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The Forty-Niners

The Forty-Niners(1954)

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The Forty-Niners (1954)

This was the last western to star Bill Elliott, son of a Missouri cattleman, who traded the dusty reality of ranching and rodeo for the dream of work as a Hollywood actor. Schooled at the Pasadena Playhouse, Elliott began to make a name for himself (as Gordon Elliott) in silent westerns but with the advent of sound his natural prairie drawl was determined a detriment and he was thereafter remaindered to extra work. Elliott gained marketability in middle age and won a contract with Columbia Pictures, whose president, Harry Cohn, christened him "Wild Bill" Elliott. The actor remained a major western star through the next fifteen years (on radio as well as the silver screen) and paired famously with child actor Robert Blake for a run of films about western hero Red Ryder and his Indian sidekick Little Beaver. Elliott switched to Republic Pictures in 1943 and drifted a decade later to Monogram, which became the Allied Artists Picture Corporation. The Forty-Niners (1954) finds Elliott as steadfast as ever, slower on the draw but resolute in his adherence to justice and fair play. Harry Morgan is well-cast as a bad guy who comes to respect and admire the U. S. Marshal and balks at the order to gun him down. Elliott would cap his career playing cops for Allied Artists in a five-film series of detective films shot in and round Los Angeles, beginning with Dial Red O (1955), and patterned (as is The Forty-Niners) after the success of Jack Webb's Dragnet.

By Richard Harland Smith

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