Wounded while trying to stop the James gang from robbing the local bank, a Kansas cowboy wakes up in the hospital only to discover that his bravery has earned him a badge. While he slept, the locals unanimously elected him marshal. Though the banker spearheaded the vote, the new marshal soon butts heads with him, believing the banker is bleeding the locals for every penny he can.
The Kansan is a mature Western for its day (1943), and incorporates lots of gunfire, fist fights, saloon scenes, and smoking as well as card playing. The hero is a man named John Bonniwell (Richard Dix, a star in his day). Bonniwell is an honest and direct man. He is headed for Oregon when he rides into town, Broken Lance, Kan., and he’s caught in the middle of gunfire. A gang of outlaws have come into town to rob the bank and Bonniwell helps to get rid of them. He’s wounded in his efforts. The town folk, including local banker Steve Barat (Albert Dekker), elect him marshal while he’s asleep in the hospital. He wakens to learn of his new position.
Bonniwell is not sure he wants to stay until he catches sight of the hotel manager, Eleanor (Jane Wyatt), and they have chemistry. He likes the town people and decides to stay. But he also decides to keep a close eye on banker Barat, as he seems a bit shady. Bonniwell meets the banker’s brother, Jeff Barat (Victor Jory), and learns Jeff is interested in Eleanor as well. So, a rivalry could be in the works. He also likes Jeff but feels that there may be more to him than meets the eyes. Could Jeff be in cahoots with his brother, banker Steve?
A character named Bones (Willie Best), gives comic relief by his facial expressions and big eyes when he is scared, such as in the beginning when the shooting takes place in town. Another nice facet in this classic Western is that it features a cowboy song titled “Go to sleep, my little doggies,” with harmony from several of the cowboys.
Trouble brews when an old friend of Bonniwell, Tom Waggoner (Eugene Pallette), tries to cross a bridge and is told he must pay a toll. He refuses and a fight ensues. Bonniwell steps in and asks his old friend to wait patiently while he sorts through the mess. Banker Barat sues Bonniwell’s friend, Waggoner, for running his cattle and not paying the head toll. It would seem that Bonniwell has his hands full, as Steve Barat is attempting to squeeze every dime he can from the town’s people. But Barat learns that he is not going to be able to control Bonniwell. In addition, a gang is secretly planning to ride into town to rob the bank. However, someone might get to the bank’s money before the gang does.
The movie features a wild fight in a saloon, with chairs being used to bash heads with, as well as some dancing girls performing on stage for the cheering cowpokes. And the Marshal is saved when someone pulls a gun on him, only to have it knocked out of his hand by a friend of the marshal. And during the brawl, a shelf falls on a man’s head, knocking him out, and it’s played for laughs.
This movie has about everything you could ask for in a Western, including a stampede and a bridge being blown up by dynamite. This is an excellent Western film, with a tight script and good performances, especially Dix as Bonniwell, Albert Dekker as Steve Barat, Victory Jory as Borat’s brother Jeff, and Jane Wyatt as Eleanor.
The movie does contain more smoking scenes than some Westerns, with a lot of gunfire exchanged, and fights, and the brawl that goes on for a long while. On the other hand, it contains some nice principles, such as a lawman not being bought, and doing the right thing, and the town people helping stand with him. The film has merited our Dove seal for Ages 12+.
The Dove Take
This wild Western is an engaging film and is suitable for ages 12 and above.