The Texas Rangers (1936) is a true “Hollywood” western. Co-written, produced and directed by King Vidor, The Texas Rangers is supposed to be a depiction of life as a Texas Ranger. Instead it paints a picture of how we want to think of the Rangers, much like the difference between the telling of Wyatt Earp’s life in Tombstone (1994) and Wyatt Earp (1994). (One film is filled with action packed excitement and the other paints a truer and realistic version of his life.) That’s not to say that The Texas Rangers isn’t a good film; in fact it’s exactly the opposite. It’s entertaining and well made, just slightly sugar-coated.
Jim Hawkins (Fred MacMurray) and “Polka Dot” McGee (Lloyd Nolan) are bandits who specialize in stagecoach robberies. They are teamed up with “Wahoo” Jones (Jack Oakie), who gets hired as a stagecoach driver and then tips off his partners about worthwhile shipments that are coming through. Jim and “Polka Dot” hold up “Wahoo” (who obviously never puts up a fight), and the bandits get away easily. “Wahoo” pretends to be outraged and he goes in search of the bandits, and the three men promptly meet up and head on to the next territory for another score.
The groups of bandits get separated after a posse hunts them down, and Jim and “Wahoo” end up in Texas not knowing what happened to “Polka Dot”. They try to pull the same scam there, but in Texas there is always a Ranger accompanying the important stagecoaches. The only sensible solution to their problem is to join the Rangers, under Major Bailey (Edwad Ellis), and steal the shipments they are supposed to be protecting. While waiting for their next big score, Jim and “Wahoo” learn that their old friend “Polka Dot” is still alive and doing well for himself. They all meet and decide that its best to keep pretending to be Rangers while “Polka Dot” continues to reek havoc on the territory, and Jim and “Wahoo” pretend to be searching for him.
There are two problems with their plan. First, Jim develops a loving attachment to Major Bailey’s daughter, Amanda (Jean Parker). Second, Jim and “Wahoo” both grow a conscience and loyalty to the Rangers, and to Texas.
The Texas Rangers is a solid western film. Loyalty, revenge and love once again make for an enjoyable story. It’s well acted, visually stunning and highly entertaining from start to finish. King Vidor shows off his abilities as a director with immense numbers of extras in his amazingly extensive, and careful planned, battle sequences.
Fred MacMurray is not my favorite western star. At this early stage in his career he seems better suited for the screwball comedies that he was making with Carole Lombard. It seems odd because he continuously plays the laid back characters that seem to fit well into westerns, but in The Texas Rangers there is no room for comedic dialogue, and that is where he would have been able to shine.
When I think about the career of King Vidor, lots of movies come to mind. The Big Parade (1925), The Crowd (1928), The Champ (1931), Stella Dallas (1937) and even those beautiful black and white scenes in Kansas from The Wizard Of Oz (1939). I rarely think of him as being a great western director, but after seeing The Texas Rangers, and considering my love for Duel In The Sun (1946), I think it might be time to hunt down some more of Vidor’s lesser known western films. (Has anyone seen Northwest Passage (1940) with Spencer Tracy?)
I bought The Texas Rangers in a four film western set because of my unending love for westerns and because, well, it was cheap. Perhaps it’s too much to think that the other three films will be as good, but here’s hoping!Back to Home for More Reviews