Westward Ho


60m 1935

Brief Synopsis

Ballard's trail jumpers attack the Wyatt Company wagon train, killing young John's parents and kidnaping his brother, Jim. In post-Civil War California, John Wyatt, now a man, pulls together a vigilante posse, The Singing Riders, who all ride white horses, dress alike, and ride the trails singing and rounding up outlaw gangs. Meanwhile, John is ever on the lookout for the gang that murdered his parents.

Film Details

Release Date
Aug 19, 1935
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Republic Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Republic Pictures Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
60m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7 reels

Synopsis

In the late 1840's, as Mark and Hannah, "Ma" Wyatt and their young sons John and Jim drive cattle across the California desert, they are attacked by Walt Ballard's gang. Jim is forced to join the gang as the family's wagons are burned. John falls off the wagon during the battle, but survives and years later forms a vigilante group to help fight the many groups of lawless men who wander the territory. When the Black Bart gang attacks a town, the vigilantes capture them. John learns that the Gordon herd is being driven through his area, and joins Lafe Gordon as trail guide without revealing his true identity. John and Lafe's daughter Mary yell at each other, but nonetheless she likes him. Ballard sends Jim, who is also grown but does not know the gang killed his parents, to spy on Lafe. Jim stumbles toward John and the Gordons and pretends to have been robbed. John is suspicious, and later Jim convinces Lafe that John is a fraud. The next day, finding Jim gone, John searches for him. Meanwhile, Jim returns to Lafe and convinces Lafe to proceed into Ballard's trap that evening. John and the vigilantes spoil Ballard's plan and save Mary's runaway wagon. Ballard and his men regroup, and John begins a search for the gang. Jim tricks Mary into being taken prisoner while John gathers the vigilantes. Mary overhears Ballard's head henchman, Red, mention that John and Jim are brothers. John receives a note that instructs him to ride to Blind Canyon to save Mary. While Ballard and his men rob the bank, Jim realizes he has been abandoned by his confederates, and releases Mary and learns the truth about John. Jim saves John from an ambush and explains what Mary has told him. Mary summons the vigilantes as John and Jim begin an attack on Ballard, who is killed as his wagon goes over a cliff. Jim, however, is also killed in the battle, and Mary agrees to return to California with John.

Film Details

Release Date
Aug 19, 1935
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Republic Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Republic Pictures Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
60m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7 reels

Articles

Westward Ho on DVD


During the 1930s, John Wayne starred in over 60 films for Monogram and Republic, all but a few B-movie westerns, of a uniformity and modestly-budgeted scale that helped established the genre's familiarity, code of iconography, and perennial matinee appeal for all time. With only occasional exceptions, the Western began as a disposable movie myth (much as it had thrived as dime novels only, decades earlier), consumed like afternoon popcorn, in brisk double features and as serials during the silent years and into the talkie era, by generations of young Americans for whom the very real horses and very real guns were all there was to differentiate these frontier morality fables from the let's-pretend games the kids played when they got home. Which is a beguiling and necessary way to think about movie that we've all but forgotten - as pretend, as a form of play. How a movie might, by virtue of its clumsiness or guileless simplicity or stock ingredients, evoke one's experience of childhood play might just be the key to our love of cinema - one we ordinarily rationalize away with opinions about genre, acting, story structure, etc. Maybe at their core movies are all about being a kid again.

Given the profusion of '30s Westerns, even if you're considering only Wayne's filmography, you'd be surprised to come upon one more or less at random - as in, Westward Ho (1935) - and not find an unimpressive, shortcut-riddled programmer, staged and shot for maximum efficiency. Westward Ho, released on DVD by Olive Films along with scores of other Wayne entries, is actually something of a shocker, sheerly in terms of visual scale and energy. No expense seems to have been spared. Directed by studio cowhand Robert N. Bradbury, and stunningly shot by cinematographer Archie Stout (who started with B westerns but worked for John Ford, Rene Clair, William Wellman and Andre de Toth before he was through), the film is a stirring feast for even jaded eyeballs, beginning with breathtaking Ansel Adams-like vistas of a wagon train dwarfed by the Rockies, and then a tightly-choreographed band of 18 outlaws on horseback charging to a hilltop and lining up as they observe their mark in the desert below. When the attack comes, the notions of using stock footage (as Ford's classic Stagecoach did a few years later) is never broached; Bradbury's camera shifts perspectives endlessly, cutting on the action, and the melee (seen mostly in fascinating wide shots, not constructed out of close-ups) is huge and thrilling. Later, a massive shootout in the desert between what looks like dozens of gunslingers and dozens of outlaws, all amid a real stampeding cattle drive, puts the lie to cheapskate "B westerns"; this was a spectacle any A-list film would be proud of, executed with speed and visual imagination.

The narrative is another matter. When the film is confined to dialogue and exposition, it simply slogs through it, as if everyone involved were wishing that the whole film could just be hard-riding cowpoke action out on the plains, without any of this tiresome talking. (In this, too, the film conforms to a 10-year-old's way of thinking, for better or worse.) In the second half, we're granted entrance to the criminal kingpin's saloon-second-floor office (!), strangely decorated with an old desk, a file cabinet, and a divan! Wayne's frontier hunk, whose parents were killed and brother was kidnapped years earlier, gets fed up with the outlaw gangs and begins enlisting civilians into a band of vigilantes - all wearing back shirts and white kerchiefs as a uniform, and riding snow-white horses. This is a preadolescent kid's Western world, where the laundry is always pristine, and good guys are good all the way through, and cowboys spent their downtime singing in harmony around the campfire. Wayne, sings, too, in a dubbed baritone courtesy of Bradbury's son, and Westward Ho could be classified as a "singing cowboy" movie, with the vigilantes comprised largely of The Singing Riders (a one-shot supergroup of Western crooners led by Glenn Strange, whose career sort of peaked playing the Frankenstein monster in the last three Universal films in that classic cycle). Thankfully, because it remains desperately difficult to take singing cowboy movies very seriously, Bradbury's film only dawdles momentarily by the fireside, and climaxes with a hairy frontier battle in which horses were, sorry to say, clearly crippled.

Naturally, Wayne's hero confronts his long-lost brother - now an undercover bandit, played by Frank MacGlynn Jr. - but the story was and still is nothing new. The main attraction at the time wasn't even Wayne, who was a callow and strangely stiff leading man in 1935. It was the Western semiotics themselves, the place and time captured in a mythic frieze of fairy-tale good and evil, and of righteousness triumphing in the open wilderness where the law has little purchase. (In the '30s, Hollywood product had little advertising beyond the neighborhood marquee; people would just go, knowing they were in for musicals or westerns or comedies or whatever.) In this way, Bradbury's film is a slice of heaven, visiting our grade-school selves into that dusty, violent, man's-man sphere somewhere west of St. Louis and north of Hell, but keeping us safe and secure in our seats all the while. Still, Westward Ho is far from being a typical token genre piece of the Depression years - certainly, no Gene Autry vehicle had this much respect for chaotic action and landscape, and few Westerns before John Ford hit his stride in the '40s invested these stock stories with this much breadth and business.

By Michael Atkinson
Westward Ho On Dvd

Westward Ho on DVD

During the 1930s, John Wayne starred in over 60 films for Monogram and Republic, all but a few B-movie westerns, of a uniformity and modestly-budgeted scale that helped established the genre's familiarity, code of iconography, and perennial matinee appeal for all time. With only occasional exceptions, the Western began as a disposable movie myth (much as it had thrived as dime novels only, decades earlier), consumed like afternoon popcorn, in brisk double features and as serials during the silent years and into the talkie era, by generations of young Americans for whom the very real horses and very real guns were all there was to differentiate these frontier morality fables from the let's-pretend games the kids played when they got home. Which is a beguiling and necessary way to think about movie that we've all but forgotten - as pretend, as a form of play. How a movie might, by virtue of its clumsiness or guileless simplicity or stock ingredients, evoke one's experience of childhood play might just be the key to our love of cinema - one we ordinarily rationalize away with opinions about genre, acting, story structure, etc. Maybe at their core movies are all about being a kid again. Given the profusion of '30s Westerns, even if you're considering only Wayne's filmography, you'd be surprised to come upon one more or less at random - as in, Westward Ho (1935) - and not find an unimpressive, shortcut-riddled programmer, staged and shot for maximum efficiency. Westward Ho, released on DVD by Olive Films along with scores of other Wayne entries, is actually something of a shocker, sheerly in terms of visual scale and energy. No expense seems to have been spared. Directed by studio cowhand Robert N. Bradbury, and stunningly shot by cinematographer Archie Stout (who started with B westerns but worked for John Ford, Rene Clair, William Wellman and Andre de Toth before he was through), the film is a stirring feast for even jaded eyeballs, beginning with breathtaking Ansel Adams-like vistas of a wagon train dwarfed by the Rockies, and then a tightly-choreographed band of 18 outlaws on horseback charging to a hilltop and lining up as they observe their mark in the desert below. When the attack comes, the notions of using stock footage (as Ford's classic Stagecoach did a few years later) is never broached; Bradbury's camera shifts perspectives endlessly, cutting on the action, and the melee (seen mostly in fascinating wide shots, not constructed out of close-ups) is huge and thrilling. Later, a massive shootout in the desert between what looks like dozens of gunslingers and dozens of outlaws, all amid a real stampeding cattle drive, puts the lie to cheapskate "B westerns"; this was a spectacle any A-list film would be proud of, executed with speed and visual imagination. The narrative is another matter. When the film is confined to dialogue and exposition, it simply slogs through it, as if everyone involved were wishing that the whole film could just be hard-riding cowpoke action out on the plains, without any of this tiresome talking. (In this, too, the film conforms to a 10-year-old's way of thinking, for better or worse.) In the second half, we're granted entrance to the criminal kingpin's saloon-second-floor office (!), strangely decorated with an old desk, a file cabinet, and a divan! Wayne's frontier hunk, whose parents were killed and brother was kidnapped years earlier, gets fed up with the outlaw gangs and begins enlisting civilians into a band of vigilantes - all wearing back shirts and white kerchiefs as a uniform, and riding snow-white horses. This is a preadolescent kid's Western world, where the laundry is always pristine, and good guys are good all the way through, and cowboys spent their downtime singing in harmony around the campfire. Wayne, sings, too, in a dubbed baritone courtesy of Bradbury's son, and Westward Ho could be classified as a "singing cowboy" movie, with the vigilantes comprised largely of The Singing Riders (a one-shot supergroup of Western crooners led by Glenn Strange, whose career sort of peaked playing the Frankenstein monster in the last three Universal films in that classic cycle). Thankfully, because it remains desperately difficult to take singing cowboy movies very seriously, Bradbury's film only dawdles momentarily by the fireside, and climaxes with a hairy frontier battle in which horses were, sorry to say, clearly crippled. Naturally, Wayne's hero confronts his long-lost brother - now an undercover bandit, played by Frank MacGlynn Jr. - but the story was and still is nothing new. The main attraction at the time wasn't even Wayne, who was a callow and strangely stiff leading man in 1935. It was the Western semiotics themselves, the place and time captured in a mythic frieze of fairy-tale good and evil, and of righteousness triumphing in the open wilderness where the law has little purchase. (In the '30s, Hollywood product had little advertising beyond the neighborhood marquee; people would just go, knowing they were in for musicals or westerns or comedies or whatever.) In this way, Bradbury's film is a slice of heaven, visiting our grade-school selves into that dusty, violent, man's-man sphere somewhere west of St. Louis and north of Hell, but keeping us safe and secure in our seats all the while. Still, Westward Ho is far from being a typical token genre piece of the Depression years - certainly, no Gene Autry vehicle had this much respect for chaotic action and landscape, and few Westerns before John Ford hit his stride in the '40s invested these stock stories with this much breadth and business. By Michael Atkinson

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

After the opening credits, the following written dedication appears: "This picture is dedicated to the Vigilantes...builders of the New Empire of the West...stern frontiersman of the days of '49. Men who gave their lives to purge the new frontier of lawlessness." The pressbook reveals that a novel based on the film Westward Ho was published by the Engel-Van Wiseman Co. of New York and sold in Woolworth stores for 10 cents. The story was also serialized in Movie (Oct 1935). According to modern sources, the cast included Henry Hall, Ray Henderson, Charles Brinley, Edward Hearn, Al Taylor, Herman Hack, Silver Tip Baker, Lloyd Ingraham, Frank Ellis, Earl Dwire, Fred Burns, Tex Palmer, Fred Parker and Eddie Parker.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1935

Released in United States 1935