A Movie A Day: DAKOTA (1945) Speaking of politics, where we’re going there are only two parties: the quick & the dead!
Published at: Sept. 20, 2008, 3:26 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we follow Walter Brennan, leaving Gary Cooper behind and trading him in for The Duke. In the years between this movie and THE COWBOY AND THE LADY he turned into the Walter Brennan I know by sight as well voice.
And it ended up being a good connection because Brennan makes this movie. It also shares some similiarites with COWBOY AND THE LADY in that it’s not a full fledged western, but a love story.
And not a dramatic love story, but a kind of light romantic comedy of a love story that involves a cowboy eloping with a wealthy woman. In this case that woman is Vera Ralston, a step down from yesterday’s Merle Oberon, in my opinion, a ditzy airhead blonde. Her father owns a railroad and the film opens with a stagecoach chase as the angry father speeds after Wayne and Ralston, even shooting at them.
It’s kind of slapstick, actually, all the characters going radically overboard. In some cases that’s a good thing, like Brennan old crotchety bastard Captain Bounce, running his old creaky ship upriver as Wayne is tricked into settling in Dakota instead of California.
You see, Vera Ralston overheard her daddy talking about extending the railroad up there… and she also stole $20,000 and the plan is to buy up as much available property as they can because it’s dirt cheap and will be worth a small fortune when the railroad moves in.
They’re shadowed by the evil bastard of the movie, a landowner in Fargo named Jim Bender, played by Ward Bond, who senses something is up, knowing this girl is the daughter of the railroad owner. He also a big guy/evil fucker sidekick that looks like a young Anthony Quinn, but is in actuality Mike Mazurki. You need to have someone that can throw a solid punch at The Duke, right?
Bender figures out the railroad is coming through on makes a giant contract with all the local farmers that looks good on the surface (something about pay fair price for their property if they can’t make their crop quota), but being the villain of the movie he’s, of course, rigging the game. He sets fire to all the crops ensuring no one can make their quota and he gets their land at pennies on the dollar.
The whole time he’s playing a cat and mouse game with John Wayne and Vera Ralston, neither side willing to take the other out. Bender is held back by fear of wrath from Ralston’s father and Wayne is held back because… well, he’s the good guy and he can’t kill a man just because he’s a dickhead. It’s a 1945 Republic Pictures western, you can’t have the good guy killing all willy-nilly, afterall.
Wayne’s in fine form here, but Ralston plays her character so over the top that it gets eye-rolling. Seriously, she derails the whole picture. She doesn’t make it unwatchable, but that’s not for lack of trying. She has relatively few scenes compared with the other co-stars, which is a smart move by director Joseph Kane.
Walter Brennan is the reason to watch this movie. His chemistry with John Wayne is as gruff, but still somehow loving as his work in RIO BRAVO. He also treats his old boat like his old lady, arguing with it, yelling at it, insulting it, cooing it. It’s awesome.
Final Thoughts: This one wasn’t terribly amazing, a minor movie in Wayne’s filmography, but if you dig on Walter Brennan you have to watch this movie at some point. It’s not insulting, it’s not bad, it’s not dull, but it felt very light and fluffy, you know? It’s not the rib-sticking heavy meal that RIO BRAVO or THE COWBOYS were, but has enough charisma that it’s a recommend. Just ignore the dumb blonde when she comes in to say something stupid every few minutes.