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The Lawless Nineties(1936)
Federal agent John Tipton heads for Wyoming to supervise the vote on whether to join the Union. One group of locals is using dynamite to terrorize the populace and a local newspaper editor is killed.
For more about The Lawless Nineties and the The Lawless Nineties Blu-ray release, see the The Lawless Nineties Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on June 12, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: John Wayne, Ann Rutherford, Harry Woods (I), George 'Gabby' Hayes, Etta McDaniel, Lane Chandler
Director: Joseph Kane (I)
» See full cast & crew
The Lawless Nineties Blu-ray Review
Well, they wouldn't have been gay with John Wayne involved.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, June 12, 2013
My sister likes to recount an anecdote from her college days. Like my father before her, as well as two of his siblings, my sister went to the University of Wyoming in Laramie. When she was back visiting my father's brothers in New York City on vacation from college one year, some doyenne of the cultured class remarked in horror that my sister would even consider attending school in an "encampment" where they had shootouts on Main Street and regular cattle stampedes destroying structures right and left. You see, this was in the mid-sixties and a western television series called Laramie had only recently left the airwaves, and this Manhattanite was quite certain that things hadn't changed in the Equal Rights State in the, oh, one hundred years or so between the series' timeframe and my sister's college experience. The moral to this story is twofold: don't take fictional depictions of supposed history as fact and never tell Wyoming based anecdotes to New Yorkers (all right, I made that second one up, but you get the idea). Set some twenty five to thirty years or so after Laramie supposedly depicted the hardscrabble life of the early settlers of the West, The Lawless Nineties is another pretty heavily fictionalized look at Wyoming, built around its decision to enter the Union (which it did on July 10, 1890, becoming the 44th state in the process). Some without a solid grounding in American history might think that the wide open spaces of Wyoming might seem like the last place in the world to find a roiling culture of political corruption, but those folks should look into a little scandal called Teapot Dome, which almost brought down the Harding Administration in the 1920s (until Watergate came along, "Teapot Dome" was shorthand for political shenanigans of the highest order). The corruption that is depicted in The Lawless Nineties may in fact not quite rise to that level of malffeasance, but it gives good guy John Wayne plenty to fight against—and for.
John Wayne was still three or so years away from the superstardom he would achieve in John Ford's Stagecoach, and The Lawless Nineties finds him plying much the same trade he had (and would continue to) for Republic Pictures. Many of these Republic outings were more or less interchangeable, with Wayne the stalwart hero fighting for truth, justice and the American Way (which in this instance meant America itself, at least in terms of accepting a new state into the fold), with the requisite bad guys and equally requisite romantic interest tagging along. But The Lawless Nineties does have at least a few defining elements that help to set it apart from the rest of its Republic pack.
Plot wise, about the only thing that sets The Lawless Nineties apart from countless other Republic outings is the fact that Wayne plays a federal lawman this time, coming to Wyoming to make sure honest, law abiding citizens can vote freely in the election to make Wyoming a state, something that an organized brigade of bad guys is working hard to prevent, since evidently the moment Wyoming Territory becomes an official state, lawlessness will instantly end (there's an appealing naïvete to that concept). Wayne plays John Tipton, who along with buddy Bridger (Lane Chandler) are sent to Crocket City, which is evidently Ground Zero for the villains (apparently Cheyenne, Laramie and any number of other burgs didn't make the cut). As the two lawmen are galloping toward their goal, they see a lone wagon bearing across the plains. John goes to investigate, which spooks the wagon's horses and its occupants, who fear they're being set upon by a bad guy or, worse yet, an Indian. That allows John to "meet cute" with spunky Janet (Ann Rutherford) and her father, Major Carter (George Hayes). Of course, the Carters are on their way to Crocket City as well, with the Major revealing that he's just bought the local newspaper and intends to publicize the lawless gangs which are attempting to influence the vote for statehood.
Without giving too much away in what is a pretty brisk and to the point film (clocking in at less than an hour), The Lawless Nineties telegraphs its chief villain pretty shamelessly (you know when a guy is in charge of The Society for Law and Order he can't possibly be up to much good) and then proceeds to have Wayne confront and ultimately defeat the bad guys. Along the way, there are several neat horse chases, two pretty predictable deaths that give Wayne the chance to emote, and a little comedy relief courtesy of the two African American performers in the film.
It's actually the casting, including one of those African Americans, that makes The Lawless Nineties rather interesting. The same year that Wayne finally burst forth into mainstream success in Stagecoach, there was another little film called Gone with the Wind which also debuted. Though Ann Rutherford had been working regularly in a glut of B-movies, including some westerns and the Andy Hardy series at M-G-M, she had one of her first real chances at A-film magnificence in Gone With the Wind. Playing along side her was the ineffable Hattie McDaniel as Mammy, the indefatigable slave who catered to the O'Hara girls. The Lawless Nineties has an African American woman playing a quasi-slave (there's no getting around it, sorry) who some might mistake for Hattie McDaniel, and for good reason. It's McDaniel's sister, Etta, who chalked up scores of films over a relatively short career, often playing minor characters who literally did the dirty work. Rather interestingly, McDaniel's character appears here as a sort of love interest for the Carter's quasi-slave, Moses (Fred Toones). (Some may object to this terminology, which is understandable, but there's simply no mistaking the subtext in many of the films of this era. The black performers may be playing characters who are ostensibly free, but they're consigned to menial labor, often adopting a shuffling countenance, and almost invariably calling their white bosses "sir".)
Perhaps the most interesting piece of casting is one that some may not even recognize. Major Carter, a dashing kind of very articulate Quaker-esque character eschewing violence and claiming that all disputes can be settled "peaceably", is played by one George Hayes. That name may not ring any bells, at least until Hayes' more common nickname of "Gabby" is prefixed to it. While many film lovers associate Hayes as the inevitable comic foil in westerns, spewing out toothless "Well, dag nab it"'s right and left, Hayes actually played a number of more respectable dramatic roles in his long career, including some with John Wayne (Raoul Walsh's Dark Command, which I'll be reviewing soon, is another case in point.) Here Hayes is almost unrecognizable, standing tall and speaking in a quiet yet firm voice. He, rather like Wayne in a way, got typecast too often in his career, but The Lawless Nineties hints at what a versatile performer he was and how much more he was capable of, if given the chance.
The Lawless Nineties Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Lawless Nineties is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.37:1. The elements here are in rather good shape overall, once a few minor issues are acknowledged. The opening credits sequence is awash in print through, something that recurs occasionally throughout the film, but never quite as noticeably as the opening couple of minutes. There are the requisite amounts of flecks and specks also dotting the premises. But otherwise, this is a rather nice looking high definition presentation that benefits from really strong and consistent contrast and a generally sharp image. Some of the location action sequences look just a bit soft when compared to the more controlled footage shot on sets, but that aspect is no doubt endemic to the shooting conditions. As with most Olive releases, The Lawless Nineties does not appear to have undergone any radical digital tweaking. While that means some minor damage is still apparent, it also means the film's native appearance, including grain, is retained.
The Lawless Nineties Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Lawless Nineties's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track suffices quite well for what boils down to lots of dialogue and occasional gun shots (even the first fights here don't have many, if any, foley effects punching up—pun intended—the sound mix). The one weird element here is the bizarre opening music, which sounds like something out of a carnival and which does not fare very well in this lossless setting. I'm assuming it's meant to somehow mimic the big band at the end of the film celebrating Wyoming's entrance into the Union, but it is in fact not the same cue, and it's probably the oddest opening theme to a Wayne western that I personally can think of.
The Lawless Nineties Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No supplements are offered on this Blu-ray disc.
The Lawless Nineties Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
This is a pretty typical Republic programmer that delivers exactly what audiences of the day would have wanted for their second feature—charismatic stars going through the paces, with some decent action sequences and a hint of romance spicing things up. As predictable as the plot is, the film is rather surprising in its casting, which may be the main reason for those other than Wayne aficionados to consider checking this out.
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