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!

 

Halloween Havoc!: THE MUMMY’S HAND (Universal 1940)

Universal revived The Mummy in 1940’s THE MUMMY’S HAND, but except for the backstory (and judicious use of stock footage), there’s no relation to the 1932 Karloff classic . Instead of Imhotep we’re introduced to Kharis, the undead killing machine, as the High Priest of Karnak (Eduardo Cianelli in old age makeup) relates the tale of Princess Ananka, whose tomb is broken into by Kharis, who steals the sacred tanna leaves to try and bring her back to life. Kharis gets busted, and is condemned to be buried alive! For he “who shall defile the temple of the gods, a cruel and violent death shall be his fate, and never shall his soul find rest for all eternity. Such is the curse of Amon-Ra, king of all the gods”. So there!

The High Priest croaks, making Andoheb (George Zucco ) the new High Priest. Meanwhile in Cairo, Americans Steve Banning (Dick Foran ) and his Brooklyn buddy Babe Jensen (Wallace Ford ) are stranded and trying to get home. Banning, an unemployed archeologist, buys an unusual cracked piece of pottery at the bazaar, and brings it to his friend Professor Petrie (Charles Trowbridge) at the Cairo Museum. Steve knows the hieroglyphic markings point the way to the Hill of the Seven Jackals, where lies Ananka’s tomb, and wants funding for an expedition that’ll bring fame and fortune, and return him to the good graces of New York’s Scripps Museum.

But wait, who’s that? Why, it’s ‘Professor’ Andoheb, who scoffs at Steve’s find, calling it a forgery and refusing funding, so Steve and Babe seek alternative backing. A chance meeting with a magician from Brooklyn named Solvani the Great (Cecil Kellaway in an amusing performance) leads to the boys talking the adventurous prestidigitator into a partnership, much to the chagrin of his beautiful daughter Marta (Peggy Moran), who’s been told by Andoheb the Americans are a couple of swindlers out to fleece dear old dad and leave him for dead! Marta is won over by Steve’s manly charm (as you knew she would be), and the expedition gets underway.

Steve, Babe, Marta, Solvani, and Petrie (who’s along for verification) find an opening and break the cursed seal, causing the native diggers to run off in fear, except for brave Ali (Leon Belasco). Inside, they find the sarcophagus of Kharis and a vat full of tanna leaves (“they smell like clover”, according to Steve, in case you were wondering). While Petrie examines Kharis’s body alone, guess who pops up? Yep, it’s Andoheb, vowing vengeance, and ordering Kharis to kill the poor prof. Now the mad Andoheb sets Kharis loose to dish out that “cruel and violent death” curse, while setting his own sights on the lovely Marta…

The script by Griffin Jay and Maxwell Shane has some gaps in logic and character continuity, but not enough to distract anyone from enjoying this fantastic and fun film. Christy Cabanne’s direction is workmanlike, but he keeps things moving along at a brisk pace. Cowboy star Tom Tyler resembled Karloff enough to match the footage used from the ’32 film, and he makes a demented monster (Tyler would later portray Fawcett Comics’ superstar CAPTAIN MARVEL in the 1941 serial). Foran makes a burly hero, and Moran a fine Scream Queen. Wallace Ford (Babe) is the comic relief; he was a top character actor in films from the early thirties to 1965’s A PATCH OF BLUE. Ford’s horror credits include the classic FREAKS , a pair of Bela Lugosi shockers (MYSTERIOUS MR. WONG and THE APE MAN), and a reprisal of his role here in the sequel THE MUMMY’S TOMB.

Bug-eyed George Zucco has what I think is his best horror part as Andoheb, the mad priest of Karnak in charge of Kharis. Zucco was a respected character actor during the 30’s, and made a fine Professor Moriarty in THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. But during the 40’s, the actor seemed to take any role available, and starred in some real dreck at Monogram and PRC. In THE MUMMY’S HAND, Zucco is restrained, and his Andoheb is a creepy character indeed, especially when he’s lusting after Peggy Moran (but then, who can blame him?).

THE MUMMY’S HAND was popular enough to merit a series of Kharis pictures and we’ll discuss each of them this Halloween season, but it won’t be Tom Tyler behind the bandages. Instead, it’s Universal’s newest horror star… Lon Chaney Jr!

 

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