The Texas Rangers

There is something wildly entertaining about dipping into that era when Hollywood thought nothing of gleefully ripping pages if not whole chapters out of the history books in order to mix and match the characters, events and consequences the writers had decided would feature in their story. What makes it especially enjoyable is the fact this unapologetic grinding up facts had no agenda whatsoever, no nods to knowing, joyless postmodernism, nothing more in fact than a desire to present a piece of straightforward entertainment. The Texas Rangers (1951) works on the principle that the key to success is to pack as many big name outlaws as possible into the plot and have the hero take on this rogues’ gallery. If you are after an accurate depiction of the past, then it’s probably best to give this one a miss. If, on the other hand, you’re in the market for a pacy and uncomplicated western, this one will fit the bill.

Somewhat at odds with the fanciful nature of the tale which will unfold, the opening scenes attempt to place the characters in some sort of context. Suffice to say that we’re in Texas in the years following the Civil War and the Reconstruction. There is then a brief introduction to the main outlaws: Sam Bass (William Bishop) looks to be a model of charm and courtesy, smiling as he efficiently robs a train, only allowing the facade of politeness to drop momentarily as he ruthlessly guns down a less compliant passenger; John Wesley Hardin (John Dehner) is dapper, cool and devious, a gentlemanly killer; the most sadistic of all is Dave Rudabaugh (Douglas Kennedy), grinning maliciously as he savagely drives a knife through another man’s hand in the course of a not so friendly card game. Then there is Johnny Carver (George Montgomery) who, along with Buff Smith (Noah Beery Jr), runs into trouble during a botched bank raid. Actually, he runs into a bullet fired by a treacherous Sundance Kid (Ian Macdonald) and consequently ends up serving hard time as an accessory to murder.

So, with Texas descending into near anarchy as a result of the activities of the gang headed up by Sam Bass, the authorities have to be seen to act. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Major John B Jones (John Litel) of the Texas Rangers has Carver and Smith released on probation, on condition they serve under him with the aim of smashing the power of the Bass gang. And that is essentially what it is all about, a not unfamiliar story of men with an unsavory past given an opportunity to redeem themselves by taking on and ultimately infiltrating a criminal organization. Along the way, there are enough  brawls, chases, shootouts, betrayals and twists to satisfy even the most demanding viewer.

Phil Karlson, working from a story by Frank Gruber and a script by Richard Schayer, rarely lets the action portrayed on screen pause for breath. Incident piles on top of incident and no situation is allowed to hang around till it grows unwelcome. The plot is tied to that classic theme of redemption which is never far from the surface in so many westerns of the 1950s, but it’s never particularly emphasized here. Nevertheless, it is present for those who want it, and I’m certainly a person who appreciates this aspect, even when (or perhaps because) it serves to ground the most escapist fare. For a movie that is almost determinedly lacking in pretension and which prides itself on its sense of urgency, The Texas Rangers looks both handsome and stylish. Karlson never misses a chance to employ a telling close-up, to shoot from an unexpected angle or to frame a scene in an interesting way.

George Montgomery’s laid-back style is used to fine effect in this movie, there’s an assurance coupled with exuberance about him, and when you factor in the easy grace with which he moves around the frame it’s evident how comfortable he was in a western setting. His two big dramatic scenes, played out with Jerome Courtland and Noah Beery respectively, are handled competently enough but the fact is that area wasn’t his strongest suit. Beery is his usual homespun self, appealingly diffident and upright. Of the outlaw band, William Bishop gets more screen time as befits his role and he’s fine, although there’s not the menace about him one might expect. However, that is certainly not the case with Douglas Kennedy. He looks and acts implacably mean, being responsible for, and seeming to relish, some of the more reprehensible pieces of villainy. John Dehner rarely fails to impress, even in minor roles, and he adds some scene-stealing polish to his part as the untrustworthy killer. Ian Macdonald scowls effectively and Jock Mahoney takes another step on the path that would lead him from stuntman to star. The only woman in the film is Gale Storm but her part as a newspaperwoman whose father was murdered by the Sundance Kid is sadly underdeveloped, tracing an arc from hostility to devotion that never feels the least bit convincing.

The Texas Rangers doesn’t appear to be available as a DVD or Blu-ray anywhere, or at least I haven’t been able to come across any releases. If anybody reading this happens to know of one, I’d be pleased to hear about it. However, it can usually be viewed online, and with satisfactory picture quality too. A good many of George Montgomery’s westerns are now available, although there are still a few notable absences such as this. Generally speaking, I think a lot of Columbia’s second string westerns don’t get a lot of love. Sure many of them are pretty frugal affairs, shot fast and sometimes featuring casts that won’t have the name recognition to make them easily marketable to a modern audience. That said, it’s worth remembering that movies of this type were the staples that kept the genre going for so long. The Texas Rangers is not a classic, but it is an attractive film that never wastes a moment of its 75 minute running time. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay is to say that it is simply a pleasure to watch.

39 thoughts on “The Texas Rangers

  1. Very nice choice for a good review, Colin. This film is generally regarded, I believe correctly, as George Montgomery’s finest Western. Having Phil Karlson at the helm is an obvious game-maker.
    I thought I recognised Jack (later Jock) Mahoney with moustache in the still alongside Bishop and Dehner and you confirmed it. At the time he was on TV with the hugely successful “The Range Rider”.
    I have a great copy of “THE TEXAS RANGERS” but cannot remember the source. Quite simply, this is exactly the kind of Western I love. Looks great, well-directed and redemption at the end.


  2. Just saw this film and was especially impressed with how well Karlson staged the concluding train robbery, especially on such a small budget. It’s better than many similar scenes in much bigger movies.


  3. Saw this a long time ago. Agreed its one of the best, if not the best of George Montgomery’s westerns. Another movie sharing the same title starring Fred MacMurray, equally as entertaining.


  4. Karlson’s THE TEXAS RANGERS was remade as William Witney’s ARIZONA RAIDERS and I recently came across a Euro Blu Ray of the Witney film-I must admit the Sony MOD DVD was stellar.
    Typical Karlson- a barrage of violence in the first five minutes. Karlson was doing pretty good at Columbia until he fell out with Harry Cohn ‘though they did re unite when GUNMAN’s WALK moved the hard nosed studio boss to tears. I defy anyone not to hold back tears when an emotionally destroyed Van Heflin welcomes James Darren and Kathryn Grant back into the family fold……..possibly the most underrated of 50’s big budget studio Westerns. Karlson as RTHC readers know was no slouch when it came to Noir either. A DVD or Blu Ray of THE TEXAS RANGERS would be great; even greater would be an early Karlson Columbia set-swashbucklers like THE BRIGAND and LORNA DOONE are not without merit either as well as earlier Westerns like the extraordinary THUNDERHOOF. THE TEXAS RANGERS also has one of my favourite lines, William Bishop’s Sam Bass “Hot tub sure is a fine thing;I take one ever month if I need one or not”
    BTW “ever” is NOT a typo.


  5. There are several dusters coming up on TCM in a few days that I have never seen. THE FIRST TEXAN 1956 is the first film. It stars Joel McCrea, Jeff Morrow, and Felicia Farr and is directed by Byron Haskin. The second is COLE YOUNGER, GUNFIGHTER 1958. it stars Frank Lovejoy, James Best and Abby Dalton and is helmed by R.G. Springsteen. Any opinions here on the pair? Are they worth recording? Always get good info from you lot.



  6. Gord, any 1950s western starring Joel McCrea has to be worth seeing in my humble opinion though “THE FIRST TEXAN” is definitely lesser McCrea for me.
    I really like “COLE YOUNGER GUNFIGHTER”. No classic but worth a watch certainly.


  7. Hello Gord-
    If THE FIRST TEXAN is shown in widescreen 2.35 then it should be worth catching. If you hang on for it there’s a slam bang battle scene at the end-certainly by Allied Artists standards. COLE YOUNGER DESPERADO is I believe a re working of an old
    Wayne Morris flick (Jerry will know) the title I think was THE DESPERADO and again Jerry will know. Saw an 18 year old Gale Storm in a real curio ONE CROWDED NIGHT (1940) a RKO picture also featuring actor turned screenwriter Charles Lang and actor turned director Paul Guilfoyle. Mr Lang worked with Boetticher on several pics and Mr Guilfoyle as an actor was better known as the guy Cody Jarrett stuffs into the boot of the car and foolishly asks for air-hey guys you know the rest. ONE CROWDED NIGHT is not up to RKO’s other B Flicks (THE THREAT,THE NARROW MARGIN,FOLLOW ME QUIETLY) but it’s not a bad way to spend an hour….as a film it’s more of a curio and I like curios.


      • Just to note THE DESPERADO (1954) was made only four years before the remake COLE YOUNGER, GUNFIGHTER (1958). The remake is fairly close except the first film is in black and white and the remake is in ‘Scope and color. Frank Lovejoy took over the role of the hero that Wayne Morris had played–Lovejoy’s last theatrical feature. Though I especially like Lovejoy, Morris is strong in the first film and I give it the edge overall and have seen it a number of times beginning with first release in 1954. THE DESPERADO was directed by Thomas Carr–I am a great admirer of Carr generally and it’s one of his best films. That said, I like R. G. Springsteen too–at least much of the time (not for those A.C. Lyles ones with which he unfortunately finished); he directed COLE YOUNGER…

        The script has a role for identical twin brother bad guys, and in the earlier films, it’s Lee Van Cleef–of course, it’s wonderful to see his first villain killed and then he comes back later. But Myron Healey played the brothers in the remake. And for me, Healey is really great too, and like Van Cleef, he is there so much in these films! Western fans cannot feel they have truly lived until they see Healey shoot it out with his long time friend Guy Madison in THE HARD MAN in the opening sequence set in a hard rain, and then Healey dies in Madison’s arms, setting that 1957 movie in motion, directed by the great George Sherman no less.

        THE DESPERADO was made among what is considered the last series Westerns with Wayne Morris and comes before the end, but it really is in a different category, a B western that easily stands on its own. Something to see if you have a chance.

        I’ll throw in my two cents for THE TEXAS RANGERS. I am with the consensus on this. George Montgomery is a solid Western lead with variable films including some good ones. For me, this was the best I’ve seen him in, with Phil Karlson especially doing the most he could for it and getting a lot out of it. It isn’t his best Western, but it’s really good. GUNMAN’S WALK is certainly the best–as already noted here–but the once hard to see THUNDERHOOF (three characters and a horse) is truly remarkable. I have a copy of this now and have seen it several times.


  8. I’m on a real RKO B Binge at the moment Colin-did I get the impression that you still have THE THREAT on your to be viewed heap? As we were discussing TWO O CLOCK COURAGE I must admit CRIMINAL COURT is far more to my taste as far as old Tom Conway flicks go. CRIMINAL COURT has our Tom defending Martha O Driscoll for a killing that he,himself was involved in. At 63 minutes it never outstays it’s welcome another well done B from future A Lister Robert Wise. There’s more even obscure Tom in the post to me-I will report later whenever they arrive-Postal Strike now very active. I support our lovely Posties-the Royal Mail NEVER should have been privatised -is there anything our government will not sell off!


    • I watched Criminal Court some time last year and I enjoyed it quite a bit too. It’s a solid B with a good part for Conway, and I agree that it is a better movie overall than Mann’s film. Any comments on old Tom Conway movies are always welcome as far as I’m concerned so do let me know how that unnamed obscurity you’re waiting on turns out.

      Ah, and yes, The Threat still lurks somewhere below the snow-capped summit of Mount To Be Watched!


  9. Colin- The obscure (I think) Tom Conway movie (which arrived this morning) is A NIGHT OF ADVENTURE (1946) Co Starring Audrey Long and Nancy Gates and directed by Gordon Douglas. It’s from the Spanish Vertice label who have released a whole raft of old RKO films all labelled as Noir which the aforementioned ONE CROWDED NIGHT certainly is not. I am loathe to mention picture quality on obscure Euro labels but for me the Vertice transfers are pretty good-I step up the brightness on my TV remote and use the darker (Movie) setting on my DVD/Blu Ray player to obtain something to me quiet pleasing if necessary. Some of the earlier Vertice releases have Spanish subs that cannot be removed on the discs menu but my new player has a facility to remove
    them. The Vertice releases are reasonably priced-generally under £10 and have lovely booklets all in Spanish with posters-lobby cards all in colour. I’ve taken a chance on another RKO B-THE TRUTH ABOUT MURDER with Morgan Conway and Bonita Granville. I’m a sucker for these old RKO B Movies and will report on the others when I’ve viewed them.
    I would bump THE THREAT up your movie viewing pile – the early bit where the gang kidnap the DA is pretty daft but from then on it’s a cracking little thriller with McGraw at his nastiest.


    • That’s interesting about those Vertice titles. I know I avoided some of their earlier releases as I was made aware of the subtitle issue. It is of course possible to overcome the problem but it really shouldn’t be necessary to go to that kind of trouble in the first place. I can see myself taking a punt on some of their more recent offerings.


  10. The Conway film I’d really love to see is CONFIDENCE GIRL (1952) an early Andrew Stone film. Apart from Tom CONFIDENCE GIRL has the added attraction of the always appealing Hillary Brooke.


  11. John, I suspect you are among friends on here in liking RKO B-movies. Their production values make them look more like A-movies.
    I have all the films mentioned except ONE CROWDED NIGHT, which I’ve not seen. Both “THE THREAT” & “A NIGHT OF ADVENTURE” are my kinda film. “THE TRUTH ABOUT MURDER” pretty good also. It would be fun to read Colin’s ‘take’ on “THE THREAT” when he gets to it (hint hint!)


  12. Before Warner Archive switched over to Blu Ray all sorts of obscure B Movies appeared in the series and the same went for Sony’s “Choice Collection” MOD series. Right now Warner Archive seem to be concentrating on all time classics although it was heartening to see STEP BY STEP get released on Blu Ray.
    Really the Vertice releases are an option until if ever these old RKO titles appear on Warner Archive Blu Ray. All I can say regarding the quality while not great I’ve seen far worse.
    One day I’ll come up with a title Jerry has not seen-I guess I’ve scored a minor point with ONE CROWDED NIGHT-which I can never see Warner Archive releasing. Another Vertice curio which I really enjoyed was HIGHWAYS BY NIGHT with Richard Carlson and Jane Randolph, sort of Sullivan’s Travels meets Thieves Highway a rather engaging comedy thriller-and again too obscure I would think for Warners to release. HIGHWAYS BY NIGHT is fast moving fun and not the Noirish Road Movie that I was expecting.


    • While I was initially unimpressed by the concept behind the Warner Archive, I came round to it in time. Their product certainly seems to have proved itself more durable than many of their pressed discs of a similar vintage.
      The Archive was indeed putting out some real rarities and while I’m very happy with some of the wonderful restorations that have appeared on Blu-ray from them, I do miss some of those relatively obscure releases.


  13. All…….

    In case anyone is interested FURY AT GUNSIGHT PASS (1956) has finally popped on YouTube. Fred F. Sears directed this B Western sleeper. If you got 68 minutes to fill in you’ll be glad you did.


  14. A little late to the party to comment, but just wanted to say that this was a great…ly fitting review.

    The Texas Rangers is not exactly deathless cinema, but it’s a good enough little movie if you know what genre you’re watching and what you’re in for if you do. 🙂


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