This title shot explains how I came to review this movie. The name of the movie is Albuquerque, which is the most prominent city in New Mexico. But the scenery is nowhere near Albuquerque; rather it’s in another state, Arizona. Specifically the scenery is from Sedona, where I was all of last week. In the town there is a series of plaques along a scenic walk, each one explaining something of the local culture. One plaque lists all the movies filmed in the region, and one of these is this, based on a book by Luke Short. The movie came out in 1948 and is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.
But first viewers are treated to more of that famous Red Rock scenery, for which Sedona is famous. This is Bell Rock, a sandstone formation, several hundred feet tall, which stands alongside Highway 179. A few years ago Jim Eng and I went about 200 feet up, where we obtained some fantastic photos.
More of the Red Rock scenery as we see a stage coach heading toward Sedona, rather, towards Albuquerque.
The opening scene introduces one of the most colorful characters to grace western movies during my childhood. Here is George “Gabby” Hayes as Juke, the driver and also a top notch mule skinner. For the uninformed, “mule skinner” means driver of mule teams.
Tragedy strikes quickly as three gunmen stage a holdup. Cole has been entertaining fellow passengers, including the striking Celia Wallace (Catherine Craig). But Cole is without his weapon, and he has to surrender meekly as the bandits take Celia’s money ($20,000) and shoot one of the passengers. There follows a dramatic scene where the flurry of gunfire spooks the horses, and the coach goes tearing off along the desert road with a young girl, Karolyn Grimes as Myrtle Walton, trapped inside. Cole borrows a loose horse and overtakes the coach, saving the day for all but the dead passenger.
Cole’s life as a hero is short. When the remains of the stage coach run arrives in Albuquerque, and Cole discloses his kinship with John Armin, a decided chill sets in. John Armin has a reputation as a ruthless, even criminal, businessman. When the local sheriff, Ed Linton (Bernard Nedell) shows a lack of interest in catching the culprits, Cole’s suspicion grows. It turns out the sheriff works for John Armin.
John Armin is an old man, confined to a wheel chair, and needing a younger man, such as his nephew, to take over and run his freight hauling business. Also working for Armin is the brutish gun slinger Steve Murkil (Lon Chaney, Jr.), billed as “Lon Chaney” in the titles.
Cole quickly figures out he does not want to work for his uncle, and he throws in his lot with sweet Celia’s brother, Ted Wallace (Russell Hayden), who runs a rival freight business. When the Wallace freight business begins to show some competition, John Armin brings in outside help in the form of the smashing Letty Tyler (Barbara Britton). Letty arrives on the coach and proceeds immediately to the offices of the Wallace freight company, where she comes upon Ted being robbed by a masked man with a gun. Letty immediately whips her own weapon from her handy purse, and gets off two shots, scaring the bandit away. She is awarded with a job at the Wallace company. Not known, but ultimately suspected by Cole, is that Letty’s pistol was loaded with blanks.
As a plant for Armin, Letty brings him inside information on his competition.
But one part of that information leads to an attempt to bushwhack Ted, who suffers a disabling wound to the leg. Letty has gone sweet on Ted, and she ultimately unloads the details to Cole. I’m cutting out a chunk of plot detail and getting to the crux.
The Wallace company bids on a contract to carry ore from an isolated mine in them there mountains, and Armin sends along one of his plants as one of the drivers. The shipment comprises ten loads and ten drivers, and when the Armin guy arrives at the mine he hightails it back to town on a horse, previously stashed for the purpose. Cole must take the place of the absent driver, and he is not actually a mule skinner.
The route down the mountain is treacherous, and Cole’s wagon has been sabotaged. On the steep road the brake must be applied constantly, and somebody has cut partly through the brake lever with a saw. When Cole pulls harder on the brake lanyard, the lever snaps, and there are tense moments before Cole hauls out his trusty bull whip to snag the remaining part of the lever and apply the brake.
Getting down from the mountain is only part of the hazard. Armin prepares his cadre of gunslingers to ambush and annihilate the Wallace company when the wagons arrive in town. Letty gets wise to the scheme, and she makes Armin a deal he cannot refuse. She comes behind him as he prepares to watch the shootout from his office window, and she places her pistol, now with live ammunition, at the back of his head. The moment the shooting starts she is going to pull the trigger.
But Letty has alerted Ted and Cole of the ambush, and the drivers arrive in town with their load and also with their own men hidden in one of the wagons. There is one massive shootout in the streets of Albuquerque, and the Armin gang is wiped out. After the smoke clears they find Armin slumped in his wheelchair with a hole in his head.
It’s wedding bells for two of the couples, and the movie ends happily, along with this improbable plot.
Big complaint: Amazon’s copy of this video does not play well. Inadequate rendering of the video stream results in low quality video. Most apparent is the smearing of images containing motion.
It’s interesting to compare a move with the book that was its basis. The book is Luke Short’s Dead Freight for Piute, and I obtained a copy for comparison. Nowhere in the book does the word “Albuquerque” appear. So much for realism. Of course, the book does not mention Sedona.
A practice I have observed previously involves a movie studio acquiring the rights to a book, throwing away the plot, and retaining the title. This may not be the case here. I have not read the book, but the opening pages are encouraging. The book starts with Cole and Celia on the coach to somewhere, and bandits rob Celia of her money. We can suspect there will be a close parallel between the book plot and the movie.
Most disturbing of all is the huge gunfight scene. A contingent of seasoned gunmen ambushs a wagon train as it pulls into town, and they are completely defeated by the freight men. The outcome of the battle is grotesquely lopsided. How much of that are we supposed to believe?
Lon Chaney, Jr. was the son of the more famous Lon Chaney, known as “The Man of a Thousand Faces.” Four years after this release Lon Chaney, Jr. appeared as a washed up gunfighter in High Noon with Gary Cooper.