Need another flick for the Bad Movie of the Week column. Where to turn? Oh, yes! How about the Classic Movie file on Hulu? How about an old John Wayne movie? How about any John Wayne movie? There is a God in Heaven. Here, mined from Hulu’s sacred vault, is The Lucky Texan, from 1934 by Monogram Pictures. What a beaut!
This came during John Wayne’s season of low-budget westerns. He considered he must have played in about 80 of these until his break-out role with Stagecoach in 1939. During this time he honed his talents and paid his dues. The result is a mother-lode of candidates for BMotW.
There is a colorized version, but these screen shots are from the original monochrome. For some reason Hulu does not have the title sequence. The movie opens abruptly with a large cowboy riding up on an equally big white horse. He greets an old-timer, Jake Benson (“Gabby” Hayes). He is Jerry Mason (Wayne), returned from college and ready to become partners, as previously arranged.
This is an OK story, with enough skew in the plot to give it some interest. It bags a welcome amount of comedy, some of it unintentional. But here is the story.
Jerry and Jake go into business together. They have the ranch and additionally a blacksmith shop in the town. Jake removes a stone from a prospector’s horse, and a stray dog, wondering into the shop, picks up the stone with his mouth. It turns out to be gold-bearing quartz, and the dog becomes a permanent adoptee. Jerry and Jake retrace the prospector’s route and discover a creek laden with gold nuggets. They keep the find secret and begin to harvest the gold.
Bad news. They take the gold to an assayer’s office to redeem it, but the two operators, Harris and Cole (Lloyd Whitlock and Yakima Canutt), are crooks, having already conceived a plan to swindle Jake out of his ranch. They take an inordinate interest in the source of the gold. Viewers will be interested to know that Canutt was a professional movie stunt man, and he mentored John Wayne’s early career, teaching him riding and other cowboy western skills.
But first, there is a break in the action. Jake’s granddaughter Betty (Barbara Sheldon) is returning from college and will join them to run the ranch household. Things are looking up for Jerry. But here’s what’s crucial. Jerry and Jake have been paid off in bills for their gold, and one of the greenbacks is torn. Jerry patches the bill with the gummed flap from Betty’s letter.
Later, the sheriff’s son, Al Miller (Eddie Parker) conks the banker in his office and steals the cash Jake just paid to settle the ranch mortgage. The crime is pinned on Jake. But the bill with the envelope flap stuck on is a dead giveaway when Miller starts spending some of his hard stolen cash.
A street fight ensues, so obviously faked. Even in those days you could not pay an actor enough money to allow John Wayne’s fist to make real contact.
Miller recovers from the beating and steals a horse, riding out of town. Jerry steals another horse and gives pursuit. It’s one of those senseless chases that adds nothing to the plot, but does burn enough celluloid to help stretch this to over 53 minutes.
Jerry attempts the old “pull up alongside and drag him off his horse” trick. That fails miserably, and Jerry goes tumbling down a steep incline. He recovers, and gives chase in the oddest way. He encounters a water sluice of some sort and from all appearances skates downstream for a considerable distance before exiting and waylaying Miller further along the trail. Unbelievable!
Harris and Cole follow through with their scheme to sucker punch Jake. They bushwhack him out on the trail, leaving him for dead. But the two bumblers are unable to steal Jake’s mule, which animal returns to town, alerting people that something has happened to Jake. Also, wonder dog Friday is instructed by Jake to go get help. Friday fetches Jerry, who recovers Jake and the gold he was carrying.
Now comes the critical plot device. Jerry, Jake, and Betty make a pact to not reveal that Jake is alive. They are going to spring a trap on Harris and Cole. When Jerry brings the gold into town to redeem it at the bank, the crooks accuse him of the crime.
Betty alerts Jake, and the two plan a surprise. Jake was an actor in a previous life, and he shows up at Jerry’s court hearing in drag disguise. He claims to be Veronica Benson, Jake’s closest (very close) relative. With attendant comedy, Jake reveals himself in court and points the finger at the two crooks.
The cooks make their getaway out the courtroom window, and a Keystone Cops chase ensues. Here is Jake crossing the tracks in a 1915 vintage automobile, nearly cutting off the crooks on their stolen railway maintenance car.
Of course, Jerry and Jake bring the crooks in to justice, and of course there is matrimony in the future for Jerry and Betty. Not to be indelicate, but when the two stand together, Betty’s pretty head does not even reach up to Jerry’s shoulders. She is going to be in for a big surprise on her wedding night.
There is an additional jolt in this plot I did not mention. Jake is arrested for conking and robbing the banker. He is confined to the slammer. Jerry needs to take action. He rides immediately to the ranch. Betty has just arrived, and they meet for the first time. Jerry rides back to town. What was Jerry’s purpose in riding out to the ranch? I’m guessing the plot required for Jerry to meet Betty about this time, so Jerry needed to ride out to the ranch to make this happen. Possibly there was more to the plot in an early version, but that part got clipped. We may never know.