Certainly longtime readers (of which I have at least a few) will recall my affinity for the “B-Western.” That is, the poverty row or otherwise lower budgeted films of the western genre from the 1930s and 1940s. These cheapies weren’t limited to the 1930s and 1940s, but those two decades are certainly where the majority of my favorites hail from. I grew up on a steady diet of these offerings, via my much-loved and much-missed WAOH TV-29 (which I extensively detailed here), and it’s a fandom that continues to this very day. Of course, we’ve seen posts on the subject here on the blog prior (proof #1, #2 and #3).
Well, recently I was poking around b-westerns.com (an utterly indispensable site with a veritable wealth of information on the subject) when I decided to click on the vaaaaaaguely-familiar name of Wally Wales. It was while perusing their biography on him that my eyes fell upon a mention of one of the studios he worked for: Superior Talking Pictures. This perked my figurative ears right up, because Superior Talking Pictures, man, you wanna talk cheap, they were C-H-E-A-P. Monogram offerings were practically Spielbergian productions in comparison to Superior! They were terrible in the best way; because of this, I’ve held a serious interest in their offerings for years.
So anyway, I looked at Wally Wales’ filmography, and stumbled upon the title of The Way of the West, from 1934. The synapses in my brain began firing, and I progressively dredged up the memory: I taped that one back in the day! A thankfully-quick dig through my VHS boxes (helped by the recollection of the tape brand I had it on) unearthed the object of my desire, and so here we are.
Excepting specialty video dealers, the only normative way for most folks to catch & keep many of these B-Westerns back then was through the magic of VCR, provided you had a regular television outlet for these films – which I did. That has since changed exponentially; the public domain status of many (most?) of these flicks has meant a variety of DVD releases, never mind the legal online options. The Way of the West seems to fall under both categories – there were/are DVD editions out there, and even the Internet Archive has it for free viewin’ and/or downloadin’.
I’d certainly be interested in acquiring a shiny, factory-pressed DVD edition of the feature, but there’s something to be said for taking a trip back in time via a VHS recording. I have no exact date, but it’s from the summer of 1999 – a whopping 21 years ago! My recording is old enough to drink HAW HAW HAW! The sobering realization that 20+ years have elapsed since I taped this notwithstanding (talk about time shifting!), it’s fun to revisit a specific time and place in my personal history – especially since I have zero recollection of ever actually watching this recording! And even better: it’s from TV-29 (via America One Television’s syndication), so there’s some fun extras present, too!
We’ll take a look at those accoutrements momentarily, but for now, let us dive into the cinematic marvel that is Superior Talking Pictures’ The Way of the West…
I could be awfully choosy about what I did and didn’t keep where VHS recording was concerned back then, and truth be told, I’m really not sure why I decided to keep The Way of the West. I don’t know if I even realized this was a Superior Talking Picture back then (the pertinent info isn’t front-and-center on the opening screen seen here; it’s buried at the bottom of the following screen). Maybe it had to do with the mystery surrounding the leading man of the movie, as recounted by America One movie host Alan Stone before the picture? (Stone’s intro is one of the accoutrements we’ll look at after the movie, by the way.) Or maybe it was the involvement of, as you can see here, Art Mix, who I was familiar with back then. Or maybe I just liked the title and obscure creakiness of the whole thing, I dunno. Not that I’m complaining, of course.
Looking at the screen capture here, you’ll notice right above the title the specific notation of “The American Rough Riders.” Now, there was indeed a Rough Riders series of westerns, but they came later and were a product of Monogram. So, I’m not quite sure what the header alludes to here. Wally Wales is more or less a solo hero in this one, so was this an already-known group of silver screen names that Superior was capitalizing on, something Superior was trying to gather attention with, or…? At any rate, the more well-known Rough Riders had nothing to do with these Rough Riders. Maybe that’s why I kept the recording? I would have at least known of the later Rough Riders at that time, so maybe this struck me as weirdly funny?
The plot? (Some spoilers ahead, like anybody cares.) Hey, did you know that cattlemen and sheep herders were (are?) mortal enemies? I sure didn’t, but that’s exactly what this movie posits; that those in charge of cattle hate those in charge of sheep with a deadly, all-consuming passion.
That’s what drives the plot here: the government gives out land for grazin’ and whatnot, with no regard for whether the animals doing said grazing are big smelly milk machines or cotton covered creatures. Well, Dad Parker and his two children, ‘Fiery’ Parker and her younger brother Bobby, have some of this gub’mint granted land and a huge herd of sheep – and that draws the ire of one Cash Horton and his cohorts (one of which is the aforementioned Art Mix, who had a storied western career; like I said, I knew of him even back then). These nefarious chumps have been enlisted to drive Parker off, and this, needless to say, provides the impetus for our story here.
Standing in defense of the Parker family and solidly on the side of good is Wally Gordon (Wales). Wally comes to the aid of Fiery early in the picture, rescues Bobby from some bullying via Cash’s crew, and is just an all-around good egg. To further demonstrate the burning rage that apparently exists between cattlemen and sheep herders, when queried on the subject of whether he’s a cattle man or a sheep man early in the film, Wally responds: “Well, I try to be just plain human being; sheep or cows, we have to live and let live, you know?” The fact he even needed to elaborate on this points to a rift that, again, I had no idea was a thing. Maybe it was only an issue in the world of the movie?
Wales isn’t a bad leading man, though a tad generic in the role. He certainly fares better than he could have, considering the material he was saddled (HAW HAW HAW) with. You don’t expect much from a B-Western, particularly one that isn’t from one of the big ‘B’ studios (Monogram, Republic, heck, even PRC). Even so, Way is pretty creaky, and more importantly, dumb. Hey, it wouldn’t be a Superior if it wasn’t!
Amongst the inanity (and this is just a sampling):
Awkward camerawork (particularly later in the film) that ostensibly progresses the plot (sheep being herded etc.) but really kind of juts around haphazardly and with obstacles in the landscape (read: trees) partially obscuring the shot. Good enough, I guess!
Also, a few instances in which the dialogue seemingly starts late during a new shot or is awkwardly paused/broken. Forgotten lines, miscues, or poor editing? I don’t know, but it’s pretty funny when it happens!
Regarding the script, it’s often eye-rollingly stupid. Shortly after Dad Parker specifically introduces his foreman (Wally!) to Cash, Cash asks who he is, to which it is then re-explained to him! There’s more than one dumb instance between Wally and Cash, too; the final exchange between them, a callback to a conversation from earlier in the film, is so awkwardly delivered that it’s practically jaw dropping – especially when Cash concludes by having a hearty laugh over it! (Despite his being in custody and about to be put in the slammer…though, oddly enough, without being restrained in any way. I guess this hardened criminal was on the honor system?)
You want amateurish action? The Way of the West has you covered! The fights in this one are bad even by cheapie old western standards. Dig this: early in the picture, Wally knocks a baddie out by raising his arm towards him, and then there’s a quick cut to his fist pushing the bad guy’s face, and then a cut to the guy hitting the ground – unconscious. It’s amazing. Apparently folks in the world of the movie are made of paper; the slightest shoves are capable of knocking people to the ground. And accusing Cash of killing in cold blood, even though mere accusations are all that can be thrown at him at that point? Why, that’s the cue for a huge, yet highly pathetic, bar brawl to take place!
Near the end of the film, Superior realized that speeding the film up (as in, running it at a faster FPS rate) during fight scenes helps, which it does indeed do; too bad that relatively-clever decision actually makes the stuff that came before look even worse in comparison. Prior to that decision, there’s a long drawn out bit where Wally and Cash wrestle on the ground, and instead of the daring fight it’s supposed to be, it just comes off awkward and sad – especially since there’s no music on the soundtrack to enhance the action. (The lack of soundtrack, aside from the open and close of the film, was par for the course for cheapo westerns at that time).
And then there’s the just plain puzzling moments in general. At one point, Wally is pinned down by Cash’s gunfire, so he takes his hat off and uses some nearby sticks to set it up as a decoy so he can make a retreat. Not a bad idea…except that he sets up the hat so low to the ground that Cash couldn’t possibly see it. And if he could, then he could also certainly see Wally exiting.
Among the most “say what?” moments of the movie: at one point, some unconscious bad guys are “humorously” dumped in a watering trough. (The actors tend to flinch when they first hit the water, but don’t let that destroy the illusion, okay?) Sound lighthearted enough? Well, considering one of them is dropped in face down while ostensibly unconscious…
And if all that wasn’t enough, there’s heroic-yet-comedic relief provided by young brother Bobby Parker. I have yet to see a B-Western where a kid in such a role doesn’t annoy me to some degree. His accidentally almost shooting an unsuspecting guy in the head is actually treated with frivolity! Later, he’s enlisted to go undercover to find proof that Wally didn’t kill a guy in cold blood – as if a little kid skulking about wouldn’t be suspicious. (Of course he overhears a conversation that needlessly explains the frame-up in detail.)
Oh, and by the way, Wally is secretly a government agent sent to investigate the cow/sheep war, but this point has no real bearing on the story and thus never really goes anywhere; it’s just kinda ‘there’ by the end of the picture. So why even include it in the first place?
But you know what the ironic thing about all this is? For a Superior Talking Picture, this really isn’t that bad. Is it cheap and creaky and occasionally amateurish, even outright stupid? Oh, without a doubt. And yet, considering how bad these Superiors could be, The Way of the West actually kinda succeeds in comparison. It’s hardly a beacon of B-Western movie making, and you don’t go into these things expecting a highfalutin experience anyway, but it still fares considerably better than, say, Range Riders, which could probably be considered the high (low?) water mark of Superior Talking Picture ridiculousness-in-every-facet. (Indeed, I once had an extensive DVD review of the film up here at the blog, though it’s currently reverted to draft-form for revisions; maybe I’ll get around to re-posting it at some point, provided I feel industrious enough.)
So yes, The Way of the West, it’s technically terrible, but a lot of fun to watch in a “bad movie night” sorta way. Its flaws are myriad, but except for that whole “potentially drowning a guy” thing, I guess it doesn’t do anything too offensive…
…OH HEY WAIT A SECOND WHOA WHOA WHOA!!!
Is, is t-that a freakin’ swastika on Cash Horton’s back?! It sure is! Boy, the dude’s an even bigger bad guy than he first appeared to be! I guess there’s no better way to say “HEY THIS IS THE VILLAIN OF THE PICTURE” though, is there?
ACTUALLY, before it became known as the symbol of, erm, you know, the swastika had a number of different iterations and meanings. Indeed, this isn’t even the first time I’ve seen it in a B-Western. Here, let Wikipedia tell you more.
The trivia section of Way‘s IMDb page says it was meant as a Native American good luck sign. I believe it; besides the fact the ‘bad’ version of the symbol is slightly different anyway, we’re talking pre-WWII film making here; it wouldn’t make much sense to put the Nazi symbol in a movie of this nature anyway. As we’ve seen, Superior could do some dumb stuff in their movies, but that would be particularly head-scratching.
Nevertheless, none of that changes the fact that the image does provide an initial “HUH?!”
(By the way, this is the scene where Horton shoots Dad Parker in cold blood. Dad winds up dying from his injuries, so just ignore the fact that it seriously looks like Horton shoots him in the posterior, okay?)
So, that’s The Way of the West. Okay, sure, from a technical standpoint it’s a terrible movie. Or at least, not a very good one. But you know what? I had a lot of fun watching. It held my attention, and while it’s not the chief offender in Superior’s oeuvre, there’s enough eyebrow-raising moments to be found to make it worth your while. Boy am I glad I taped it forever ago!
The discovery of new old stuff like this is just what made young me so addicted to TV-29 and America One’s syndicated offerings that 29 presented on a daily basis. Indeed, considering I (to the best of my recollection) never actually watched the recording, I guess this is as close as I can get to recreating those days of my youth.
HEY, WAIT! We’re not done just yet! Remember, I promised to showcase some accoutrements that were part of this broadcast! There were four moments outside of the movie that struck my interest. Three of them were commercials, but the fourth was this:
Alan Stone! Stone was the host of America One’s movies at the time. If you scroll waaaaay back up to the start of this article and read my TV-29 retrospective link (here, just have it again), you’d see how much I liked this guy. In fact, after that article, I did an online search for him, hopefully to find where he wound up after his A1 duties were finished. Maybe I could get a hold of him for an interview – or at least an autograph. Sadly, I didn’t turn up anything helpful.
Stone appeared before and after movies on a daily (nearly daily?) basis at the time. Unfortunately, his outro was cut off by me (mistake!) on this recording, but I kept the intro. Stone mainly talked about the many names Wally Wales was known by throughout his career (seriously, look it up!), and as he often did, displayed some of his dry humor with a “so you figure it out” after naming several of Wales’ monikers off.
For this broadcast, obviously this was part of America One’s “Western Theater” showcase, which specialized in movies just, like, well, just like this one. (Aw okay, they usually weren’t this chintzy!) It’s strictly thanks to Western Theater that I’m the B-Western fan that I am today!
Instrumental Legends Compilation Ad! Okay, so when it came to broadcasts on TV-29, there would typically be two ways the commercial breaks during a respective broadcast could go: ones that split time with ‘national’ ads and locally-produced spots, as you would tend to expect of an independent station. But then, there were other broadcasts where it was strictly ‘national’ ads; ITT Tech, mail order music and videos, things like that. It’s the latter category that this broadcast we’re looking at now falls in. I’m okay with that though, because the music compilation commercials present, the ads are practically burnt into my mind, so often were they run back in the day.
Many of these commercials were for Cornerstone Promotions comps, and that’s the case with what you’re seeing now: Instrumental Legends, a two disc (or cassette) set comprised entirely of instrumental oldies. I actually own this one (collecting these Cornerstone CDs has become a hobby of mine, thanks mainly to these commercials I saw endlessly back in the day), and there’s a lot of good stuff on it – provided you like instrumentals, of course. (Check out that Discogs link and judge for yourself!) And look at that screencap; it may be hard for some to remember a time when two CDs could run nearly $30, and two cassettes were nearly $20!
Malt Shop Memories Compilation Ad! Of all of the Cornerstone Promotions commercials I saw back then, there was perhaps none more played, or memorized by yours truly, than this one: Malt Shop Memories, another two disc/tape set, this one focusing on 1950s jukebox-worthy tracks; stuff you’d supposedly hear in a – say it with me – malt shop. Go figure! (Be forewarned: there’s more than one compilation that goes by the title Malt Shop Memories, but this is the one burnt into my brain.)
Since I’m very much a 1950s &1960s rock guy (in all the various forms the vague term of “rock” entails when applied to those two decades), this set is very much right up my alley. Looking at that Discogs link, you’ll see that the set leans towards slower, Doo Wop tracks, though I’m just fine with that.
Unlike the preceding Instrumental Legends commercial, which mainly featured happy couples and ‘relaxing’ images (flowing streams and whatnot), this Malt Shop Memories commercial went all out in recreating the stereotypical 1950s malt shop, complete with teens in period-appropriate clothing, dancing, and just enough lip-syncing to make me feel embarrassed for the actor. Oh how I love this commercial; it just may be my favorite music compilation spot of all-time!
Pinkard & Bowden: Gettin’ Stupid Ad! Another one I practically know by heart, though despite the (seeming) ubiquity of the commercial at the time, in comparison to the preceding two collections Gettin’ Stupid is actually kinda tough to find, or at least sells for a bit more.
Pinkard & Bowden were a comedy country music duo, specializing in parodies of popular songs and humorous originals. Think of a countrified Weird Al Yankovic x 2 or something like that. The ad plays up the comedic aspects of the duo by having them lip sync and act out in costume some of the songs found on this collection.
This commercial, obviously it was still running by 1999, but apparently the compilation first released in 1993. One of the things I find my most interesting about it now is seen in the screencap here: the option to purchase it on vinyl. I consider, roughly, 1990-2005 to be the ‘lost years’ of vinyl, and releases within those years, after the format lost mainstream popularity and before it made a welcome comeback, to be of extreme interest. If the CD version of this comp is tough to find, I can only guess how obscure the vinyl is!
(The option to buy on the seemingly-dead vinyl format was often seen on these mail order advertisements throughout the 1990s, and as someone who scours a lot of vinyl at thrift shops and whatnot, I can tell you used copies of these don’t turn up nearly as often as I’d like. A 1991 Bobby Vinton comp was and is cool, but the big find in this category for me over the last few years? Andy Griffith’s 1995 Gospel music collection. I remember the commercials for that one, too; I do believe they were still airing well after ’95.)
There you have it: a movie review, an old television broadcast review, and a look back at what comprised my cinematic interests 21 years ago. (Hey, some things never change!) Stuff like this provided the foundation for not only my ongoing love of the B-Western genre, but also local programming (even though, technically, nothing here was really locally produced).
This was a fun article to write, and definitely a fun broadcast to revisit, or visit, depending on how you look at it. Maybe some of the content here will be hard for people to understand just why I’m so enamored by it, but if nothing else, maybe I’ve introduced another good bad movie for y’all to throw into the queue. That’s something to be proud of, I think? Whatever.