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Man from Monterey

Man from Monterey(1933)

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teaser Man from Monterey (1933)

The Man From Monterey (1933) was the last of six films John Wayne made at Warner Bros. between 1932 and 1933. The strapping young actor and former college football player had risen from studio gopher to bit actor (promoted by director John Ford, who took a liking to the eager young man) to leading man in one of the first western epics of the sound era, Raoul Walsh's early widescreen experiment The Big Trail (1930). The film flopped and Wayne slid back into bit parts and low budget features, ultimately finding his footing as a star of matinee westerns. He was under non-exclusive contract to Mascot Pictures, one of the "poverty row" studios cranking out second features and inexpensive serials. Then Leon Schlesinger, who in addition to creating and overseeing the Warner animation unit also produced films for the Warner's B-western unit, had the bright idea to recycle the silent films that Ken Maynard made for the studio. Schlesinger signed the broad-shouldered young actor partly out of his physical resemblance to Maynard, the easier to match the stunts and action scenes from the earlier films. Getting such a hungry and serious young screen actor, a rising star who made up for his inexperience with his commitment to his roles and focus on learning his craft, was a bonus.

Running under an hour, The Man from Monterey is a simple sagebrush melodrama set in 1848 California. Wayne plays Captain John Holmes, an American cavalry officer sent to coax the landowners to register their land (once part of old Mexico, now a part of the growing United States) with the new American government. Meanwhile, dastardly Don Pablo Gonzales (Francis Ford, John Ford's older brother) is scheming to steal the Rancho Castanares, the biggest spread in the area, by convincing its owner, Don Jose Castanares (Lafe McKee), to defy the Americans as a matter of principle (and thus lose his title to the land). Just in case that scheme fails, he encourages his playboy caballero of a son (Donald Reed) to court Don Jose's daughter, the lovely Senorita Dolores (Ruth Hall). "You know Felipe, there's something mighty suspicious about all this," drawls Captain John without a shred of irony to his adopted sidekick, a colorful fortune teller and barfly played with comic flair by character actor Luis Alberni (marvelous as the exasperated hotel manager Louis Louis in the 1937 Easy Living).

This is primordial Wayne, still developing as an actor and mastering his screen presence as a leading man. Though surrounded by more accomplished performers, he holds the screen through confidence, sincerity and physicality, creating a portrait of courage and straight-shooting honesty through action and athleticism. The stunts are recycled Ken Maynard scenes but Wayne rides tall and wades into battle with fists and sword with a gusto that makes him perfectly believable as a man of action and courage. No wonder Senorita Dolores falls for the chivalrous and heroic Captain John, a man who embodies the American ideals of honesty and justice in this land filled with outlaws: manifest destiny in action. It was in films such as this that Wayne learned the art of film acting and perfected his screen persona. His apprenticeship in the B-movie minor leagues paid off when he was finally brought back to the majors to star in the film that made his career: John Ford's Stagecoach (1939).

Trivia note: The opening credit to The Man from Monterey lists the stars as "John Wayne and Duke." That's not a misprint. John Wayne became known as The Duke later in his career, of course, but he appeared with an equine co-star by the name of Duke (aka Duke the Devil Horse); this was common practice in the days of B-western heroes and in the six films Wayne made for Warner Bros. This Duke doesn't have a lot of personality (at least not compared to Trigger, the loyal steed of Roy Rogers) but he does get his spotlight moment when he rides off to rouse the reinforcements, a Lassie moment played without a sense of irony. But it's not where Wayne picked up his nickname. When he was a boy, young Marion Morrison had a giant Airedale dog named Duke who dutifully followed him to school every day. He picked up the nickname "Little Duke," a joke that stuck and then was shortened to simply "Duke." Self conscious of his given name, he embraced it--it sure sounded better than Marion to the boy -- and it stuck all through his life, even after adopting the screen name John Wayne. When he became a star, the nickname known only to his circle of friends became known to all: he was The Duke.

Producer: Leon Schlesinger (uncredited)
Director: Mack V. Wright
Screenplay: Lesley Mason (screenplay and dialogue)
Cinematography: T.D. McCord
Film Editing: Wm. Clemens
Cast: John Wayne (Captain John Holmes), Duke (Duke, John's Horse), Ruth Hall (Dolores Castanares), Luis Alberni (Felipe Guadalupe Constacio Delgado Santa Cruz de la Verranca), Donald Reed (Don Luis Gonzales), Nena Quartero (Anita Garcia), Francis Ford (Don Pablo Gonzales), Lafe McKee (Don Jose Castanares), Lillian Leighton (Juanita), Charles Whitaker (Jake Morgan).
BW-58m. Closed Captioning.

by Sean Axmaker

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