Before Rita Hayworth took the male population by storm she apprenticed like many other budding starlets in a series of low budget “B’s.” For Rita that meant appearing in anything from a Charlie Chan mystery to a Blondie feature.
In the first of our western adventures, Rita finds herself under the banner of Grand National Pictures and co-starring alongside western singing star, Tex Ritter. It’s a rodeo tale crossed with some evil doings by the likes of Yakima Canutt.
Rita plays a government agent sent in to get proof that a murder ring is killing rodeo riders that sit atop the standings so that Yakima and company can claim the top prizes for themselves. Ironic since Yakima was a champion rodeo rider multiple times and I am quite sure could hold his own against the star player here, Tex Ritter when it comes to riding and roping.
Tex and his trusty sidekick, Lucky (Horace Murphy) are a couple of cowpokes looking to claim the championship for the Middletown Rodeo and have Tex entertain us with some songs including “Down the Colorado Trail” along the way. Tex himself is trailing the bad guys over the apparent murder of his own brother.
What we really wind up here with is a 63 minute low budget effort with what seems like a good 15 minutes of stock footage featuring, stagecoach races, bronk busting, and steer roping from a newsreel. Mixed in are Rita and Tex flirting with each other though Tex comes to believe that the undercover Rita might be a member of the gang that Yakima is running.
Looks like the clichéd sidekick Lucky has a better impression of Rita then Tex from the get go. “She appears to be a nice right gal.” Like many other sidekicks, Lucky is sure that the drop dead gorgeous leading lady has eyes only for him.
Tex sings and Rita dances her way through a cantina scene before the final rodeo ride and the customary fade out towards the end when the crimes are solved and our lovely couple can begin a ranch of their own and settle down to wedded bliss.
According to The Films of Rita Hayworth by Gene Ringgold, she was billed here as Rita Cansino though the copy of the film that I have gives her top billing over Tex as Rita Hayworth. Obviously a rerelease edition capitalizing on her subsequent fame justifying her change in name and billing.
Silly fun from the bygone era of the singing cowboy when Rita’s star was just around the corner and her look wasn’t quite finalized. As for Tex Ritter, he’d headline a whole rodeo of films up until 1945 and will forever be associated with the theme song to High Noon.
The version of this that I happened across came as an added bonus from Image Entertainment’s DVD release of the documentary Rita produced for TCM.
Moving to our second feature, we find Rita taking up shop at RKO for this western giving her a plum role and second billing to George O’Brien and just ahead of Tim Holt in the pecking order. It’s an outdoor adventure allowing Rita plenty of opportunity to look gorgeous atop a horse and prove she can hold her own with handling a firearm and acting tough.
Leading man George O’Brien is a member of the Texas Rangers who as the film opens has a falling out with young recruit Tim Holt. O’Brien is being sent in undercover to bring in Rita who is wanted for the murder of a local land baron who apparently forced her and countless others off their lands due to shady tax laws.
Essentially Rita has been forced to play a Robin Hood of sorts or perhaps Zorro might be a better comparison.
At a running time of 59 minutes, O’Brien makes quick work of infiltrating Rita’s gang where he runs straight into Holt who knows his true identity. Holt of course knows that Rita is far too beautiful to be a murderess and does his best to convince O’Brien that there are shady politicians afoot. Still O’Brien is a Texas Ranger and has to bring in his man…… or in this case woman. Could romance be in the air causing O’Brien to possibly forgo his duty?
Fast moving and an absolutely stunning Rita on the cusp of super stardom looking every inch the beauty queen she would soon be hailed as. Her star was on the rise and she’d have a featured role in less than one year playing opposite Cary Grant and Jean Arthur in Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings. The forties would bring her screen immortality in musicals and Gilda.
This western “B” feature occasionally turns up on TCM should you be inclined to give it a look for a fast paced entertaining hour of your time.
Renegade Ranger looks good and has a nice cast!
A nice way to spend an hour.