Trail Street (1947)
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Trail Street (1947) brought together an established actor who would dominate the Western in the decade to follow and a rising star who would also become closely identified with the genre. Randolph Scott plays legendary gunman Bat Masterson, brought to Liberal, Kansas, to clean up the bad element threatening the well being of the local farmers and destroying the peace of the community. Robert Ryan is the federal land agent from back East who foresees a prosperous future in wheat replacing the area's traditional cattle trade. The story hinges on many of the standard conflicts that came to define the Western: farmer vs. cattleman, East vs. West, civilization vs. lawlessness, settled land vs. wilderness, democratic action vs. individualism. These resonant themes, under Ray Enright's skillful direction, struck a chord with audiences and made the movie a hit in its day.
A Virginian by birth, Randolph Scott started his career coaching Gary Cooper in his native dialect for the Western The Virginian (1929). His earliest roles were usually as dashing romantic types, but in the 30s he made a number of medium-budget Westerns at Paramount that were realistic, adult-oriented stories similar to those made by such silent-era stars of the genre as William S. Hart and Harry Carey. By the late 40s he had moved almost exclusively into Western roles and became the unofficial "King of the Cowboys" in the decade to follow. In 1946 he teamed with producer Nat Holt to make a series of profitable Westerns, including this one. Scott's popularity kept him among the top 25 stars for 20 years and placed him among the top 10 box office draws for several years in the 1950s. His work in a series of films directed by Budd Boetticher stand among the most respected of the Western genre. Before retiring from acting in 1962, he made his next-to-last picture with Boetticher, Comanche Station (1960), and appeared for the last time on screen in Ride the High Country (1962), directed by Sam Peckinpah, who would begin creating a new type of Western for a new age. Scott was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1975, and his identification with the genre was so strong that whenever his name was mentioned in Mel Brooks' spoof Blazing Saddles (1974), it was accompanied by a reverential heavenly chorus.
Chicago-born Robert Ryan was an Ivy League graduate and heavyweight boxer who bounced around in a number of odd jobs before landing in Hollywood in 1939. Trained at Max Reinhardt's Actors' Workshop, he found steady work in small parts and got his first big break playing Ginger Rogers' husband in Tender Comrade (1943). His enlistment in the Marines in 1944 temporarily halted his career; Trail Street was his first film after returning from the war. He quickly rose to major stardom, often playing a man whose rugged good looks concealed a tormented and twisted inner nature. But he also became most associated in audience's minds with Westerns, thanks to what Ryan called his "long, seamy face." Throughout the 50s and 60s he made a number of acclaimed films in the genre with such directors as Boetticher, Anthony Mann, Raoul Walsh, John Sturges and Andre De Toth. He also worked with Peckinpah in the landmark Western The Wild Bunch (1969).
Also appearing in this film is another icon of the genre, George "Gabby" Hayes, who brought to the story the grizzled comic relief that made him famous as Roy Rogers' sidekick. Reviewers at the time took particular delight in the outlandish tall tales Hayes tells in Trail Street, about such questionable legends as Texas grasshoppers so big they can pick their teeth with barbed wire. And look for the father of stage and screen actor Jason Robards in a smaller role as "Jason."
Ray Enright directed Scott three times prior to this project, most notably teaming him with John Wayne and Marlene Dietrich in The Spoilers (1942). He also directed Ryan earlier in the football drama The Iron Major (1943). Trail Street was such a hit that the director and the two stars teamed again -along with Hayes, fellow cast member Anne Jeffreys and cinematographer J. Roy Hunt -for Return of the Bad Men (1948). In that picture, Ryan played the legendary Sundance Kid, a role played by numerous actors throughout film history, the most famous being Robert Redford's portrayal in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).
Director: Ray Enright
Producer: Nat Holt
Screenplay: Norman Houston, Gene Lewis, based on the novel Golden Horizon by William Corcoran
Cinematography: J. Roy Hunt
Editing: Lyle Boyer
Art Direction: Ralph Berger, Albert S. D'Agostino
Original Music: Harry Braisted, Stanley Carter, Ben Oakland, Paul Sawtell
Cast: Randolph Scott (Bat Masterson), Robert Ryan (Allan Harper), George "Gabby" Hayes (Billy Burns), Anne Jeffreys (Ruby Stone), Madge Meredith (Susan Pritchett).
by Rob Nixon