Clearing the Range
Kildare kills Curt Fremont’s brother Jim. When Curt arrives he poses as a coward in public but sneaks out unseen to become the daring El Capitan as he looks for the killer.
This 1931 vintage Western features a lot of drama—betrayal, deceit, and a big showdown between the villain and hero at the conclusion of the movie. The film stars Hoot Gibson as Curt Fremont, Sally Eilers as his love interest Mary Lou Moran, and Robert Homans as her father. The villain, Lafe Kildare, is nastily portrayed by Hooper Atchley.
Set in Comanche, Texas, the movie manages to feature a lot of fantastic outdoor scenery for a lot of the action. The story opens with Jim Fremont, the local banker, learning that bank cashier Kildare has snatched money from the bank, and he insists on Kildare paying it back. Kildare kills Fremont and steals the bank books to cover up his heinous plot.
Learning what has happened to his brother, Curt Fremont also has received a final note from his brother Jim, stating that he had gone over the books and knew that Kildare was a crook. The plot leads to Curt seeing Mary Lou Moran again, childhood friend. They grew up together and were very fond of one another. They have a playful moment when Mary Lou puts her head on Jim’s shoulder so he can figure out how much he has outgrown her. Mary Lou’s dad, called “Dad Moran,” even by Curt, is a rancher. Things begin to turn bleak following Jim Fremont’s murder when Kildare shows up, insisting that, as a board member of the bank, Dad Moran will have to come up with $20,000 cash in order to pay back the stolen bank funds. “I don’t have that kind of money,” he tells Kildare. It soon becomes evident that Kildare is interested in taking Moran’s cattle from him in lieu of the cash.
Curt decides to investigate and, not wishing to endanger Mary Lou or her father, he takes on the identity of “El Capitan,” a Spanish rebel on the side of good. One of his first deeds is to rescue his friend Juan, who has wrongfully been captured by Kildare and his men, for protecting his mother against Kildare’s twisted tactics.
Kildare’s gang has shot Juan in the arm, and they ride off with him. But El Capitan shows up, hiding behind some rocks and, with the clever use of disguising his voice, he makes the gang think there are several men, waiting to shoot the gang if necessary. He insists on the release of his friend Juan. He even uses a rope attached to a rifle to shoot the weapon so the men think they are outnumbered. His clever ruse works, and he rescues Juan. Later, in a funny scene, Juan tells Curt he knew “El Capitan” was really him, because his Spanish accent was so bad! And, in a hilarious scene, Juan dresses as a lady to throw off Kildare and his men.
Mary Lou becomes increasingly upset with Curt because he plays a “dandy,” not getting involved and not doing much. But this is to throw her off as he rides as “El Capitan” at night. Kildare posts a sign in town, offering a $1000 reward for the capture of El Capitan. As he continues his secret identity, Curt tells Mary Lou that he plans to capture El Capitan and to claim the $1,000 reward. She laughs at him!
Things come to a head when Kildare’s gang shows up to claim Dad Moran’s cattle. But El Capitan has a plan. While Kildare is out claiming his cattle, Curt goes to the bank to snatch the bank books to prove what Kildare has been up to. The movie has just enough comedic moments, including the scene when Kildare shows up to collect Moran’s cattle. “Leave me my corral, will ya?” asks Moran.
The big showdown comes at the end and, without giving it away, El Capitan winds up, in an interesting twist, saving Kildare’s life. But will Kildare pay for his crimes? And will Mary Lou learn Curt’s secret identity? You will have to watch the movie to see. The film has mild content and has rightfully earned our Dove Seal for All Ages, though it’s intended for older children and adults, not young kids.
The Dove Take
This interesting Western features some nice dramatic moments, a bit of detective work, and will be an enjoyable watch for a lot of families.