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THE LAST MUSKETEER is a Rex Allen oater from 1952. I knew his name, but this was the first movie of his I’ve ever seen. A very youthful Slim Pickens is his comical sidekick here. Allen came late to the singing cowboy genre and only made a few films as that branch of the western genre faded in the late fifties. In addition to his singing career, which came after the films, he was a narrator for a number of Disney films, both wildlife and adventure, and did commercial work. He tried to move into television with 1961, Frontier Doctor(don’t remember that one, and was one of the revolving hosts for NBC TV’s Five Star Jubilee.

Slim Pickens was a real cowboy before he began playing them in the movies. A highly respected rodeo clown(it served him in good stead in this film as he ended up in a barrel more than a few times), he was advised to seek other employment as he would never get anything but “slim pickings” in rodeo work. He made his first film in 1050 and is best known for his role as Major “King” Kong in Doctor Stranglove, riding the nuclear weapon down to it’s target, waving a stetson all the way.

The battle in this one is over water rights and a rich man’s desire to control the valley so that he can build a dam and flood the valley, making a fortune off selling power in the expanding electrical market. Russ Tasker, son of the late and revered founder of the valley’s only town, Taskerville, controls the only artesian fed reservoir and guard it zealously. He’d raised the water rights steadily to force the other ranchers out. Cattle are dying, the ranchers have gone bankrupt in order to keep their cattle watered. Tasker keeps squeezing and no one knows the real reason.

Rex Allen and his men ride into town on a cattle buying expedition, offering premium prices, and gets caught up in the battle when he rescues diviner Slim Pickens, brought in by the other ranchers to locate water. Tasker’s men stuff him into an empty barrel on his wagon and stampede the horses. Rex rides to the rescue.

Tasker is not pleased and when the Becker clan, father Matt and son Johnny, get caught butchering a steer for meat, he chases him down to find out what’s in the barrels strapped to the pack horse. Young Johnny has found another source of water. Not a lot, but there may be more underground at the spot and he wants to know where it is. Before Rex and his boys can get there, old Matt has been shot and the pair are held up in their home.

The old man persuades Johnny to sneak out through the bolt hole and escape, he holding them off until the boy gets away. Then a doctor can take care of his wound.

Rex wants to help the boy, he wasn’t going to press charges for the slaughtered steer, which he’d already bought, but like a lot of young men, Johnny is stubborn, really so when he learns his father didn’t make it. His girl, Sue, wants him to trust Johnny, but goes to great lengths to help him escape several times before finally convincing him to surrender.

The finale is a bang-bang shoot-em-up with stampeding water wagons through fires Tasker’s men had set on the roads with oil poured down, Rex chasing Tasker on his horse Koko, the rancher driving a burning wagon all the way into town, where he gets his comeuppance cortesy of a hand from the grave, so to speak.

This was quite a lot of fun.

Rex’s men were portrayed by The Republic Rhythm Riders and they break into song several times, one a traditional arrangement of Down In The Valley.

For more overlooked movies, check out Todd Mason over at Sweet Freedom.