|Author: Tim Lasiuta |
The World of Universal Westerns, 1929-1946
During the golden age of Hollywood, westerns were everywhere. Mascot, MGM, Monogram, Warner Brothers,
Paramount, Columbia, PRC, Allied, Republic, Fox, Universal and many other studios produced the films that B Western fans of
all ages love. As with any film genre, every studio was responsible for their good material, as well as their poor efforts.
Strangely enough, it is not just the A class films we remember, but rather the B grade films that we have a soft spot for.
The excellence of films like Sante Fe Trail, Stagecoach, Destry Rides Again, and Shane is obvious,
but film festivals revel in the misadventures of the many series films. Stagecoach will bring them in, but look out, the true
fans stay for the Rocky Lane, Lash Larue, Monte Hale, Bob Baker, the Three Mesquiteers, and the classic western movie serials.
Universal Studios was a major player in the western film genre from the early days of Hollywood
through to today. Joining the fray to produce sound films, they took silent stars Hoot Gibson and Ken Maynard in 1929, and
by 1930, every Universal film was full sound, from dialog to special effects. As reward for their efforts, All Quiet On the
Western Front won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and from that point on, Carl Laemmle was running the studio.
Due to the departure of Gibson and Maynard from their stable of stars, Carl Laemmle discontinued
the production of westerns. Movie serials had now become the bread and butter of the studio, and serials like Lightning Express
with Allan Ladd and The Indians Are Coming with Tim McCoy brought the kids in. By 1932, the western was in demand again, and
Tom Mix joined the studio to produce 9 films. Poor health forced Mix to leave Universal, and Ken Maynard again joined Universal
until Buck Jones was named the next King of the Stable after Maynard departed. Bob Baker headlined the musical western Universal
entries but his presence and low production values werent quite what audiences demanded. By 1936, Gene Autry had become THE
singing cowboy, and later Roy Rogers (whom Universal passed on), was about to make his mark on history. Through the mid 30's,
western serials starring Johnny Mack Brown and Buck Jones kept Universal in the western fans mind.
1939 brought the classic remake, Destry Rides Again with Stewart and Dietrich to the screens, and
with this momentum, they re-entered the medium budget western market with Johnny Mack Brown, Tex Ritter, and Dick Foran riding
shot until 1943. Universal still produced western serials, and movies with Ritter, Brown, Grant and Rod Cameron until their
merger with International in 1946.
Of the westerns I have seen (lots), the Universal efforts stand up well over time. Johnny Mack
Brown, Tex Ritter, Buck Jones, Hoot Gibson, and their other stars hold just as dear a place in my heart as do Roy, Gene, Rex,
and Monte. The history of the western films of any studio is often the film track of our youth. We may have had our first
date at a Tex Ritter film, or our first kiss. It may have been the first B Western we saw on the late late late late show,
or the first celebrity we ever met. But just as important as the films of Republic, MGM, Warner, and others, the films of
Universal gave us celluloid memories that we can only smile at now, and say, I remember when.
One man who remembers when is Gene Blottner, and through his efforts we can now read about the
Universal films we all loved. In Universal Sound Films, 1929-1946' (McFarland), he has undertaken the joyous, monumentous
task of cataloguing each sound western produced by Universal in those years. From the early efforts of Ken Maynard to the
final films of Kirby Grant, they are here. Each film write up includes:
1. Poster blurb, Greatest Gunfight in the West since the OK Corral
7. The Notables
8. Filming location
9. Running Time
14. Picture of lobby card, poster if available
The greatest thing about this book is the depth of information on each film. As a certified film
historian, Gene Blottner has actually watched these films. His love for the films and genre is evident. If you are a film
fan, or a die hard historian, this book is truly invaluable. I can only imagine what the dust jacket would be. The amount
of serious film history research that is going on today is incredible, and with efforts like Universal Sound Westerns, the
past will never be boring, and lost due to apathy.
Universal Sound Westerns is available online from McFarland at www.mcfarlandpub.com and through
my bookstore at suite 101, or vial snail mail at:
McFarland & Company