From 1933 to 1935, John Wayne made a series of sixteen sagebrush yarns for Monogram Pictures under their Lone Star production unit. In 1935, Monogram along with Mascot, Consolidated Film Laborites and others merged into the Republic Pictures fold. Wayne, with producers Trem Carr and Paul Malvern moved over to Republic in the deal, and made another eight films there. Republic raised the bar ever so slightly over the Lone Star flicks, with bigger budgets and better production values. Better stories helped also, and "King of the Pecos" is an example.
I was lucky to catch the film this morning on AMC's all star Western weekend; I've never seen this movie available on tape or DVD. Set in 1870's Texas, it follows Wayne's character John Clayborn using the typical formula of a young boy growing up after his parents have been killed by the movie's villain, in this case, Cy Kendall as the land grabbing Alexander Stiles. Stiles' ploy is making claim on all the available water holes in his stretch of the Pecos River Valley, and granting settlers cattle which he buys back with worthless notes when they can't afford to pay for the water.
There's a neat scene where a lot of fuss is made over a newly designed safe Stiles brings in cross country. It's called a 'Salamander' - it can go through the hottest fire and never melt! Interestingly, Stiles is later referred to as Salamander by his henchmen a few times, which sort of works as he fancies himself immune to heat when the going gets tough.
Wayne's character makes a rather questionable transformation from a boy of about ten witnessing his parents' death, to a young man who's already a lawyer in the space of ten years. The math doesn't work, but that aside, Clayborn manages to hone his shooting skills along with his legal work to hang a shingle in the town of Cottonwood. There he collides with town boss Stiles and his gang in order to set things right for the local ranchers who've been swindled by the Salamander. Along the way, the territorial judge finds against Stiles, putting all but one of his water right claims back into the public domain.
One of Wayne's good friends from the Lone Star days is along for this ride, Yakima Canutt in a low key role as a Stiles henchman. The female lead is provided by Muriel Evans, a mainstay in a bunch of Buck Jones movies. There's also a comedic tandem using a slightly overdone hard of hearing gimmick who back up Wayne's play at each turn. It's worth mentioning too that John Wayne is often seen riding atop his trusty white horse, appropriately named 'Duke', though that name isn't mentioned in the story.
Speaking of horses, keep an eye on the team of white horses pulling Stiles' wagon as he attempts to make a getaway during the shootout near the end of the film. Just before the wagon breaks away, the lead horses take about the nastiest spill you'll ever see in any movie to this day. I'm always amazed at how they managed to film those scenes.
For anyone who hasn't sampled a range of Wayne's early work, "King of the Pecos" might come across as an uninspired Western, but if you've viewed his pictures from Columbia and Lone Star, you'll note the gradual progression of his skill, honed during the ten year span of the 1930's. Believe it or not, Wayne made just over fifty films during this period. Obviously the hard work paid off, and not just in terms of a future career. In the Lone Star flicks, Wayne's character usually got the girl at the end of the film, but here he winds up marrying her as well!
King of the Pecos
King of the Pecos
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Profiteer Alexander Stiles lays claim to a million acres of range in the Pecos River country, but a rancher named Claybor stands in his way as he has already claimed the water-rich location of Sweetwater as his own, and refuses Stiles' $1000 offer for his land. Led by the murderous Ash, the hired guns of Stiles kill Clayborn and his wife but their young son John survives and joins his grandfather in Austin. As the boy grows into a man he learns the use of a law book as well as a six gun, intending to use both to bring Stiles to justice. As lawyer John Clay, he travels to the Cottonwood headquarters of Stiles, self-proclaimed King of the Pecos, and meets Hank Matthews and Josh Billings, two cattlemen thrown into poverty through the crooked dealings of Stiles. John serves a summons for Stiles to appear in court but the circuit judge is too frightened to face the might of Stiles. John sends Hank to round up other impoverished cattlemen, and they provide the judge with an armed escort to Cottonwood. The judge upholds the ranchers' pleas for use of water and grass, and Stiles sees most of his ill-gotten gains turned over to public domain for proper filing. Stiles convinces newcomers Eli Jackson and his daughter Belle that John is trying to cheat the ranchers and file claims for himself. He also plans an ambush for those riding through the canyon to file claims and he sends Ash and his gunmen to the hills, instructing them to shoot anyone without the white arm bands he has supplied to his own riders. John discovers the plot and has the ranchers to also wear white arm bands, ensuring their safe passage. With their claim successfully filed the ranchers plan a cattle drive to Abilene where the railroad is promising $20 a head. Stiles steals whatever cattle he can and moves his outlaws to Sweetwater, where he hopes to extort money for use of the water there from the trail drivers. When the drive reaches Sweetwater, John confronts Stiles, revealing that he is the son of the murdered Clayborn's and that Sweetwater rightfully belongs to him. Following a siege by John and the ranchers, Stiles tries to escape by buckboard, but when the wagon tips over he is crushed by the safe containing money he has stolen from others. John pursues Ash into the rocks, offering him a chance to draw first and then ills him. John leaves his gun and his quest for revenge at the site and turns his mind to Belle and his law career.
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August 13, 2022 at 08:48 AM