Monday, December 15, 2008

Sagebrush Trail, 1933

The question that comes to mind upon viewing this movie is: why? It looks like almost everyone had gone home for the day, and the few people who were still hanging around decided to crank out another one. The story is weak, and the way the story is told is confusing. However, there are a few noteworthy points to cover. But first, the story (such as it is).

Main theme: hero is accused of crime he didn't commit. John Wayne plays John Brant, although he uses the alias "Smith" throughout most of the movie--you can barely catch the part where his real name is used. He hops a train in whatever city he's in and rides it out west to escape. How far did he ride? How long did he hang between cars? He ends up part of a gang of outlaws, because he somehow knew to jump off the train at that spot to try and find the man who actually committed the murder for which he has been blamed. He becomes friends with a friendly outlaw who turns out to be the man who really committed the murder, but the F.O. redeems himself in the end, although it costs him his life.

There's an old truck that hauls the newspapers around. So we have automobiles. But once he's out of town, we never see another auto again. What time period is it set in?

Here are some lawmen who show up to search the train when Brant (Smith) jumps off. This is the only pipe-smoking scene in the whole movie.

This is the friendly outlaw, who goes by the alias of "Jones." This is veteran western character actor Lane Chandler who might have one of those faces that make you say, "oh, that guy" if you used to watch shows like Rawhide, Gunsmoke or Have Gun, Will Travel. He's listed as being in 368 movies and TV episodes at imdb between 1921 and 1971.

This is Nancy Shubert, who plays the rather mousey love interest/heroine Nancy Blake. This was her only film.

I thought I'd throw this one in here because it seems to be a recurring motif of these movies to have such a scene in the first few minutes. The good guy is fleeing, and he always rides his horse down a steep hill. Sometimes the horse nearly has to sit down and slide, it's so steep. I don't know why they did this all the time, but it seemed to be a standard thing to do during the initial flight scenes.

Here's one of the notable things about this movie. After the initial flight scene, Brant jumps into a pool to hide, and we get a rare shot of underwater filming. In this still, he's breathing through a hollow reed while one of the posse almost steps on him but doesn't see him. Underwater shots like this may have already been not-so-unusual if you were Johnny Weissmuller doing a Tarzan flick in the 30s, but I don't think you see it very often in old westerns.

This shot really surprised me. The posse couldn't spot him, but they were pretty sure that he was in the pool, so they started shooting into the water. That line of bubbles is from a bullet zipping down through the water right in front of his face. This seems, to me, to be an unusually graphic and realistic depiction for such a movie and such a time. It's a wonder it didn't give someone on the National Board of Review the vapors.

Another notable moment. Yakima Canutt was a stunt man, and later a stunt coordinator. He served as John Wayne's stunt double in many of these old movies. He started out a rodeo cowboy and got a part as an extra thanks to Tom Mix, then moved into the stunt business. He is the man who staged and directed the chariot race in Ben Hur. His bio at imdb says he was "the most famous and respected stuntman of all time." This is one of the few movies in which he has an actual speaking character role. He plays the unnamed outlaw gang leader who is ultimately the enemy of Brant and the friendly outlaw Jones.

Chariot race, anyone? When the stagecoach that Jones is driving spills over a bluff, everything breaks away except for the front wheels. Brant jumps on for no apparent reason other than to create this darn impressive footage of someone riding the wheels while being pulled by a bunch of horses. I'm guessing Canutt doubled for Wayne in this scene.

There really wasn't much development in this movie, romantic or otherwise, but that didn't stop Brant from planting a big on one Sally at the conclusion. Like I said, this was her only film. I don't know what ever became of her, but I like to think she got a kick out of telling her grandkids "I once kissed John Wayne."

Source: Western Classics 50 Movie Pack Collection
Runtime: 54 minutes
Amazon Search: Sagebrush Trail


  1. Yakima Canutt is a name I haven't heard in a while; he practically invented stuntmen. Another actor who started as a a stuntman was the late Ben Johnson; he was a double for John Wayne, Gary Cooper, and Randolph Scott before becoming an actor in his own right.

  2. I'll have more of him next week.