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Fighting Frontier

Fighting Frontier(1943)

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teaser Fighting Frontier (1943)

Within three years of his start as an adult actor in 1937, Tim Holt had amassed parts in such major films as Stella Dallas (1937), Stagecoach (1939), and 5th Avenue Girl (1939). He had also begun his career-long association with westerns, the genre for which he was best loved. Almost all of the dozens of oaters he made over the next fifteen years, however, were B films that are not often seen or remembered today; as a result, Holt is mostly known to modern audiences for his memorable roles in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), My Darling Clementine (1946), and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).

But even as he ventured into those occasional A-level parts, he always returned to the world of RKO B westerns he so dearly loved. From 1941-1943, in fact, Holt was among the top ten moneymaking western stars, a ranking he would reach again after World War II. Tim Holt was, simply said, a hugely popular, reliable, and durable western movie star. In fact, his entire family was connected to the genre: father Jack was a significant western star dating back to the early silent era, and sister Jennifer starred in her own series of westerns for Monogram in the 1940s.

RKO had its own history of B westerns, having featured Tom Keene and George O'Brien in dozens of them through the 1930s. They generally had high production values, on a par with Republic's Gene Autry films and Paramount's William Boyd series, and the Tim Holt titles continued this RKO trend.

Fighting Frontier (1943) was one of six westerns that Holt made with actor Cliff Edwards as his sidekick before taking a break from acting to serve in World War II. The movie went through several title changes during its writing and production stages, including Son of the Saddle, Avenging Rider, and Arizona Legion. Holt plays a good kid seemingly gone wrong, running wild with stagecoach bandits, but he's actually a special agent working undercover to learn the identity of the gang's mysterious ringleader. At fifty-seven minutes, the film is well paced and was received as a satisfying entry. The Hollywood Reporter described it as "packed with fast action, fist fights galore, hard riding, and blazin' six shooters that rarely are in need of reloading... Scenically, film is tops... Tim Holt does his usual chores with expertness, and Cliff Edwards appears to good effect as his comic sidekick."

Variety also gave a strong review, noting that "Cliff Edwards and his ukelele handle comedy and two prairie ballads," and deeming the picture to be "packed with suspenseful action under Lambert Hillyer's ace direction."

Responses like those were echoed by the pubic, who made Fighting Frontier and other Holt films consistently profitable. They also explain why Holt was receiving more fan mail than anyone else at RKO during this time except Ginger Rogers.

By Jeremy Arnold

SOURCES:
James Robert Parish, Great Western Stars
Buck Rainey, Heroes of the Range
David Rothel, Tim Holt

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