Trail Street (1947)
“Horses is a healthy smell, Hannah.”
No that wasn’t a Walter Brennan quote. Pardon me? Did you say Gabby Hayes?
Now we’re talking.
Trail Street from director Ray Enright by way of RKO strikes me as a western that was bridging the gap between the genre’s movement to a more serious tone yet still a “B” film with Gabby in character to keep things light and sticking his tongue out at the camera when needed.
In the same year that Robert Ryan would essentially typecast himself due to his realistically vicious portrait of evil in Crossfire, he stars here as a young idealist banker looking to help local farmers make it through tough times as the Kansas territory opens up to new pioneers. He’s got himself a girl played by Madge Meredith and an opponent for her hand in Steve Brodie.
Brodie serves double duty here. He’s opposite Ryan for Madge’s hand and at the same time he’s a cattleman trying to push the farmers out while buying up the land. Thankfully riding in by coach is famed town tamer, Bat Masterson. You might know him better as top billed Randolph Scott.
Taking over as the town’s Marshall, Scott’s first civic act is to name the shaky Hayes as his deputy. This is sure to keep Gabby on screen for as much time as possible and keep the laughs coming while offsetting the six shooter violence. When Brodie tries to put Scott on the payroll and doesn’t succeed he moves to plan B which is to ambush the fast shooting Scott.
This puts Randolph squarely on the side of Robert Ryan’s struggling banker.
Like many a western baddies, Brodie has a gang of henchman to do his bidding which includes framing Ryan for the murder of a well liked man in town. Scott knows Ryan is of course innocent. He just needs to figure out how to go about proving it and pin the killing where it belongs.
Westerns mean saloons. Saloons mean dance hall girls so this time we’re treated to Anne Jeffrey’s as a girl with a past working for Brodie as well as being stuck on him. She knows he’s no good and in the end will have to decide between him and the honest Ryan though not for the reasons you may read into this.
Just one year later Anne would rejoin Ryan, Scott, Hayes and Brodie for another western go around under Enright’s direction in Return of the Bad Men for RKO.
While Gabby may keep things light at times including a truly funny bit at the fade out it’s Scott and Ryan who stand tall here in this western tale that serves as a great introduction to the decade ahead and where the genre was headed. It’s a good role for Ryan early in his leading man days before Crossfire pretty much labeled him as a tense, on screen performer.
Scott was of course made for the western genre. He easily rides into town and takes control smoothly without any real violence though one can sense it’s just lying below the surface. He’s more than capable of handling himself and the final confrontation with Brodie allows him to give us that stoic stroll on main street as he walks down his quarry.
This proved to be an above average effort for it’s time from RKO featuring a trio of stars closely associated with the western. For those interested, it plays regularly on TCM and can be located as well through the Warner Archive Collection which is how I located a copy for my home’s movie room.