Friday, July 17, 2009

Tombstone Canyon

“Tombstone Canyon” (1932) is an above average B western that should appeal to western and mystery fans alike. It’s loaded with weird elements that set it apart from the usual tale of cattle rustlers and stagecoach robbers.

It certainly gets off to a fine start, thanks to this studio logo from World Wide Pictures. Wow. Even stranger is when the globes start turning and the girl then smiles and bows her head. What a hoot. I love looking for studio logos from obscure Poverty Row studios, and this is definitely one of my favorites.

If more westerns started off like this, the genre would likely be flourishing.

Anyway, back to “Tombstone Canyon.” Cowboys at a ranch are being killed for no seemingly no reason, with their demise preceded by a haunting, banshee-like scream. A black shrouded figure called The Phantom is seen wandering through the canyons and is believed to be the killer.

Ken Maynard, one of the genre’s most popular stars, is shot at by the Phantom, survives, and attempts to get to the bottom of the mystery. He is joined by the very pretty Cecilia Parker, best known today for playing Andy Hardy’s older sister Marian.

The Phantom is played by Sheldon Lewis, best known for his 1920 portrayal in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” With his unusual features and distinctive pitched voice, he makes a memorable, though ultimately tragic, villain.

Visually, “Tombstone Canyon” is a delight, with much of the action filmed on location at Red Rock Canyon. No back lot western town here. The film was photographed by the great Ted McCord, one of my favorite cinematographers. He did fabulous work at Warner Bros. in the 1940s and 1950s on such classics as “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948), “Johnny Belinda” (1948), “The Breaking Point” (1950) and “East of Eden” (1955). “Tombstone Canyon” was an early assignment for McCord, and despite the Poverty Row budget, there’s no slouching on quality here. The images of the black-clad Phantom moving through the canyon’s rocks are very effective.

I had never seen a Ken Maynard movie and it’s easy to see why he was such a popular favorite with the kids and western fans. He was a superb horseman and boasted a very likeable screen personality (not so pleasant off screen, based on accounts I’ve read). Maynard produced a lot of his own movies and even had a hand in writing the scripts (uncredited). He was known for including weird or offbeat elements into many of his movies. One I’ve always wanted to see is one he did for Universal called “Smoking Guns” (1934, which has a haunted ranch house and a giant alligator attack in a swamp. Man, do I want to see that.

“Tombstone Canyon” runs about an hour and a most pleasant hour it is, thanks to Maynard’s presence, that crisp black and white photography, stunning location work, and memorable villain.

As an added bonus, our blonde globe-wielding friend returns for the final shot, holding globes that read “The End.”

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