Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Overlooked Movies: To the Last Man (1933)


I’ve never read the Zane Grey novel on which this movie is based, so I can’t say whether or not it’s a faithful adaptation. But taken on its own merits, it’s a pretty good early Western that I’d never seen until now. The story involves two feuding families, the mostly respectable Haydens and the mostly no-good Colbys, who move from Kentucky to Nevada after the Civil War. Jed Colby, the patriarch of his clan, spent fifteen years in prison for shooting a Hayden, and he sets out to get his revenge by rustling all the stock from the Hayden ranch before he wipes them out.

Mostly, though, it’s a Romeo-and-Juliet yarn, with a very young, and at this stage of his career rather wooden, Randolph Scott playing Lynn Hayden, who falls for Ellen Colby, the daughter of his family’s arch-enemy. Ellen is played by an actress I’d never heard of, Esther Ralston, and she pretty much steals the movie with her portrayal of a beautiful but badass frontier girl. Evidently Ralston had a long and successful career in silent films but played mostly supporting roles once the talkies came in. That’s a shame, because she’s great in this one.

Elsewhere in the cast, the main villains are played by Jack La Rue and Noah Beery Sr. La Rue, who usually played evil gangsters, is an evil cowboy in this movie and is thoroughly despicable. Barton MacLane, Fuzzy Knight, and an also very young Buster Crabbe are members of the Hayden family, as is an uncredited Shirley Temple. John Carradine is supposed to be in the movie, too, in one of those blink-and-you-missed-it roles, and I must have blinked.

There’s a lot of action in TO THE LAST MAN, and it’s well-staged by director Henry Hathaway, with some good stunt and miniature work. Since this is a pre-Code movie, the action is rather bleak and brutal at times, and we get a couple of flashes of nudity, too, in a skinny-dipping scene with Ralston.

I enjoyed this film quite a bit. If you’re interested in early Westerns, it’s well worth watching.

5 comments:

Fred Blosser said...

James, a copy of the movie is posted on YouTube. John Carradine and Noah Beery Sr. are the two feudists who shoot the grandpa from ambush early in the movie (the 4:57-5:07 mark on the YouTube print). The novel was based on the Pleasant Valley War between cattle ranchers and sheepherders in Arizona. As I recall from reading the book long ago, the stuff about the feud originating in Kentucky was added in by the scriptwriters.

James Reasoner said...

Thanks, Fred. I remember that scene but never noticed that the other guy was Carradine. Since I have it on DVD, I may watch that scene again.

Cap'n Bob said...

I*'m pretty sure I saw this many years ago.

R.T. said...

Fair enough. You haven't read the ZG novel on which the movie is based. But I ask you fr your handful of ZG recommendations. I've not read the genre, but I'd like to sample some the best, so I turn to you for advice.

James Reasoner said...

I haven't read a lot of Zane Grey in recent years, but I remember I liked THE LOST WAGON TRAIN, NEVADA, DESERT GOLD, WESTERN UNION, and THE U.P. TRAIL. Grey's work is not at all representative of the Western genre as it's existed in the past 70 or so years, though. It's very much of its time, with a lot of melodrama and what we'd consider overwriting now. However, if I'm in the right mood, I still enjoy his books.