because he “just happened” to drop his handkerchief at the scene and the bad guy “just happened” to recognize it. He’s later exonerated because Remedy “just happened” to get a confessional letter, and then “just happened” to meet Riley, and then “just happened” to drop the envelope where Riley would find it. Take out any one of these “just happened” incidents and the movie ends abruptly.

The host segments take their cue from an episode of the original Star Trek series, called Mirror, Mirror. The events in the host segments follow the Star Trek plot fairly closely, so I won’t summarize it here. It’s a lot of fun to see the various Evil/Good counterparts in action. The Joey the Lemur song, which was funny in its original appearance in King Dinosaur, becomes annoying with its constant repetition. It induces hilarious responses every time the normal universe characters hear it, though, so it’s worth listening to every time.

The most notable part of the film segments is the presence of Good Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank in the theater during the first segments. Appropriately enough, they sit on the opposite side of the screen. It’s a little different, but their quips are funny, and we’re already used to hearing Trace Beaulieu’s voice as Crow during the film, so it’s not too jarring. Some of the best lines include Frank’s identification of the Stooge-ish sheriff and his non-Stooge-ish deputy as “Curly and Anti-Curly.” When Terry asks Duke if he’s got a girl, Mike replies, “No, I got a horse.” When Riley notes that Remedy has dropped something and tells his henchman to see what it is, Crow says, “It’s a plot device. It’s very flimsy, so be careful.” The host segments are great, and the quips are funny, but the movie’s somewhat bewildering. Still, it makes for pretty entertaining viewing.