Cowboy Christmas: TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (Republic 1950)

There’s no sign of Robin Hood to be found in the Roy Rogers vehicle TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD. However, the film has gained a cult following among sagebrush aficionados for the plethora of cowboy stars gathered together in this extremely likable little ‘B’ Western directed by Republic Pictures workhorse William Whitney , with plenty of songs by Roy and the Riders of the Purple Sage to go along with that trademark Republic fightin’ and a-ridin’ action (thanks, stuntmen Art Dillon, Ken Terrell, and Joe Yrigoyen!).

Some rustlers have been stealing Christmas trees from ‘retired actor’ Jack Holt’s tree farm. The benign Jack raises his trees to sell at cost to parents of poor kids, but avaricious J.C. Aldridge (Emory Parnell ) and his foreman Mitch McCall (former Our Gang member Clifton Young ) want to put an end to it and corner the Christmas tree market! U.S. Forestry Agent Roy is out to stop the varmints, along with his goofy sidekick Splinters McGonigle (Gordon Jones )  and his kid sister, whose name, appropriately enough, is Sis (Carol Nugent)!  Aldridge’s purdy but haughty daughter Toby (Penny Edwards) is sent to get Jack to sell out, and when he refuses, the baddies use every dirty trick in the book (including murder!) to put him out of business!

Toby has a change of heart when she learns McCall has kidnapped her pappy  after the villains resort to arson, causing Jack to be overcome by smoke inhalation. Things look bleak, as the tree wranglers are scared to bring the firs to market, so Sis gets the idea to call in the troops: Western icons Rex Allen, George Cheseboro, Crash Corrigan , William Farnum, Monte Hale, Tom Keene , Allan “Rocky” Lane, Kermit Maynard, and Tom Tyler ! They rush the trees by wagon over a burning bridge (with special effects courtesy of Republic’s Lydecker Brothers), the baddies are defeated, and Christmas for them thar poor kids is saved!

Anyone familiar with these Roy Rogers Westerns knows about the weird mix of Old West cowboys in modern times, and this one is no exception. Roy’s overgrown Boy Scout character is pure corn, but he was a big box office draw for the kiddies, and the film sure looks good in Trucolor (Technicolor’s poor cousin). Jack Holt, older and balding, is still as square-jawed as ever, and it’s a treat to see him along with all the other former cowboy stars under one Western sky. They don’t actually get to do much besides a little shooting and riding, but that’s okay, their mere presence helps up grade the material. Despite all these cowboy heroes appearing together, it’s Roy’s palomino Trigger, “The Smartest Horse in the West” , who receives second billing (his German Shepherd Bullet is featured, too)!

Roy gets to sing a few songs with Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage (“Home Town Jubilee”, “Get a Christmas Tree for Johnny”, “Every Day is Christmas in the West”), and there’s a cute subplot involving Sis and her pet turkey Sir Galahad, who Splinters envisions as a tasty Christmas dinner! Nobody did these things better than Republic, and it’s all harmless fun from the waning days of the Saturday matinee Westerns. The glimpse of cowboy heroes past makes it more than worth your time, and while it’s no classic, it sho’ nuff is a lot of fun!

Merry Christmas from Roy and Trigger!

 

ALIEN Ancestor: IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (United Artists 1958)

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Col. Edward Carruthers is the sole survivor of man’s first Mars expedition, the remainder of the crew brutally slaughtered. A second ship is sent to return Carruthers to Earth to be court-martialed for the murders. Unbeknownst to the crew, a bloodthirsty space alien has infiltrated their ship. When members of the crew begin to get picked off, they realize Carruthers is telling the truth. Now they’re trapped in space with the creature and nowhere to run. Bullets can’t stop IT! Grenades can’t stop IT! Gas can’t stop IT! Can anything stop IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE?

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Grab yourselves some popcorn, Raisonettes, and a soft drink for this one, the quintessential 50s Sci-Fi Drive-In movie. It’s a well done B picture that doesn’t waste any time getting into the action, and probably the best film director Edward L. Cahn (Invisible Invaders) ever did. The cast is solid but relatively unknown except for star Marshall Thompson (TV’s DAKTARI) and character actor Dabbs Greer. The screenplay by Jerome Bixby may seem familiar, as it’s said to have been the “inspiration” for the 1979 hit ALIEN. Bixby was mainly a sci-fi short story writer whose “It’s A Good Life” was adapted into the classic TWILIGHT ZONE episode starring Billy (LOST IN SPACE) Mumy. He also wrote the story for the film FANTASTIC VOYAGE, and four STAR TREK episodes, including the doppleganger episode “Mirror, Mirror”. Special mention should be made to Oscar nominated art director William Glasgow (HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE) for his contribution to this movie.

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IT itself was actor/stuntman Ray “Crash” Corrigan, in his last role. Corrigan starred in serials and B-Westerns like the Three Mesquiteers (with young John Wayne) and Range Busters series, but was also one of Hollywood’s greatest gorilla guys. Corrigan and his ape suit were in demand for pictures like the original TARZAN THE APE MAN, serial FLASH GORDON, THE APE (with Boris Karloff), Universal’s CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN, and that all-time clunker Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla. Crash also owned a ranch called Corriganville which was used in many B-Westerns of the era.

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The alien creature was designed by the one-and-only Paul Blaisdell, responsible for many of those 50s “rubber suited” monsters we all know and love. Blaisdell worked extensively with Roger Corman on B-movies like THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES, THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, THE SHE CREATURE, NOT OF THIS EARTH, and INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN. He occasionally played the monsters himself, and his creations are some of the most iconic in sci-fi filmdom:

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IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE is a fun movie for sci-fi fans, and while no classic, is suspenseful enough to hold your interest. It’s not big on science, but is fantastic fiction that’s still enjoyable to watch today, a fine example of low-budget, low-tech moviemaking magic.

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