BRANDED A COWARD (director: Sam Newfield; screenwriters: Earle Snell/from the story by Richard Martinsen; cinematographer: Wm. Nobles; editor: Earl Turner; cast: Johnny Mack Brown (Johnny Hume), Billie Seward (Ethel Carson), Syd Saylor (Oscar), Lloyd Ingraham(Joe Carson), Lee Shumway (Tom Hume), Roger Williams (Tex), Frank McCarroll(Dick), Bob Kortman (Billy Hume), Yakima Canutt (The Original Cat), Rex Downing (Young Billy Hume), Mickey Rentschler(Young Johnny Hume), Charles K. French (Mayor), Arthur Thalasso (Showbiz colleague, who calls Johnny a coward); Runtime: 56; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: A. W. Hackel; Mill Creek Entertainment; 1935)
“Despite the fine hero performance by Johnny Mack Brown, the pic stubs its toe when it tries to get too smart with a twist ending that comes out of left field.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
So-so B-Western carelessly directed by Sam Newfield (“I Accuse My Parents”/”Dead Men Walk”/”Wolf Dog”). Despite the fine hero performance by Johnny Mack Brown, the pic stubs its toe when it tries to get too smart with a twist ending that comes out of left field. It’s based on the story by Richard Martinsen, and is written by Earle Snell.
On the trail, in the Arizona Territory, the Hume family is attacked by the infamous Cat (Yakima Canutt) and his gang, the former lawman Tom Hume (Lee Shumway), a sworn enemy of the outlaw, is gunned down with his wife and young son Billy (Rex Downing). But one of the son’s, Johnny (Mickey Rentschler), miraculously lives by playing dead but is traumatized by the incident and remains a coward as an adult some twenty years later.
The story picks up with Johnny (Johnny Mack Brown) an expert marksman in a Wild West Show, who turns yellow during a saloon hold-up and cowers behind the bar while the bartender is shot. Too ashamed to face the show people again, Johnny hits the trail for Utah and is joined by his stuttering best friend from the show, Oscar (Syd Saylor). While on the trail outside of Lawless, Arizona, the duo come across a stage robbery and this time Johnny bravely acts and kills three of the outlaws, recovers the gold and risks his life to save the stagecoach driver who was winged and the pretty passenger Ethel Carson (Billie Seward) who is petrified on the runaway stagecoach. Back in Lawless, the appreciative mayor (Charles K. French) persuades the hero to stay on as marshal and Johnny agrees when he learns that the gang is led by the Cat and this will give him a chance to avenge the death of his family. But Ethel’s father Joe (Lloyd Ingraham), after initially welcoming Johnny with open arms, turns hostile when he learns that Johnny’s marshal father killed his brother in a gun duel.
A highly contrived incident, where a drunken Joe challenges the marshal to a gun duel in the street, in front of the saloon, has two of the Cat’s henchmen (Frank McCarroll & Roger Williams) plug Joe when aiming for the marshal. Soon after the Wells Fargo office is robbed of a gold shipment, Johnny recovers the gold. But afterwards he’s upset to find Oscar murdered in his hotel room, clutching in his hand a message from the Cat that has a map and tells him to come alone to his mountain cabin hideout to fight it out. At last Johnny comes face-to-face with the mysterious Cat and gets shocked when he sees the new Cat, who patterns his crimes after the original Cat.
My problem was I never could get past all the contrivances and sloppy direction, but still found it enjoyable as an old-fashioned Western.
REVIEWED ON 8/26/2013 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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