The Texas Rangers (1936)

25 09 2008

A decent, little film right here, but considering the potential implied by being a western directed by the great King Vidor, it is ridiculously disappointing. None of the performances are all great, the visuals are impressive but nothing Vidor hasn’t topped already, and the story is pretty conventional. Perhaps this isn’t all that surprising since it came before John Ford basically revived the dying genre with Stagecoach but that can’t really excuse one of Vidor’s least exciting efforts. Maybe he’s just not all that great with westerns, because this and Duel in the Sun are by far my least favorite films of his. Both seem sort of like a wasted opportunity.

While Vidor’s best films like The Champ and The Wedding Night give off an unparalleled (at least by the standards of the 1930s) type of naturalism, this film is almost relentlessly fake. Had I seen this film first, I certainly wouldn’t have labeled Vidor as Hiroshi Shimizu’s American counterpart. It really is such a shame, too, that most of the film was shot on a bluescreen as Vidor’s visual elegance matched with some natural landscapes could yield something truly amazing. In that case, it is almost a bit unfair to call the film a disappointment. I was expecting it to pretty much blow my mind, but I think Vidor would even admit that he made this film only at the request of the studio. There’s definitely no way he put as much effort in here as he did in some of his better films.

The performances aren’t as crushing of a blow as the absence of Vidor’s usual poetic touches are, but they’re still not very good. In all honesty, it’s only Fred McMurray’s performances that can really critically sway someone from one side to another, but he does nothing really to help. I suppose it can be argued that his wooden and hammy performance has an almost subversive sort of passiveness to it,  but he’s no Randolph Scott, Henry Fonda, or Robert Mitchum. Had any of those performers been in that role, they probably would have saved the film. As it is, this is only a curiosity in Vidor’s filmography.

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