Thursday, May 22, 2014

Cowboy Heroes Come in Sets of Three

During the 1930s and 1940s, both Republic Pictures and Monogram Pictures  often operated under the theory that if one cowboy hero is awesome, then three cowboy heroes working together would have to triple the inherent awesomeness of a movie. Though in practice, it was often two heroes and one mildly useful comic relief.

Republic, for instance, produced 51 movies featuring the Three Mesquiteers, one of which I wrote about awhile back.  This series ran long enough to see a number of actors play the trio of heroes. A pre-Stagecoach John Wayne played one of the Mesquiteers for a few films, while B-movie and serial stalwarts Tom Tyler and Crash Corrigan also appeared in the series. The Mesquiteers were traditional cowboys, but the series often blended in more modern elements into the stories--telephones, automobiles and so on. In the B-movie and serial universe, the Old West remained the Old West well into the 20th Century. Heck, the boys were corralling Nazi spies in some of the later entries.

When Corrigan jumped over the Monogram, he did 20 of the 24 "Range Busters" films along with Max Terhune (another former Mesquiteer) and Dusty King. The one I've most recently seen is 1942's Arizona Stagecoach (I watched it last May while in South Sudan) and it was a good, solid B-Western. Most of the Range Buster stories were clearly set in the 19th Century Old West, but a couple of 1943 entries jumped ahead to modern day so that they could also battle Nazis.

Monogram also had Bob Steele, Ken Maynard and Hoot Gibson as the Trail Blazers in an 8-film series
(though Steele wasn't in the first one and Maynard wasn't in the last two). Both the Trail Blazers and the Range Busters, by the way, had the actors playing the heroes using their own names. So Bob Steele is playing "Bob Steele," while Crash Corrigan is playing "Crash Corrigan."

Then we come to the Rough Riders, with Buck Jones, Tim McCoy and Ray Hatton roping in bad guys for 8 films. This is the only series in which the same actors stuck it out for the entire run. It's also arguably the best of the Monograms. Jones and McCoy both had had long careers as cowboy heroes in both silent and sound films. This series (which ended only when Jones died) revived both of their careers--both actors were likable and the stories were constructed well enough to give them both a chance to be clever and heroic. Ray Hatton
provided some pretty good comic relief.

Their characters, by the way, were Buck Roberts, Tim McCall and Sandy Hopkins--so they didn't go the "same name as the actor" route that the other Monogram series used. The names were kind of close to to the actors, though, weren't they?

Gunman from Bodie (1941) is the second of the Rough Rider films. In it, Buck Jones is working undercover with a band of rustlers, while Tim McCoy is a marshal who is supposedly hunting him. Of course, it's all a ploy designed to not just round up the rustlers, but smoke out the crooked businessmen behind the crime wave. The ending it a bit anti-climatic, but it's a fun movie nonetheless.

I want to acknowledge the wonderful site as the source for fact-checking this post and providing me with a place to steal images.


  1. Great essay, Tim. I learned a lot and hope to see all these movie series someday.

    I will try and slip under the barn door a charge that the Hopalong Cassidy films fall into this "sets of three" category, as Hoppy was almost invariably aided and abetted by a pair of sidekicks, one older and one younger.

    You mention Bob Steele, a favorite of those old programmers. As much as I love F Troop, it's always sad to see Steele so underutilized.

    1. Gary, thanks for the comment. I would actually accept your argument about Hoppy's films. Though not marketed as a "trio" Western, it does fit the criteria.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...