Wrapping up this six film run with Miss Mayo we come to a pair of late 50’s entries that saw her costarring with a young actor beginning to hit his stride and a veteran who was just about ready to hang up his six shooter.
Fort Dobbs (1958)
Clint Walker takes center stage in his first starring feature film after finding fame on the small screen’s western favorite, Cheyenne. He’ll kill a man in the opening scenes of the film prompting a posse to ride out after him into dangerous Indian territory. It’s when Walker finds a dead man with an arrow in his back that he’ll shake the posse by switching coats with the corpse and pushing it off a cliff face. He’ll have to abandon his horse to make the trick work and sure enough the posse sees the body down below and assumes Walker has been killed before they could get to him and retreats back to town.
Walker now finds himself on foot and will eventually come to a ranch through the night. He’ll need a horse and when stealing one fails, he’ll awaken to find Virginia Mayo and her son Richard Eyer alone awaiting her husband’s return. It seems he’s gone missing. Care to wager a guess who’s body is lying at the foot of a cliff with an arrow in it’s back? When Indians storm the ranch house Walker takes command and in the dead of night will gather three horses and lead the trio on a cross country trek to Fort Dobbs and safety.
Intending to give Walker the star treatment he’ll have to play hero to Miss Mayo when she falls into a raging river on their journey despite Walker’s firm warning not to cross on horseback without his riding along side. Saving Virginia from certain death she’ll awaken next to a campfire and wondering just who removed her wet clothing. Their relationship is friendly enough until Walker unrolls the coat he switched with the dead man. This one has what appears to be a bullet hole in the back and dry blood surrounding it. Mayo is now convinced that Walker has murdered her husband and intends to see him hang for it. Walker pleads his case to no avail.
Time for the third billed Brian Keith to show up and walk away with the movie by pretty much stealing every scene he’s in. He’s just so damned likable even if he is the bad guy. He and Clint have crossed paths previously and aren’t all that friendly towards each other. Keith takes a liking to Mayo and not so subtly let’s her know it. Walker doesn’t like him much because he’s a gunrunner and not above selling to the highest bidder which could mean the Indians. He’ll tag along on the journey until Walker catches him crowding Mayo a might to close and big as Brian may have been, Clint’s just a bit bigger.
Want more? Check it out for yourself to see how big Clint Walker is going to beat the murder rap, convince Mayo he’s a good man and of course put Brian Keith to sleep. It’s available on the Warner Archive label and also turns up on TCM now and again so it shouldn’t be too hard to track down.
Mayo does well here and proves a worthy adversary and ultimately love interest to Walker. They match up well and if this had been made after 1960, Brian Keith could very well have eased into Walker’s role after getting through his association with villainous roles throughout the decade. For the ladies who like the giant sized physique of Clint Walker, it’s on display throughout the picture often minus a shirt prompting yours truly to utter aloud, “man is that guy ever huge.” Huge or not, Walker always came across to me as a gentle giant and from interviews I’ve seen over the years I think he may have been one off screen as well as on.
Fort Dobbs was written by Burt Kennedy, scored by Max Steiner and directed by Gordon Douglas. These three and the cast add up to an enjoyable western outing.
While Virginia Mayo scores above the title billing with Randolph Scott for this western adventure, it’s probably best remembered as one of seven titles Scott made with frequent collaborator, director Budd Boetticher.
With the civil war raging and Scott in the union army, he’s pulled from front line duty to reestablish the Overland Stage Lines with the intent of transporting Union Gold to help fund the war. He’s off to Colorado and it’s while enroute he’ll befriend a young Union soldier, Michael Dante and his wife Karen Steele. Dante has lost an arm in the war and is going to find himself heckled and picked on upon his return to Julesberg. Also Scott’s destination where the stage line has been shut down by Southern sympathizer and former Scott associate, Andrew Duggan. Adding some spice into the proceedings is the fact that Duggan has married Scott’s former flame.
Yup, you guessed it, the stunning Virginia Mayo.
Duggan runs the town and has screen nasty Michael Pate backing him as his hired hand. The pair are going to make Scott’s life a living hell as they constantly upset the coach lines by stealing horses and running off stage drivers. Scott needs help and takes the young Dante and Steele into his confidence that he’s still working with the Union and they agree to set up a coach stop run out of their farm. That puts them squarely in the path of Pate and his gang of cutthroats.
Miss Mayo is more window dressing than leading lady this time out and is somewhat underused. After briefly appearing early on she doesn’t make another appearance until the 42 minute mark of a 70 minute feature. Turns out she still carries the torch for Scott and her hubby Duggan has a mean jealous streak within him. Once the bloodshed begins, the film picks up the pace as it heads towards the inevitable showdown between Scott, Pate and Duggan. There’s a surprisingly violent scene near the finale when Pate will run a stagecoach down a hillside minus the horses killing all the passengers within including a small child. Heavy stuff for a 50’s “B” western.
Perhaps this role served as a harbinger of what was to lie ahead for Mayo. Come 1960 she backed off of films appearing sporadically on camera in movies and TV. She’d still have a couple western outings ahead though both minor affairs for producer A.C. Lyles. Truthfully, it’s Karen Steele who has the better role here and while I don’t want to give away the plot, Scott might be eyeing the young lass up at the fadeout. Steele was a regular in the Scott – Boetticher films having appeared in Decision at Sundown and the superior Ride Lonesome.
Not included in the DVD box sets that featured the Scott-Boetticher films, Westbound is at least out on the Warner Archive label for collectors of the star and director’s films. Scott as always is stoic and totally watchable but his character here isn’t as mean or tortured as it is in some of the Boetticher films which I think it’s fair to say are better as a whole.
Appearing with Scott as the decade closed allowed Miss Mayo to add Randolph’s name to a long list of leading men she appeared opposite over the previous fifteen years including Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Alan Ladd, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, James Cagney, Dana Andrews and George Raft. It’s no wonder I grew up seeing her so often watching Sunday afternoon matinees leading to a crush on the lovely gal born in St. Louis, Missouri.
Fort Dobbs is a fine film and Mayo is good in it. Westbound, on the other hand, is weak (especially in comparison to other Boetticher/Scott pictures) and Mayo is rather wasted in her role.
That sums things up rather well. Like Dobbs. It’s a good trio in it and yes Westbound just doesn’t have that same feel as the other Scoot -Budd flicks and Mayo really the second leading lady behind a good Karen Steele.
Boetticher himself had little time for WESTBOUND-Warners dug out an old contract and found Scott owed them
one more picture. Boetticher did not want a Warner contract director directing his “star” but found there was
little that he could do with the script. Dante was pretty good in the film,I thought, and there is a nice bit where
Randy forces bully boy Walter Barnes to eat the “salty” pie. Walter later worked quiet a bit with Eastwood and
is outstanding as the redneck sheriff who forces BRONCO BILLY to eat humble pie!
WESTBOUND was released in the UK as a double bill with UP PERISCOPE a neat afternoon’s entertainment.
Totally agree FORT DOBBS is excellent.
Sorry to see this Mayo series ride off into the sunset…it’s been a blast.
Funny how as soon as you mentioned Barnes and Eastwood it hit me like a brick! He’s Tank Murdoch in Every Which Way But Loose! among others of course. Fort Dobbs a good one and a good transition for Walker to the big screen.
Can’t go wrong with “Fort Dobbs”. Clint’s name is ‘Gar’, Warners patented gunshot noises galore, Max Steiner on tom-toms, Mayo legs & shoulder, Keith’s relaxed cool. My brother-in-law did an episode of “Family Affair” and said Keith was just a great guy. He liked Clint, too. Good review, Mike!
Enjoyed your reviews as always. I’ve never seen Fort Dobbs as I have to admit I never fancied Mr. Walker but I think I should see it.
It is a pity Virginia’s role in West Bound is so small. I’m surprised she took role.
I like Walker’s slow gentle giant style and yes Virginia is rather wasted in secondary role. A sign of things to come I suppose. I don’t know much of her story off screen and whether it was a conscious decision to slow down or just no demand for her acting talents. Maybe we should be researching and get a bio on the market!