Thursday, February 19, 2015

Heck, RKO made the best Westerns as well!

Last week, I gave an example of one of the many superb Film Noirs produced at RKO during the 1940s and 1950s.

Well, RKO was no slouch in the B-Western department either. Take a look, for instance, at the series starring Tim Holt--40 or so Westerns produced between 1938 and 1952. (And that's with time off to become a decorated combat veteran during World War II. As well as time off from B-movies to appear in supporting parts in A-films such as My Darling Clementine and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.)

Holt is very likable on screen and, despite a perpetually youthful appearance, can come across quite believably as a tough guy when the situation calls for it.

For most of the series, Holt technically played a different character in each movie. At least his name is different, though he dresses very similarly and nearly always has a Mexican/Irish sidekick named Chito Rafferty (played by Richard Martin). Late in the series, the tradition of naming the hero after the actor was adapted.

In the 1948 film Indian Agent, Holt is Dave Taylor. He and Chito are escorting a train of freight wagons bringing food to an Indian reservation. What Taylor doesn't know is that the food never actually gets from the warehouse at which he leaves it to the Indians. Along the way, the freighter and a corrupt Indian agent conspire to forge some receipts, then send the food on to a mining camp where it can be sold at a high profit.

Taylor and Chito get a hint of the situation when an Indian mother leaves her baby at their ranch--that's her only option to allowing the baby to starve. From there, the situation expands until Taylor is framed for tying to kill the chief of the tribe, then later framed for actually killing the corrupt agent. He's forced to figure out the plot and expose it in order to clear his own name.

Taylor gets to proof that when the going gets tough, he can be tough as well. His plan to get the villain to confess near the end of the film is actually a bit on the brutal side.

Indian Agent gives us a good, strong story. It's well directed by B-Western veteran Lesley Selander, making good use of location photography and giving us several great action set pieces. There is arguably a weak point--a pretty female newspaper editor is introduced as an ally of Taylor, but she really doesn't get a chance to contribute much to the story. Oh, well, she is at least real purty to look at.

Richard Martin's character of Chito Rafferty deserves special mention. Martin first played the character in the 1943 film Bombardier. Chito was then teleported back in time to appear in the 1944 Western Nevada, which I wrote about a few years ago. Chito then became Tim Holt's regular sidekick.

Comedic sidekicks can be a weak link in many serials and B-movies. If they're not funny enough, they just take up space in the film without contributing anything. If they're funny but not useful to the hero in dealing with the bad guys, then you start to wonder why the hero drags him along. (Though the idea of the hero keeping his friend around just because he's a friend is appealing in its own right.)

The right balance is for the sidekick to be funny AND be useful to the hero. Chito Rafferty strikes that balance properly and becomes another reason why Tim Holt's Westerns are so entertaining.

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