Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: The Return of Wild Bill

THE RETURN OF WILD BILL is another adventure for "that easy-going stick of dynamite", as one of the characters refers to Wild Bill Saunders, played by Wild Bill Elliott. No matter what the name, Elliott's characters were mostly the same, affable good guys who liked to proclaim, "I'm a peaceable man," just before beating the crap out of some bad guy. In this one, he's summoned home to discover that a gang of vigilantes led by two brothers are framing local settlers for various crimes so they can hang the victims of the scheme and then seize their land. When Wild Bill's father is killed, you know he's going to settle the score and bring the villains to justice.

On the surface, a pretty typical B-Western plot, but there are some things that set THE RETURN OF WILD BILL apart. For one, it's based on a story by Walt Coburn, one of the best Western pulp authors. His novella "The Block K Rides Tonight" was published in the July 1939 issue of STAR WESTERN and served as the basis for this Wild Bill Elliott vehicle a year later. The movie dispenses with most of the psychological complexity you always find in a Walt Coburn yarn, but there are echoes of it in the romantic triangle involving Elliott's character; Iris Meredith, playing the pretty but bland and prissy daughter of a rancher; and sultry "bad girl" Luana Walters, playing the sister of the villainous brothers. There's no doubt who I was rooting for in this competition. Walters' character is a lot deeper and more interesting.

Another reason to watch THE RETURN OF WILD BILL is that it was directed by Joseph H. Lewis, better known for the classic low-budget film noir GUN CRAZY. Lewis directed quite a few Westerns as well and has a sure hand with the action scenes, making them exciting and giving them a few dark edges as well.

Elliott is as likable and effective as always, and the limited presence of Dub "Cannonball" Taylor, one of my least favorite Western sidekicks, doesn't really prove annoying this time around. If you're a fan of Elliott, Coburn, or B-Westerns in general, THE RETURN OF WILD BILL is definitely worth watching. (A tip of the Stetson to Steve Mertz for his help with this post.)


Bill Crider said...

I always enjoyed Elliott's movies. Love that blurb: "Drilling Daylight Through Killers!"

Walker Martin said...

I like the Bill Elliott westerns also. I also recently watched a dvd box set of his last 5 films, 1955-1957. It's called Bill Elliott Detective Mysteries. He plays a detective working for the sheriff's office. You can see the influence of Dragnet. Warner Archive has it.

Rittster said...

Here's a link for the five films in the Elliott detective series: