Thursday, April 7, 2011

It's based on a book--sort of

Not long ago, I watched the 1944 Western Nevada, which featured a young Robert Mitchum in his first leading role.

It's a pretty good Western. Mitchum's character (nicknamed Nevada) is falsely accused of robbery and murder. With the help of his two sidekicks, he proves his innocence and uncovers a scheme by the real bad guy to cheat miners out of their claims.

What stood out for me about this film were the two sidekicks. A weakness that occasionally pops up in B-movies are comic-relief sidekicks who aren't that funny and serve no real purpose to the plot. You sometimes wonder why the heck the hero hangs out with this guy.

But here Nevada's two sidekicks are a lot of fun. A beefy character actor named Guinn "Big Boy" Williams plays Dusty, while Richard Martin plays an Irish-Mexican cowboy named Chito Jose Gonzalez Bustamante Rafferty. They actually do generate some laughs and they are very, very useful to the hero. They save Nevada from a lynch mob at one point by running an impromptu con on the mob. Later, they improvise another quick con to trick a gambler who hates Nevada into providing vital information. They really seem like they're fun to hang out with.

Martin, by the way, had played Chito Rafferty a year earlier as a gunner in the movie Bombardier. A few years later, he brought the character back for a total of over two dozen Westerns, usually as sidekick to actor Tim Holt.

Anyway, the movie was based on a 1928 Zane Grey novel. I've downloaded a file of over 40 of Grey's Westerns on my Kindle and I was curious to how close the film followed the original book. So I read it.

Well, the book features a main character nicknamed Nevada and both stories have the girl thinking the hero is a bad guy for a time.

But that's pretty much as far as it goes. The book is a sequel to a 1927 novel called Forlorn River, in which Nevada had forsaken a criminal past, fallen in love and whacked the bad guys to save his girl and his best friend.

In Nevada, he's on his own again, convinced he can never live down his past enough to marry the girl. But, not surprisingly, their paths cross again--just as Nevada is pretending to return to the life of a criminal in order to smoke out some rustlers.

It's a good story in its own right, though I think Grey sometimes gets a little too melodramatic in his prose. But the filmmakers at RKO pretty much went with an original script, keeping Zane Grey's name to promote the film.

But it really doesn't matter. Nevada (the film) is a good B-Western. Nevada (the book) is a good Western novel. Both serve their purposes.

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