(director: Edwin L. Marin; screenwriters: story by Gordon Ray Young/Paul Fix/Michael Hogan; cinematographer: Robert de Grasse; editor: Philip Martin; music: Roy Webb; cast: John Wayne (Rocklin), Ella Raines (Arleta ‘Arly’ Harolday), Ward Bond (‘Judge’ Robert Garvey), George ‘Gabby’ Hayes (Dave), Audrey Long (Clara Cardell), Elisabeth Risdon (Miss Elizabeth Martin), Don Douglas (Harolday), Paul Fix (Bob Clews), Russell Wade (Clint Harolday), Emory Parnell (Sheriff Jackson), Harry Woods (George Clews), Frank Puglia (Juan Tala); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert M. Fellows; RKO; 1944)

“A rousing oater that is both watchable and forgettable.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A solid but routine B Western that stars John Wayne and has Gabby Hayes along as his comical sidekick. It’s based on a story by Gordon Ray Young and penned by a regular character actor in Wayne pictures, Paul Fix, and Michael Hogan. The film had one of the hottest kisses ever in an old-fashioned Western between the fiery tomboyish Ella Raines, who also has a dash of lusty sensuality to go with her cowgirl skills, and the rugged he-man Wayne.

The film is bogged down with an overcomplicated plot about tough cowboy Rocklin (John Wayne) receiving a letter from KC ranch owner Red Cardell to come work on his ranch in Santa Inez, and when arriving there finding out Red was shot in the back and then works in secret to track down Red’s killer.

The male chauvinist Rocklin rides with ornery stage-driver Dave (Gabby Hayes), a confirmed heavy drinker, grouch, and woman hater, who is transporting the new back east owner of the KC ranch Clara Cardell (Audrey Long), the grand-niece of Red’s, and her prim overbearing guardian Aunt Miss Martin (Elisabeth Risdon) to the ranch town. The aunt unmercifully browbeats her pretty, sweet, gentle and inexperienced charge.

Rescuing the drunken Dave from a pistol-whipping by inept and bought-off Sheriff Jackson (Emory Parnell) and his crooked deputy Bob Clews (Paul Fix), Rocklin gets his new buddy a doctor to stitch him up. Rocklin then gets into a poker game in the local saloon where he has to draw his guns on Clint Harolday (Russell Wade), who tried to cheat him. The next morning Clint’s gun-toting sister Arly Harolday (Ella Raines) comes to town from her Topaz ranch (the neighboring ranch to the KC) and tries to force Rocklin into giving back the money, but can’t. Arly also makes a fool of herself when she learns her brother was in the wrong.

Both ladies are attracted to the tall stranger, and when Clara’s obnoxious aunt refuses to have Rocklin work at the ranch and instead teams up with crooked Judge Garvey (Ward Bond), who was Red’s lawyer, to try and get Clara to return east by falsely claiming Clara is underage, Arly hires Rocklin as a foreman out of spite with the plan to fire him. Though the young lady Arly owns the spread, her stepfather Mr. Harolday (Don Douglas) gives the orders, and he sends Rocklin out on an assignment to be a lone lineman to watch for rustlers. While Dave visits in his cabin, Rocklin gets shot at through the window by someone unseen and the next thing the cowboy knows Arly shows up with her knife-throwing watchdog companion who is always near her side Tala (Frank Puglia). All that gunplay gets Rocklin hot and it leads to a long kiss with Arly.

Warning: spoiler to follow in next paragraph.

It now becomes a question of which lady will Rocklin choose, as both are panting after him, and why did someone try to eliminate him and then frame him for a murder. Also, what does it mean that Garvey plays with a crooked deck of cards. All the answers are resolved, as Rocklin links the two major culprits (naturally, two of the town’s leading citizens!) to a scheme to cheat the rightful owner out of his deed to the ranch and gain control of all the ranches in town for their own nefarious purposes. The rightful owner is revealed as Rocklin, who just happens to be Red’s closest living relative.

This film had enough plot for a serial. But it’s lively and filled with action sequences (two major fistfights and a number of pistol-whippings). Edwin L. Marin does a fine job keeping things rolling along at a fast-pace, and Wayne gives his usual John Wayne performance; while Raines adds some spice to the woman hater’s life as his romantic interest. The result is a rousing oater that is both watchable and forgettable.

John Wayne and Ella Raines in Tall in the Saddle (1944)

REVIEWED ON 8/7/2005 GRADE:    B-   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/