Since I posted about my Buck Jones/Bela Lugosi story yesterday, I thought it would be appropriate if I watched a Buck Jones movie and made a few comments about it. (I would have watched a Lugosi movie, too, but I don’t have one handy. Maybe next week.)
DAWN ON THE GREAT DIVIDE is a particularly poignant Buck Jones movie to watch, because it was the last one he made before he was killed in the famous Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston. In fact, this film hadn’t been released yet when Buck died.
Although it wasn’t promoted as such when it came out, DAWN ON THE GREAT DIVIDE is actually part of the Rough Riders series, a series of B-Westerns Buck made for Monogram Pictures co-starring Colonel Tim McCoy and Raymond Hatton. McCoy isn’t in this one, having gone back on active duty in the military during the buildup to World War II. (The rank of colonel wasn’t honorary; McCoy was the genuine article and is worthy of a few blog posts devoted to him one of these days.) Jones and Hatton are on hand, though, playing their usual roles of Buck Roberts and Sandy Hopkins. McCoy’s place was taken by a mostly forgotten Western star named Rex Bell.
In the other Rough Riders movies, the trio are U.S. Marshals, but in DAWN ON THE GREAT DIVIDE they’re wagon train scouts, with no mention being made of any law enforcement connections. The plot is nothing special. It’s the old “white outlaws masquerading as Indians to raid the wagon trains” bit. (I once wrote a book using Livia’s suggestion that I have a group of Indians masquerading as white outlaws. It made a pretty good twist.) Several things make DAWN ON THE GREAT DIVIDE worth watching. The production values are good, with a lot of location shooting and not much stock footage. The script is unexpectedly rich in characterization when it comes to some of the people traveling on the wagon train, giving them more depth than you usually find in a B-Western. A lot of familiar faces populate the supporting cast: Tristam Coffin as a shady character trying to reform, Harry Woods as the main villain, the great Roy Barcroft as Woods’ main henchman and the one who engages in the final shootout with Buck, and Bud Osborne as another henchman. These are like old friends to B-Western fans.
Then there’s Buck himself, who by this stage of his career was an elder statesman of the genre and invests his role as Buck Roberts with the appropriate gravitas and dignity. He was never the most polished actor, but he had a great screen presence. I have several more of his movies on hand and look forward to watching them soon. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a good solid B-Western, DAWN ON THE GREAT DIVIDE is a fine example.