Coroner Creek (1948)
Filmed in color under the Columbia banner, this Ray Enright directed western hits hard in the opening segment when a stage coach is attacked by a group of Indians led by a mysterious white man. He’ll murder all the male passengers on board and as the camera closes in on a beautiful young woman passenger the scene fades to black leaving her future to our imaginations.
Cut to an impressive in tight close up of Randolph Scott, the star of the film that teamed him once again with long time partner and producer, Harry Joe Brown. By my count the pair worked together a total of 19 times. Beginning with 1941’s Western Union up to 1960’s Comanche Station. Scott’s no nonsense cowboy is looking for details on the coach robbery and what’s happened to the white woman on board. He doesn’t like the answer but does get a lead on the man responsible for the killings. A big man, fair haired, blue eyed and a scar on his cheek.
And so the hunt begins.
Scott’s journey’s will take him through Tuscon, Abilene and Tombstone to Coroner Creek and a terrific supporting cast in waiting.
It’s here that he’ll make friends and foes alike in short order. He’ll catch the eye of hotel owner, Marguerite Chapman, come to the aid of Barbara Read and after a tense standoff with that fair haired killer, George Macready, he’ll take a job as the ramrod for Sally Eilers ranch. A ranch that just happens to be neighboring Macready’s. Turns out that Macready has been buying up the territory and a range war is developing. One that will pit Scott in a hellacious fist fight against Macready’s lead gun hand, Forrest Tucker. It’s a vicious pairing that might surprise you at just how far the violence is carried out between them. All I can add to the description of the scene is that payback’s a bitch.
When Scott takes over Eiler’s ranch operation we’ll meet a pair of cowhands played by Wallace Ford and Joe Sawyer. Two of the more familiar character players of the era. While Ford has a Gabby Hayes appeal to him and falls in line with Scott’s taking on Macready, it’s Sawyer who rides off to join up with Macready as one might expect him to if you know the type of roles he was often assigned. That’ll give him a chance to ride alongside Tucker and another shady cowboy character in Douglas Fowley. Yes another actor typecast in unsavory roles.
One more character actor that turns up as the bartender in a brief scene might be of note to Three Stooges fans. It’s eventual Stooge and Curly wanna be, Joe DeRita, a little over a decade prior to his joining Moe Howard and Larry Fine in a succession of kiddie features.
The subplot of our story is the fact that local sheriff, Edgar Buchanan, is the father of Barbara Read. She just happens to be the wife of Macready. That puts Scott on the wrong side of the law that’s been bought and paid for by our popular screen villain. Then there’s the possibility of a budding romance for Scott with Miss Chapman but not if he’s going to let vengeance rule his life. Let the law and the Lord take care of things …. like any western hero Scott tells her “I’ll do my own squaring.”
Macready like any villain worth his weight in bloodshed will up the ante in gunplay and backshooting his victims. Or at least pay for his killings. But of course Scott’s gonna come calling in the final reel and I shouldn’t have to tell you who is going to come out on top of the “squaring”.
Coroner Creek proved to be another fine addition to the many western outings of Randolph Scott’s career. The fact that it’s in color before that became normal practice on the Scott-Brown unions only adds to the film’s flavor. The next two films they’d release in 1949, The Walking Hills, an excellent Sierra Madre like adventure from director, John Sturges, and The Doolins of Oklahoma would both be black and white releases. The latter of the two would also see George Macready rejoining Scott. Not stopping there Macready would turn up in two more of Scott’s oaters, The Nevadan and The Stranger Wore a Gun. Mr. Macready easily caught on as a heavy in a number of films as well as TV once he moved into the new format come the 50’s and 60’s. Borrowing a clip from his bio over at the IMDB, here’s a bit more on this memorable character actor …. “As far as the villain roles went, Macready was grateful for the depth they allowed him through his years as both film and television actor. “I like heavies,” he once said, and to that he added with a philosophic twinkle, “I think there’s a little bit of evil in all of us.”
Director Ray Enright was himself on a run of Scott westerns. He directed four in succession, Trail Street, Albuquerque, Coroner Creek and Return of the Bad Men. Prior to these he directed two of Scott’s non-western pictures, Gung Ho! and China Sky.
Nice to see a large majority of Scott’s westerns still turning up on home video even after the market has practically been declared gunned down. Thanks to companies like Kino, Indicator or in this case the TCM Vault Collection, his westerns are still made available for collectors and fans alike continuing to cement his legacy as one of the screen’s greatest western heroes.