John Wayne, Ray Corrigan, Ethan Laidlaw, Kermit Maynard, Max Terhune, and Tom Tyler in The Night Riders (1939)


(director: George Sherman; screenwriters: Betty Burbridge/Stanley Roberts/characters by William Colt MacDonald; cinematographer: Jack Marta; editor: Lester Orlebeck; music: William Lava; cast: John Wayne (Stony Brooke), Ray Corrigan (Tucson Smith), Max Terhune (Lullaby Joslin), Doreen McKay (Soledad), Ruth Rogers (Susan Randall), George Douglas (Talbot Pierce, aka Don Luis de Serrano), Francis Sayles (President James Garfield), Tom Tyler (Henchman Jackson), Kermit Maynard (Sheriff Pratt); Runtime: 56; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William Berke; Republic; 1939)
“John Wayne at his rock bottom in films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Wayne at his rock bottom in films. The Night Riders was shot in five days when Wayne was on the decline, but was released after Stagecoach–the film that made him a star. It’s a Three Mesquiteers programmer that has a fake Spanish nobleman Don Luis de Serrano (George Douglas), who is really crooked gambler Talbot Pierce, use a phony land grant which the court approves to rule thirteen million acres, taxing everyone excessively and evicting those who can’t pay. The Three Mesquiteers, Stony Brooke (John Wayne), Tucson Smith (Ray Corrigan), and Lullaby Joslin (Max Terhune), are dispossessed from their 3M ranch. This makes them seek justice by dressing up in white masks and capes and acting like Robin Hood to take back from Serrano’s rent collectors the rent money they took from the legal landowners and then return it to them so that they avoid eviction. In the process, the three known now as the Los Capaqueros, ask President Garfield for help and somehow meet him when on one of their escapades. The Prez is receptive to their pleas for justice, and tells them to get the proof and he’ll back them but if they get caught he can’t intervene and approve of their illegal activities. But Garfield is assassinated. The men, in any case, resolve things by infiltrating Serrano’s organization and then forcing him to sign a confession that he’s a phony.

The film is based upon James Addison Reavis, a 19th-century con artist who declared himself owner of the state of Arizona and his grant was backed by the court. Reavis’ con man career was later the basis for Samuel Fuller’s The Baron of Arizona, starring Vincent Price, a much superior film.

George Sherman directs, while the screenwiters are Betty Burbridge and Stanley Roberts.