Tuesday, July 03, 2018
Overlooked Movies: Death Rides the Range (1939)
From everything I've read about him, Ken Maynard was a pretty terrible human being, an alcoholic and abusive to people and animals alike. But that didn't stop him from being a fairly major star of B-Western movies for about a decade, from the mid-1920s when he started in silent films to the mid-Thirties, when his problematic attitude began making it impossible for him to get work except at some of the Poverty Row studios, like Colony Pictures, which produced DEATH RIDES THE RANGE in 1939.
In this one, Maynard plays drifting cowpoke Ken Baxter (his characters were nearly always named Ken), who is camping one evening with his sidekicks Panhandle and Pancho when a badly injured man stumbles into their camp. It turns out he's a scientist, a member of a group of foreign archeologists who are supposed to be studying Indian artifacts on a nearby ranch.
Well, you know there has to be more to it than that, like maybe the "archeologists" are really agents of a foreign power (since it's 1939 and one of the agents is a tall, aristocratic blond guy called Baron Starkoff, you only get one guess what that foreign power is) and they're after a deposit of helium under the ranch. There are a few other twists, but I won't go into them in case some of you actually watch this movie someday.
By this point, Maynard was fairly paunchy, but he could still handle an action scene and do some good riding on his famous horse Tarzan. Why would a cowboy name his horse Tarzan? I have no idea. Ubiquitous B-Western bad guy Charles King is also on hand, and the movie was directed by equally ubiquitous B-movie director Sam Newfield. So you should have a pretty good idea what you're getting in DEATH RIDES THE RANGE. I found it entertaining enough to spend an hour watching it. Sometimes that's all you want.