(director: George Marshall; screenwriters: from the book “When the Daltons Rode” by Emmett Dalton & Jack Jungmeyer/Harold Shumate; cinematographer: Hal Mohr; editor: Ed Curtiss; music: Frank Skinner; cast: Randolph Scott (Tod Jackson), Kay Francis (Julie King), Brian Donlevy (Grat Dalton), George Bancroft (Caleb Winters), Broderick Crawford (Bob Dalton), Stuart Erwin (Ben Dalton), Andy Devine (Ozark), Frank Albertson (Emmett Dalton), Mary Gordon (Ma Dalton), Harry Stephens (Rigby); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: George Marshall; Universal; 1940)

“One of the best made B-Westerns.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

George Marshall (“Destry Rides Again”/”Texas”) marvelously directs one of the best made B-Westerns. It’s taken from a book by Emmett Dalton & Jack Jungmeyer and crisply written by Harold Shumate. When The Daltons Rode is a very entertaining, action-packed, but highly fictionalized telling of the notorious Dalton gang. It whitewashes them as outlaws and makes us view them as heroes who were forced into a life of crime by the crooked land grabbing railroad. This repeats the same formula from Henry King’s Jesse James of 1939, that also starred Randolph Scott. The film is noted for its outstanding stunt work, some of the best ever done in a Western. In one tricky stunt, men on horseback jump from a moving train and then ride off down a sandy incline. Another has the men take over a fast moving stage by jumping onto it from their pursuing horses.

It’s set by the border between Kansas and Oklahoma in the late 19th century. Lawyer Tod Jackson (Randolph Scott) is on his way by stage to open his first practice in Guthrie, Oklahoma, but during the stopover pays a visit to his old childhood friends–the Daltons. They live on a farm with their elderly mom (Mary Gordon), who speaks with a heavy brogue. Bob (Broderick Crawford) is the town sheriff, Grat (Brian Donlevy), Ben (Stuart Erwin) and Emmett (Frank Albertson) run the farm. Tod is convinced to stay overnight to attend the birthday party the boys are giving their mom. That afternoon he had fallen in love with the telegraph operator Julie King (Kay Francis), not knowing she was engaged to Bob. When the boys tell Tod they need his legal help because a mysterious syndicate called the Kansas Land and Development Company is using strong-arm tactics to kick the local farmers off their land, Tod decides to stay in Kansas. While Bob is out-of-town on business, Julie tells him that she loves him. But Tod doesn’t know how to tell this to Bob, and decides to leave. At this time, a sniveling baddie named Rigby (Harry Stephens) brings surveyors out to the Daltons in a roughshod attempt at land grabbing and one of the surveyors falls and dies hitting his head against the stone when Grat knocks over his equipment. Ben is charged with murder and Tod stays on to defend him. But when Bob realizes the trial is rigged, he pulls his guns and escapes with Ben. In the melee both Ben and Rigby are killed, and the Daltons become wanted outlaws. They are joined on-the-run by the oafish womanizing Ozark (Andy Devine), who wishes to escape from a forced marriage. The Daltons are falsely blamed for all the bank robberies in the area, and when they try to visit their mom (her house was burned down) there’s a shootout where several locals get killed. The Daltons now become outlaws for real, and get wind that the railroad is behind the land-grabbing. Their specialty becomes train hold-ups. It ends with the Daltons all gunned down in a shootout while they are robbing the bank in their hometown of Coffeyville. This clears the way for Tod to marry Julie and move on to greener pastures in Oklahoma.

When the Daltons Rode Poster


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”