Ghost Mine aka The Lone Rider in Ghost Town (1941) is a lovely "singing cowboy" adventure starring George Houston & Al "Fuzzy" St John, & the musical compositions of the always reliable Johnny Lange & Lew Porter. Houston sings some really pleasant western swing tunes, including among others the themesong "I'm the Lone Rider" & "Under the Prairie Sky," & a jaunty folksy humor song "Old Cactus Joe."
Though a B pic all the way, filmed in b/w, the use of standing western movie villages means this sort of B western tends to have a highly realistic look. There's plenty of cliche action with fisticuffs, racing shoot-outs from horseback, & many wonderful character actors populating the background including Budd Buster as Moosehide the old prospector, & Fuzzy St. John himself, the nephew of silent film star Fatty Arbuckle, & a first-rate comedian for just such comic-sidekick roles.
This film has ended up on a couple lists of movie ghost stories, but it's not even a fake-ghost story. The Ghost Mine is next to a Ghost Town having nothing to do with ghosts. The town & mine of Parkers Diggins have been long abandoned, but a discovery by a mining engineer gets the mining engineer kidnapped by outlaws, among whom are bad men who pass as the law in these parts.
Tom Cameron is known as "the lone rider" despite that he travels with a comic sidekick & is in reality "the accompanied rider." Since the local law cannot be trusted, the scattered community of prospectors rely on Tom to get at the root of the problem of missing prospectors & claim jumpers throughout the valley of the ghost town. Tom & Fuzzy investigate, assisted by the beautiful leading lady (Alaine Brandes) in saving her father & bringing down the many bad guys.
It's an adequate fun little film for anyone who likes singing cowboy westerns, a routine yet serious story with likeable characters & good tunes. There were in all seventeen "Lone Rider" movies shot in a scant three years between 1941 & 1943, the first eleven starring George Houston, the last six starring Bob Livingston.
If George Houston hadn't died relatively young of heart failure, & had lived long enough to have his own television show as did Roy Rogers in the 1950s, he might well have remained a household name as did Roy.
A similar B western of the children's matinee sort is The Haunted Ranch (1943), which boasts of being the twentieth film "The Range Busters series," which eventually had twenty-four episodes dashed off in three years.
The series originally starred Ray "Crash" Corrigan with John "Dusty" King (Miller McLeod Everson) in a support role, cast for his singing voice rather than his star power. But as the series progressed there were cast changes, & Dusty King ended up a reasonably decent leading man cowboy for several episodes.
One curious aspect of this episode is how it manages to give an old-west context to supporting the war effort, showing men standing in line to sign up for Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders while heroic characters give eager lectures about Uncle Sam needing soldiers.
Indeed, a Range Busters regular, Dave Sharpe, really did enlist during the filming of this episode, & they worked his enlistment into the storyline. Dusty King promised during the story that he too would soon be joining Dave in the war effort, & sure enough, he enlisted shortly after this film was finished, so he's not in the last four Range Busters episodes, Haunted Ranch being his last.
Plot-wise this is standard-issue stuff. Gold is hidden on a ranch & the bad guys create phony ghost effects (mainly by hiding in the basement & making noises) to scare off the ranch hands & the heirs so that said bad guys will have more time to find out where the stolen bullion is hidden. The chief villain, named Rance for rancid, is well played by Glenn Strange who was also a favorite character actor from Universal horror classics.
Within this fake haunted ranch & hidden loot scenario, we get plenty of shootin' & ridin' & ropin' & fightin' & killin' & even a cowboy with a ventriloquist dummy thrown in for good measure (Max 'Alibi' Terhune & his little wooden buddy, psychic Elmer).
I like the B westerns of this era for the songs. Certainly the plots aren't for adults, but those old swing tunes are just so cool. Typically a really good B western would have a minimum of three songs in an hour-long show. But The Haunted Ranch is so ultra-low-budget that they could only afford one song, written & sung by the whiteshirt hero Dusty.
There's lots of references to the musicality of these cowpokes -- even one the bad guys plays accordian & organ -- but Dusty King only gets round to singing "Where the Prairie Hills Meet the Sky," not counting fragments of public domain tunes, so the film feels short-changed. While Dusty's song will get by, it's pretty crappy compared to just about any random tune sung in similar films by the Sons of the Pioneers.
I am also interested in the black character actors of the old Hollywood system, & this one has a chap who used the name "Snowflake" (Fred Toones) playing Sam, the only ranch hand who wasn't frightened off by the ghosts. Now Sam's a stereotype servant-type but the fact that the "haunted" ranch was abandoned by (we're told) about fifteen (white) ranch hands who were afraid of ghosts, & Sam thereafter had to run the ranch singlehandedly waiting for the heirs to show up, suggests a bravery & competence well beyond most cowboys.
This is not to say the role was not offensive, but this is fairly advanced for a cowboy B picture, & Fred Toones appeared in many such. Haunted Ranch first acknowledges that a lot of black folk as an historical fact did come west after the Civil War, & then the script didn't restrict the character to scaredy-cat eye-rolin' superstitious terror in the face of phony ghosts. Sam is comedy relief, but not excessively subservient or lazy. And sometimes we have to thank the powers that be for even small favors.
Ghost Patrol (1936) is not just another "faux ghost story western" but comes close to blending the western with science fiction plus biplane aviator mystery. It's a one-hour b/w matinee filler, with Cowboy Hall of Famer Tim McCoy pitted against a gang of western outlaws who are bringing down mail planes using an electronic ray device called "the radium tube."
Tim in his enormous white cowboy hat & his with sidekick Charlie (Dick Curtis) set out to solve the crime & catch the gang, assisted by the leading lady (Claudia Dell) who is the daughter of the scientist (Lloyd Ingraham) who invented the ray weapon. Dad's being held captive in a ghost town, wherein the climactic action occurs, involving a shootout between cowboys vs G-men.
It's a silly hybrid movie to be sure, but played with such endearlingly pokerfaced sincerity that it manages to entertain. There's no singing in it to speak of (bits of a couple folksongs is all) & that's a let-down since even in the worst singing cowboy movie the western swing tunes tend to be lovely.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl