Serving as a fine follow-up to his 1929 success The Virginian, Gary Cooper, once again takes center stage in an all talking motion picture. Joining him under John Cromwell’s excellent direction is lovely Fay Wray as a south of the border dark haired beauty.
To kickstart this 79 minute adventure, in silent film fashion the camera lens focuses in on a wanted poster offering $500 for the Llano Kid who stands an “inch or two over 6 feet.” Cut to Coop riding into a blacksmith’s stable looking to have his horse tended to after throwing a shoe. It’s here he’ll meet a bible quoting James A. Marcus who does double duty as the local blacksmith and town sherrif.
Sidestepping any trouble just yet Coop makes his way into the local saloon for a whiskey and some poker. End result? He catches a man attempting to cheat him with some slippery Aces and guns him down. He’s back on the run and isn’t taking no chances with a jury made up of the dead man’s peers. Marcus all but swears he’ll catch up with him if the Good Lord doesn’t first.
It’s while escaping a posse that Coop will hitch a train ride and meet con man, Oscar Apfel, who offers Coop the chance to take the place of a long lost son and claim a fortune. The pair are next off to Mexico where Copp is set to meet a Mother hungry to be reunited with her son who has been missing since childhood. The tell tale mark being a tattoo on his wrist. A tattoo that Coop has had engraved in order to fool the aging woman played by Emma Dunn.
Still Coop gives it a classic, “I’d feel better if it was a plain straight up shootin’ affair.” to partner in crime, Apfel.
Coop and Apfel’s plans are sure to go astray when Coop meets his supposed cousin, Fay Wray. He didn’t figure on a woman getting him all knotted up. What’s worse is the fact that he can’t bare to break the old woman’s heart. Yeah Coop’s got a guilty conscience which doesn’t sit well with Apfel who has been waiting for three months as Coop gains the trust of his newfound family to steal over 25K in gold to split between the pair.
The film wisely capitalizes on the Cooper charm when he’s caught like a deer in the headlights with Fay Wray under the watchful eye of her chaperon, Soledad Jiminez, who serves as comic relief in a couple of scenes between our young couple falling in love.
When pressed by Fay, Coop, gets some great one liners that even at this point of his young career are classic Cooper.
“Me sing? Well I used to hum a little to my pony but I wouldn’t call it singing.”
And when she wants to know if he can dance…..
“My feet kinda get all tangled up.”
I swear you could take those two lines and add them to most any Cooper film over the next thirty years.
Now that Cooper has decided he’s not going to do the old gal any harm he’s at odds with Apfel and his problems only surmount when Sheriff Marcus arrives at the estate to take him back to justice while still preaching the Gospel. With Coop in a bind can he convince Marcus that he’ll go peaceably as long as his real identity isn’t unveiled to his “mother” and his new love? Maybe the pair will have to team up in an exciting showdown when Apfel hires a group of outlaws to raid the estate to claim the gold and kill all who stand in his way.
I smell a happy ending coming around the next bend in the trail.
Not knowing what to expect upon this first time viewing I got way more than I bargained for. Too often I associate early talking films of the late twenties and early thirties as being stage bound and actors hovering around a flower pot or whatever might be available to hide a microphone. It doesn’t happen here and for a 1930 production it’s easy to believe that paying fans of the day left theaters more than satisfied for both the action and romance captured on film for producers Jesse Lasky and Adolph Zukor.
Miss Wray was just three years away from her iconic role, Ann Darrow, in King Kong. Both Wray and Coop began their movie careers in the early 1920’s and while unconfirmed, the IMDB, lists them both as possible bit players in 1925’s silent classic, Ben Hur. In 1928 after being promoted to leading players status, the pair co-starred opposite each other in two films, The First Kiss and a supposedly lost film, Legion of the Condemned. Alongside The Texan they’d also turn up in Paramount on Parade during the 1930 season and with more than a dozen or so other stars of the day appear in a 1931 short titled The Stolen Jools. They’d make their final film together in 1933, One Sunday Afternoon. For more on Fay Wray be sure to pick up a most excellent biography written by her daughter Victoria Riskin.
When Gary Cooper makes his first appearance in The Texan he’s decked out like a cross between Valentino and Tom Mix as the Llano Kid but there’s no mistaking the Cooper charm. His underplaying is already nearly perfected at what is essentially the start of his march to legendary status as a Hollywood leading man. His lines are already short, crisp and to the point. Tall and lanky he towers over most everyone on camera and in 1938 would almost reteam with director Cromwell on The Adventures of Marco Polo. Cromwell apparently pulled out of the ill fated production shortly after filming commenced leaving Archie Mayo in charge.
The IMDB lists Henry Hathaway as the uncredited assistant director on The Texan. Hathaway would go on to become one of the premiere directors in tough action pictures, westerns and Noirs and would in fact direct Coop in a number of films including Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935) and Garden of Evil (1954) among them.
While I’ve always gone out of my to see any film that has Gary Cooper in it there are a small number of his early films I’ve often wondered if I’ll ever get to see and this was one of them. Thankfully the fine folks at rarefilmm.com located a copy and have put it up on their site for viewing. It’s a great print of this rare look back at Coop and Wray and I’d urge one and all to check the film out and the many other titles available at the site.