Charles Starrett played the Durango Kid in sixty-four films beginning in 1940 and on through 1952. His first role was in a 1931 film and he was active for the next few years until signing with Columbia in 1936 where he became a huge western star with one hundred fifteen films to his credit before he retired a wealthy man. The early years of that period found him playing a number of Ranger and cowboy roles before he became the Durango Kid in the first film. The series wasn’t continued at the time and revived a few years later for RETURN… Actually, according to IMdb, the only connection between all the films is Starrett and The Durango Kid. He had a different civilian name and back story in each entry. At least so far. May be that’s why no one ever remembers he’s the kid since he reveals himself at the end of each picture.Turner Classic is running them on Saturday mornings. They showed this trio, the first three, then skipped a couple for the fourth this past Saturday.
The Durango Kid is one of those “outlaws” that help the little folk, those that are being preyed on by the real criminals. He rides a big white horse, dresses all in black, though he wore a white hat in the first film, and wears a black kerchief masking his face from the nose down and hat pulled low, speaking in a gravelly voice when the Kid.
Each film has a western singing group belting out several songs during the events of the story.
In THE DURANGO KID, he’s Bill Lowry who’s been away from his home down in Texas as the Kid helping settlers in their battles with ranchers wanting them off range land. For his efforts, a five thousand dollar reward has been put on his head. His father sends for him. Though a rancher himself, he has sympathy for the “nesters,” as other ranchers call them, in his area. Someone has organized a gang to run them off, setting homes afire, shooting at them. Lowry’s father learns it’s a rancher named Mace Ballard and is headed to tell the sheriff. Ballard shoots him in the back just as Bill gets home, then rides up swearing he saw a nester racing away jusr after the shot, then admits it may have been the Durango Kid.
That instantly makes Bill suspicious of course and he sets out to stop Ballard and help the families being driven out. He keeps robbing Ballard and giving the money to settlers who he has pretending to pull out, then having them camp out on the Lowry ranch. When the lands were opened up to settlers, they had one year to make improvements on the land or forfeit it. Ballard keeps burning homes so that will happen.
There’s a temporary love interest in Nancy Winslow(Luana Walters) who, along with her father, own the piece of land beside the Lowry ranch.
The singing group in this one is The Sons of The Pioneers, one of whom is the comical sidekick Pat Brady before he left the group to become Roy Rogers comic foil.
I caught one goof in this one. Unlike every other singing cowboy picture I’ve seen, this one doesn’t mix horse, side guns, and shootouts with modern automobiles(for the time anyway). However, in one ambush scene set up, in the far background, we see what appears to be the top of a truck passing through the scene.
THE RETURN OF THE DURANGO KID(1945) finds him trying to clear his father’s name as a ruthless outlaw. He’s Bill Blayden here and dressed as an Easterner when on a stage held up. The stage belongs to a woman named Buckskin Liz Bancroft who’s about to lose the franchise because of the hold-ups. A woman on the stage, singer Paradise Flo(Jean Stevens) accidentally gives up the location of the strong box, apparently, and they get away.
Leland “Lee” Kirby owns a saloon and is the man behind these robberies. He wants to get the stage franchise.
Bill Blayden suspects him right away when he pops into the saloon, finds the watch stolen from him in the stage robbery, grabs it, shoots out the lights, and escapes. Kirby knows the Easterner is no dude then.
The singing group this time around is the Jesters who do the usual trio of songs as well as horse riding and gunfights.
Kip Allen is a Texas Ranger in New Mexico, on “vacation,” to look into the theft of gold from the railroads in BOTH BARRELS BLAZING. Newly minted gold was stolen and the outlaws were getting anxious because every time they spent a coin, the date on it gave away the theft and got the law after them. Allen had tracked them this far, but the outlaw is double-crossed and killed, the murder blamed on The Durango Kid, before he can find the gold.
Lucky Thorpe is responsible and has come up with a plan to get the gold out legally, disguising it as newly dug gold. His foil is an old man everyone calls Grubstake for his panhandling for people to invest in his big strike when it comes. They figure he’s drinking it all up. In reality he was sending it to help raise his granddaughter, Pat Parrish(Gail Radford), her mother, his daughter dead, and the father a no good louse. She believes him to be a rich mine owner and is coming to make a home for him to repay him. Grubstake, real name J. Horace Higgenbotham, happens to be Lucky’s gold piece and he seems to genuinely like the old man. But he’s not above using him though.
Kip is aided by old friend, Tex Harding(played by Tex Harding), who ends up as the love interest of old Grubstake’s granddaughter.
The Jesters are along for the music again and Dub Taylor, as Cannonball, makes his first appearance as the hero’s comedy foil(later in the series replaced by Smiley Burnette).
For more overlooked movies, as always, stop in at Todd Mason’s Sweet Freedom on Tuesdays for the latest offerings.