This pair of 1940’s films from director George Archainbaud conjure up all kinds of images of black and white thrillers that may have starred Lon Chaney Jr. in his Inner Sanctum mysteries or maybe George Zucco down the street at Monogram. Truth be told I’m not sure if Mr. Archainbaud ever directed anything other than westerns. Everything from Lone Ranger episodes to Gene Autry oaters to Hopalong Cassidy adventures which is exactly what we have here, a pair of William Boyd entries in the long running Cassidy series with titles more akin to horror movies.
The Devil’s Playground …
Along with his two sidekicks California (Andy Clyde) and Lucky (Rand Brooks), Hopalong Cassidy comes to the rescue of a young woman (Elaine Riley) from an unscrupulous Judge who is out to find the loot stolen in a bank robbery by a man who is somehow connected to the young filly.
Just what is The Devil’s Playground? It’s a rocky terrain of the Lone Pine location where this 67 minute special was shot. There’s an old legend that the territory is haunted which feeds into California’s overeager imagination. Of course Hoppy and Lucky prod him over the legend of an Indian ghost that roams the land. Yes for those who haven’t experienced a Hopalong Cassidy adventure, California Carlson as played by Clyde is the comic relief in much the same way any number of western sidekicks were from Gabby Hayes to Andy Devine.
The Judge portrayed by Robert Elliott in his final film appearance is claiming the young woman is his daughter and is in need help mentally. She’s denying she’s his daughter and that the Judge and his cohorts just want the secret map of The Devil’s Playground that will lead them to the stolen bank money.
Hoppy isn’t about to allow the girl to be taken advantage of and plays it cautious with his two saddle pals. Might as well contact the local Sheriff played by a very tubby Joseph J. Greene who is the least interested law officer I’ve seen on screen at solving a crime in quite awhile. Looks like Hoppy might have to take charge meaning he’s going to have to break out of jail to find Miss Riley. You see the lazy Sheriff has locked Hoppy and the boys up in one cell and the Judge and his gang in another until his deputy catches the supposedly nutty gal with the treasure map who has run off.
At 67 minutes there’s a lot of plot going on but I think we all know this is going to work out for the young girl now that Hoppy is on her side.
Which brings us to another Hoppy outing that could easily have been rewritten into a Bowery Boys murder mystery.
The Dead Don’t Dream …
In this, the 62nd Hopalong Cassidy adventure, leading man William Boyd and his two pals of the saddle are off to the Last Chance Inn for a wedding. It seems that Hopalong’s sidekick Rand Brooks is set to get married to Mary Tucker. When they arrive they’ll find that her Uncle has gone missing through the night despite his horse and gear still on the grounds. John Parrish owns the Inn and is bound to a wheelchair. Or is he? Or is he maybe just a red herring as our mystery movies along.
Turns out her Uncle has a claim in a hole in the ground gold mine and that’s where Hoppy finds his body. Deep in the cave a shot rings out from a mysterious shadow and Hoppy’s quick to make an exit surviving this attempted bushwhack. A few more characters are introduced including Parrish’s brother Bob Gabriel playing it shifty as well as the pair of miners who own the next claim over from the deceased Uncle, Leonard Penn and Francis McDonald. McDonald sure looks familiar and it’s no darned wonder. Not only was he in the Devil’s Playground above but he’s got 365 credits to his name over at the IMDB and I’ll wager more than half of them are as a villain of some sort. Another red herring?
By chance another cowpoke stops in at the Inn taking a break from his mining operation. Takes the same room for the night as Mary’s dear departed Uncle and when breakfast is ready to serve, he’s nowhere to be found. Another mysterious disappearance and there’s a third still to come when a Sheriff called in to investigate takes the same room for the night. Things are getting mighty spooky and Hoppy’s old timer of a sidekick California is getting might jumpy. If this were a Bowery Boys picture I guess Huntz Hall would be cast in this role opposite Leo Gorcey playing the Hoppy part. And then we could shoehorn Bela Lugosi into that wheelchair as the owner of the Inn with a deadly look in his eye.
Yes Hoppy is determined to solve this mystery so he’s taking up residence in the room where The Dead Don’t Dream. Shouldn’t be long now at just 62 minutes that Hoppy has this solved and he and the boys can get back to the Bar 20.
For those keeping score this was the final year of Hopalong Cassidy movies that began back in 1935 when Boyd first took on his signature role. Boyd would score an Executive Producer on this outing and in four short years would reactivate his iconic cowboy for series television running 52 episodes beginning in 1952. Director Archainbaud would helm 26 of them. If you think 365 credits for McDonald was plenty, Andy Clyde aka California scored 391. He appeared in silents dating back to the early 1920’s and had a steady job in Columbia Picture Shorts for years. He continued right on acting up until his death in 1967 on numerous TV shows including Wagon Train, Gunsmoke and even an Andy Griffith episode I recall seeing him on as on old timer the town wants to evict until good hearted Andy steps in.
I’m no expert on the Hopalong Cassidy craze and these two films were first time viewings for me to coincide with the Halloween season. Truthfully I haven’t seen a Hoppy film since I was a kid in the 80’s and even then it was maybe one or two because Robert Mitchum had appeared in them. Yes Mitch got a start playing alongside Hoppy back in the early 1940’s.
Looking to catch up on all 66 Hoppy films? Well you can because all 66 films were released as a set via Echo Bridge.
I’ve never seen a Hoppy film so when I saw the two titles of your post I assumed they were two spooky thrillers!
Really my intro to Hoppy as an adult after so many years. Easy to watch and nice running times. Like those titles and thought why not for Halloween festivities.
I thought the same thing…two Gothic horror films from the 1940s, served just in time for Halloween….nope! I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a Hopalong Cassidy film either…for whatever reason these types of Westerns never garnered my attention. Now, if these two films had actually featured some monsters or ghosts, or had cast Hopalong as the Devil incarnate, well…
New to me and when you dig into the history of these 65 minute B’s there are hundreds of westerns to be discovered. Really an amazing amount of forgotten films by the general public and even fans of westerns. Harmless enough overall but far from the John Ford’s of the world.
Kind of like the little noir films I stumble across…they’re not ‘Double Indemnity’, but they’re still fun to watch, and sometimes they offer some really neat moments.