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Overland Telegraph

Overland Telegraph(1951)

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teaser Overland Telegraph (1951)

Tim Holt returned from service in World War II and landed right back in the saddle. After playing Virgil Earp in John Ford's My Darling Clementine (1946), he was right back in his comfort zone as RKO's boyish B-movie western star. He headlined 29 westerns between 1947 and 1952, playing a variety of characters until the studio dispensed with the pretense and simply named his on-screen character Tim Holt. Overland Telegraph (1951) was one of Holt's last westerns and features him as a wandering cowpoke looking for work. As in all of Holt's post-war westerns, Richard Martin is by his side as Chito Jose Gonzales Bustamente Rafferty, a garrulous, woman-chasing, Mexican-Irish character with a clich of a Mexican accent and taste for mariachi band fashions. When they chase masked gunman from attacking a telegraph camp, they are hired by Terry (Gail Davis), daughter of the telegraph installer and foreman of the team, to help her stop the sabotage.

Davis gets a great entrance: she's hanging from a telegraph post, her leg hooked around the brace, when Tim and Chito hear her cries for help. That was no stunt double, as Davis related to Holt biographer David Rothel. "Tim was a great joker," she recalled. "They got me up to shoot the scene, and he yelled to everybody, 'Lunch!'" Needless to say, they didn't leave her hanging. Her character, Terry, is no mere romantic interest. She runs the work crew and when her father is killed she vows revenge. "It was one of the best scripts for a girl that I'd seen around that particular time," Davis explained. "A lot of times in Westerns they gave the girl the part where she sits at the ranch house waiting for the cowboy to come home, or she waves to the cowboy at the end of the picture as he rides off into the sunset." As Terry, Davis rides, shoots, rounds up a lynch mob, and even charges to the rescue. She went on to a solid career in westerns, regularly appearing in movies and TV shows before taking the lead in Annie Oakley for three seasons.

Hugh Beaumont, famed as the understanding sitcom father on Leave It to Beaver, gets bad guy duty as the owner of the town's saloon and gambling hall, and Robert Wilke, who made a career playing heavies (including one of the gunslingers in High Noon, 1952), is his go-to henchman, an opportunist who has no qualms with murder or extortion.

The character of Chito was created by Martin long before he signed on as Holt's sidekick. He first played Chito in the 1943 war drama Bombardier and reprised the role for a pair Robert Mitchum B-movie oaters, Nevada (1944) and West of the Pecos (1945), before settling in for permanent duty in support of Holt at RKO. Along with comic relief and action support, the charming Chito does all the flirting.

Director Lesley Selander was an old hand of well over 100 westerns (including 20 starring Holt) and almost as many TV episodes. He worked quickly and efficiently on the set while turning out brisk, entertaining films. Even with the decreasing budgets and shorter shooting schedules for Holt's later westerns he provides good production value.

Holt was voted the third most popular western star in the Motion Picture Herald's exhibitors poll for 1951 but the era of the B-movie western was coming to end as the genre moved to TV, along with many of its stars. Holt did not join the migration to the small screen and, apart from a few scattered appearances, retired from acting after making his final RKO western, Desert Passage in 1952.

Riders of the Range: The Sagebrush Heroes of the Sound Screen, Kalton C. Lahue. A.S. Barnes and Co., 1973.
Tim Holt, David Rothel. Empire Publishing Company, 1994.
"Tim Holt and the B Western," Tom Stempel. Off Screen Volume 17, issue 11, November 2013.
AFI Catalog of Feature Films

By Sean Axmaker

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