Overland Stage Raiders (Blu-ray Review)15 Oct, 2012 By: Mike Clark
$19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Stars John Wayne, Ray Corrigan, Max Terhune, Louise Brooks.
Following the great and recent ironic tradition of Tim Burton’s Ed Wood coming out on Blu-ray — in other words, let’s all celebrate history’s schlockiest filmmaker in hi-def — we now curtsy to four “Three Mesquiteers” ‘B’-Westerns being issued on the superior format (but standard DVD, too) and looking mighty pristine. From the quartet Olive Films sent me, I could have picked Three Texas Steers, Red River Range or The Night Riders (all from 1939 and all from Republic Pictures as well). But for some reason, my eye settled on the previous year’s Overland Stage Raiders — the unexpected result being a lo-and-behold! reaction to a standout surprise undivulged on the front jacket art.
I had vaguely recalled from my readings that the immortal G.W. Pabst heroine Louise Brooks (Pandora’s Box, Diary of a Lost Girl) ultimately ended up in a John Wayne pre-Stagecoach cheapie late in her career. But I had forgotten that a) it was this film; and b) that it was, in fact, the last feature in which Brooks appeared before reinventing herself much later as a verbally dexterous film writer. So what can Brooks and the Duke have talked about on the set of a cheapie that probably took a week to shoot? Well, for one thing Brooks had managed to work for director Howard Hawks (in 1928’s A Girl in Every Port) two full decades before Wayne starred in Red River (which was eventually followed by subsequently iconic appearances in Rio Bravo, El Dorado and Rio Lobo). But probably, there wasn’t time for the two of them to engage in any yack-fest on the set, even though Wayne and another icon of German cinema (Marlene Dietrich herself) would briefly manage to hit it off amorously once the cameras stopped rolling when they were both at Universal in the early 1940s.
Because, to be sure, Stage Raiders is standard issue all the way — or would be if it weren’t one of those twisted Republics (in the late ’40s/early ’50s Roy Rogers mode) where cowboys gallop around on horses as if it were 1870 while buses and more modern transportation modes do their own things. (Surreal, man.) The Mesquiteers — at this point, they would be Wayne (who took over the series lead from Robert Livingston), Ray Corrrigan and Max Terhune — get involved in an airplane concern to transport gold after a series of bus robberies means that someone had to find a better way. At this point, the thieves get more ambitious: just rob the plane and put the blame on the innocent pilot, who has a criminal record.
The latter also has a sister, played by Brooks, who by this time had scuttled the German-cinema “bob” she wore and was sporting a shoulder-length deal that made her look like just any old other reasonably attractive woman. If the actress looks mighty uncomfortable in the role, it is striking to see how Wayne (again, pre-Stagecoach) had picked up at least some of the acting characteristics that made him as big a superstar as there ever was. That is quite the white hat that he’s wearing here, and I would advise any viewer to check out the high cuffs on Wayne’s blue jeans here. If the Duke had been a stoner, there would have been room for about four lids. And speaking of a stoned mindset, check out Terhune’s once Western-ubiquitous ventriloquist act that he pulls out here. I once showed him performing the same wooden-dummy act to AFI staffers in 1942’s propagandistic Texas to Bataan, a “Range Busters” cheapie-Z that came out a little less than a year after Pearl Harbor. I don’t think they ever got over it. Or the movie, for that matter.