DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

SAGA OF DEATH VALLEY (director: Joe Kane; screenwriters: story by Karen De Wolf/Karen De Wolf/ Stuart Anthony; cinematographer: Jack Marta; editor: Lester Orlebeck; music: Cy Feuer; cast: Roy Rogers (himself), Gabby Hayes (Gabby), Doris Day (Ann Meredith), Frank M. Thomas (Ed Tasker), Don 'Red' Barry (Tim aka Jerry), Lane Chandler (Roy's Father), Jack Ingram (Brace), Lew Kelly (Meredith), Hal Taliaferro (Rex), Tommy Baker (Roy as a boy), Buz Buckley (Tim as a boy), Fern Emmett (Miss Minnie), Hooper Atchley (Dr. Ward); Runtime: 53; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Joe Kane; Mill Creek Entertainment; 1939)

"There's a good action-packed shoot-out in Death Valley for the climax, that suits this B-Western just dandy--by persnickety."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Joe Kane  ("Duel at Apache Wells"/"Dakota"/"Flame of Barbary") directs this briskly paced revenge Western starring Roy Rogers with a good grip on the material at hand. It's based on a story by Karen De Wolf and the Republic picture is crisply written by De Wolf and Stuart Anthony. There's a good action-packed shoot-out in Death Valley for the climax, that suits this B-Western just dandy--by persnickety. The Death Valley here is not the famous one, but a frictional area (it was filmed at Lone Pine, California in the foothills of the Sierras).

The pic opens with rancher Roy Rogers (Lane Chandler) killed in cold-blood outside his porch by the vile rancher rival Ed Tasker (Frank M. Thomas), after Rogers refuses to falsify an assayer's report on water rights. Tasker and his henchman Brace (Jack Ingram) snatch Rogers' youngest toddler son Tim (Buz Buckley) because he's the only eyewitness, while dad's older schoolboy son Roy (Tommy Baker), who was singing and chatting with his neighbor's schoolgirl Ann Meredith in the backyard, arrives late at the crime scene to find his dead father and kid brother missing.

The film picks up fifteen years later, in 1895, and the rundown Circle R ranch has a new young owner from Wyoming, who goes by the name Roy Reynolds but is really Roy Rogers as an adult and has returned looking to avenge his father's death and reunite with his neighbor's grand-daughter Ann (Doris Day, not the one you're thinking of). Meanwhile Tim (Don 'Red' Barry) has been raised to be an outlaw by the ruthless Tasker, whom he obediently calls uncle and is not told about his parents. The unsuspecting lad has a name change to Jerry. This Jerry is quite a violent young cuss, who collects money from the ranchers for Tasker's Mafia-like protection racket and enforces the payment to uncle's unfair water bill. In one raid, Jerry kills Ann's elderly grandfather (Lew Kelly), a raid to teach the other ranchers a lesson of whose boss in the Valley. But his gang is wiped out when Roy has formed as a response to Tasker's reign of terror a vigilante group from among his cowhands and with his fighting mad foreman Gabby (George 'Gabby' Hayes) prevent further rustling while his identity as the vigilante head is kept secret. Though Roy captures Jerry, after the Meredith murder, something tells him not to kill him and he lets him go (it's like he's a mystic or maybe he saw the pic before and knows the nasty dude is his unfortunate kid brother).

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

When Tasker panics and tries to blow-up the dam to take away the ranchers water in the Valley, the vigilantes kill off all his remaining men and in a confrontation with Roy in the office of his saloon, Jerry finds out that Roy's his brother. Before Tasker can escape, Roy's brother kills him but takes a fatal bullet from the bad uncle and dies cradled in Roy's forgiving arms.

REVIEWED ON 8/26/2013       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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