Directed By: Armand Schaefer
Starring: John Wayne, Nancy Shubert, Lane Chandler
Tag line: "Romance rides in a drama of thundering hoofs and blazing guns!"
Trivia: Along with playing the leader of the gang, Yakima Canutt also doubled for John Wayne in several stunts
In the years prior to his star-making performance in John Ford’s Stagecoach, John Wayne appeared in a number of Poverty Row B-westerns, including Lone Star Productions’ 1933 film, Sagebrush Trail. In it, Wayne plays John Brant, who, wrongly accused of murder, has just escaped from prison. After evading the Sheriff (Bob Burns) of a small frontier town, Brant meets up with a cowpoke who says his name is “Jones” (Lane Chandler). An outlaw himself, Jones (real name: Joseph Conlon) is part of a gang led by Ed Walsh (stuntman Yakima Canutt), who's always on the lookout for a stagecoach to rob or a payroll to steal. But Brant has no intention of becoming a bona-fide criminal, so he tips off his new girlfriend Sally (Nancy Shubert) whenever Walsh's gang plans a hold-up, knowing full well she’ll pass the information along to the Sheriff. What he doesn't realize, though, is that the guy who framed him for murder is closer than he thinks, which means that Brant, who's vowed to take his revenge on the guilty party, may be heading for a showdown he can't possibly win.
Though only 50+ minutes long, Sagebrush Trail has its share of action; the movie’s opening sequence, where Brant escapes from the law, kicks off with a thrilling chase on horseback and ends with its lead hiding out at the bottom of a lake (it wasn’t often that John Wayne got a chance to show off his swimming skills, making Sagebrush Trail all the more interesting for it). Also good is the scene where Brant and “Jones” are sent into town to scope out the General Store, during which Brant discreetly writes a note warning Sally (who works as a cashier there) that thieves are going to attempt to break in later that night. The film’s best moment, however, involves Brant thwarting the gang’s plan to rip off an incoming stage by pulling off the heist himself, then stashing the cash box in a tree trunk for the Sheriff to find later on. With stunt work by co-star Yakima Canutt, this scene also features what may be the most ingenious way ever to catch a passing stagecoach!
While the movie itself is only moderately entertaining, these few sequences, combined with John Wayne’s spirited performance, are enough to make Sagebrush Trail worth an hour of your time