This is the most enjoyable "B" Western I'd seen in quite awhile. It is fast-paced, mostly light-hearted yet doesn't stint on the serious implications of the dramatic sequences; it makes you feel and believe the human tragedies that would occur if town boss Bender (Ward Bond, marvelously effective and subtle as smooth-talking and thoughtful villain) were to be successful at bankrupting his fellow townspeople, paving the future railroad towns with the rubes' broken dreams. John Wayne was starting to solidify the nucleus of the stock company of supporting actors he would make many movies with in the future (on hand besides Bond are Paul Fix, Walter Brennan, Grant Withers, Olin Howard, Bruce Cabot, and Mike Mazurki.<br/><br/>Wayne is perfectly cast as the rough-and-tumble gambler who falls for railroad heiress Vera Rhuba Ralston, much to father Hugo Haas' chagrin who is a rather slick and powerful operator himself. The twist here is that Ralston is as cunning and devious as her Dad and new husband combined, and is continually effective in steering things in the direction she wants them to flow. Not normally a Ralston fan, I thought she played the role with flair, attractiveness, and a perfect energy level. She doesn't have the on-screen chemistry with Wayne that Maureen O'Hara or Gail Russell later did, but when your husband owns the studio, you don't want to allow the chemistry to get too real-looking. Ona Munson as "Jersey" is hotter and makes both her scenes memorable. Walter Brennan is perfectly cast as a persnickety riverboat captain, and Nick Stewart provides able comic assistance as his blunt first mate(Racially stereotyped, of course, but still very funny, and not at all demeaning if you look at it objectively). Bond and Mazurki are excellent as the deceptive villains. Fix and Withers are professional and provide subtle special touches as Bond's hired guns.<br/><br/>Given the budget and the generally pedestrian record of Director Kane, this is actually a surprisingly well made. My demands/expectations of this oater were small when I tuned it in on the Encore Western channel. I was looking for a fast-paced, check-your-brains-at-the-door oater to have on in the background as I picked up around the apartment. Instead, not only is it tautly directed, fast-paced, wry, and well-acted, but it has an extremely well-crafted adapted screenplay from Carl ("High Noon") Foreman. The insights conveyed by the script, even including some of the background and "throwaway" lines, are literate and register long after the lines have passed.<br/><br/>Overall, this movie can be recommended on many levels. Deapite it's quite modest roots, it is a durable, high-spirited, well-acted, and well-directed oater that also is exceptionally well-written. Not the type of title that will impress your art-house buddies, unless they accept your challenge and actually watch it before they write it off. Those actually watch it are in for special treats.
In 1871, professional gambler John Devlin elopes with Sandra "Sandy" Poli, daughter of Marko Poli, an immigrant who has risen to railroad tycoon. Sandy, knowing that the railroad is to be extended into Dakota, plans to use their $20,000 nest egg to buy land options to sell to the railroad at a profit. On the stage trip to Ft. Abercrombie, their fellow passengers are Jim Bender and Bigtree Collins, who practically own the town of Fargo and Devlin is aware that they are prepared to protect the little empire... trying to drive out the farmers by burning their property, destroying their wheat, and blaming the devastation on the Indians. Continuing their journey north on the river aboard the "River Bird', Sandy and John meet Captain Bounce, an irascible old seafarer. Two of Bendender's henchmen, Slagin and Carp, board the boat and relieve John of his $20,000 at gunpoint. Captain Bounce, chasing the robber's dinghy, wrecks his boat on a sandbar. At Fargo, the land wars begin and John teams ...
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