Guns of the Timberland (1960)
Give me a western with Alan Ladd and Gilbert Roland and I’m all set for a rip roaring showdown. Especially when I see screen baddie Lyle Bettger’s name in the cast list and a movie adaptation of a Louis L’amour novel. Seems like the credited writer, Aaron Spelling didn’t get the memo as this outdoor adventure strays from the sure thing while doing it’s best to cater to the teenage crowd via Frankie Avalon.
It’s a Jaguar production (Alan Ladd’s company) beginning with a train riding Ladd leading his group of happy singing loggers into the next territory. Their mission is to fell the trees atop a mountain above a small frontier town where they are not welcome. Ladd’s group of adventurers include Roland and Noah Beery Jr. As the train pulls into the station, it’s blatantly clear who the star of this film is. The entire cast of loggers are in drab colors while Ladd is wearing a vibrant technicolor red shirt.
The men set up camp and Alan heads into town to rent the horses they’ll need to help with the work. He’ll soon find a cold shoulder from everyone including the store keep to the biggest ranch in the territory run by Jeanne Crain. The first meeting with Crain is done in one of those “when stars collide” moments that only Hollywood of yesteryear pulled off so well. The dreamy look on both of their faces fade quickly when Crain finds out Ladd is the head man for the logging troupe.
Surely they’ll be able to set aside their differences for the good of their own future and their future children’s future.
Any steam that we’re building up in a traditional western setting comes crashing down when Frankie Avalon wows the crowd at the Saturday night dance with a rock’n roll number that I thought was embarrassingly bad titled “Gee Whizz Whilikens Golly Gee.” It’s an obvious attempt at trying to lure in the Avalon fans of the time for the sake of box office. I assume that means young teenage girls with pin ups of Frankie inside their lockers at school. Truthfully, Frankie doesn’t do to badly in his scenes opposite Ladd as the kid who idolizes Ladd’s roving lifestyle and makes friends easily.
After we get past Frankie singing to Alan Ladd’s real life daughter Alana, the film goes a little of course when the assumed Bettger isn’t the biggest problem in Ladd’s near future. This despite the fact Lyle clearly despises Ladd and is also vying for the hand of our leading cowgirl Miss Crain. No sir, it’s Ladd’s faithful companion Gilbert Roland who goes rabid, like a mad dog over the communities continuing attempts at preventing the loggers from clear cutting the lands. Ladd wants to do it all legally with the government grants while Roland wants to do it all vigilante style.
I much prefer the Gilbert Roland over the first half of this film as opposed to the last. It’s not that he can’t play a villain, it’s just that his character is far too lovable and faithful to Ladd over the first half to change so suddenly during the finale. Sadly, Ladd was by this time nearing the end of his life and though still watchable, one can easily see the face has become puffy and he doesn’t really look well. Still when he smiles, the camera falls in love with his obvious star power.
Crain was no stranger to westerns and fits the genre nicely as a woman who isn’t scared to get dirty with the boys busting broncs while at the same time looking stunning and catching the eye of every cowhand on the range. She’d already starred in top westerns like The Fastest Gun Alive and Man Without a Star.
Naturally this title found a spot on my library shelf thanks to the Warner Archive Collection and due to the Alan Ladd factor. I just wish it had turned out slightly better.