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SOUTH OF ST. LOUIS (director: Ray Enright; screenwriters: Zachary Gold/James R. Webb; cinematographer: Karl Freund; editor: Clarence Kolsten; music: Max Steiner; cast: Joel McCrea (Kip Davis), Alexis Smith (Rouge de Lisle), Zachary Scott (Charlie Burns), Dorothy Malone (Deborah Miller), Douglas Kennedy (Lee Price), Alan Hale (Jake Evarts), Victor Jory (Luke Cottrell), Bob Steele (Slim Hansen), Art Smith (Bronco), Monte Blue (Captain Jeffery), Nacho Galindo (Manuel), Paul Maxey (Papa Brugnon); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Milton Sperling; Warner Brothers; 1949)
“Western misfire despite a fine cast.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Ray Enright (“China Clipper”/”Swing Your Lady”/”The Spoilers”) directs in a workmanlike way this western misfire despite a fine cast and good photography in lush Technicolor. It’s weakly scripted by Zachary Gold and James R. Webb. The characters are all thinly drawn, the story is contrived and the execution is stilted. One of its ridiculous conceits is that its three male stars all wear bells on their spurs.

During the onset of the Civil War, sneering bad dude Luke Cottrell (Victor Jory) and his guerrilla raiders plunder Southerners south of St. Louis, Missouri in the name of the Union army. In Edenton, Texas, Cottrell burns down the Three Bell Ranch belonging to Kip Davis (Joel McCrea) and his partners, Charlie Burns (Zachary Scott) and Lee Price (Douglas Kennedy). The three partners seek vengeance on Cottrell by tracking him down in the border town of Brownsville, where the Union headquarters is located. Nice girl wannabe rancher Deborah (Dorothy Malone) is disappointed Kip leaves her in the lurch to get revenge before their expected marriage.

In Brownsville, Kip whips Cottrell in a fistfight in the local saloon owned by the partners’ friend Jake (Alan Hale), and they chase him out of Texas. Lee then opts to join the Confederate army, while Kip gets recruited by Southern saloon singer Rouge (Alexis Smith) to be a gun-runner smuggling guns for the Confederacy from Matamoros, Mexico for big boss Papa Brugnon (Paul Maxey). Charlie soon joins the profitable operation.

Kip is disillusioned with his actions and Charlie’s increased lust for money. He’s driven to drink after being betrayed by one of his gunmen, who is secretly working with Cottrell. When Kip loses Deborah to ex-partner Lee, he takes up with Rouge and tells her he wants to go back to ranching.

After the war, the mercenary Charlie wants to continue smuggling and finds he must eliminate Lee, now a Texas Ranger, to keep his lucrative operation going. Deb rides to Mexico and asks Kip to help Lee. Heart of gold barroom gal Rouge urges Kip to help because it’s the right thing to do. When Charlie reconsiders and decides to join his partners again, the slimy betraying gunman he hired, Slim (Bob Steele), who was secretly working for gunrunner Cottrell, is not happy that Charlie is leaving and plugs him before he can join his partners.

The muddled story, with plenty of action, left no impression on me, though McCrea as usual gives a solid professional performance.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”