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Riders of the Whistling Skull

USA 1937
produced by
Nat Levine for Republic Pictures
directed by Mack V. Wright
starring Robert Livingston, Ray Corrigan (= Ray 'Crash' Corrigan), Max Terhune, Mary Russell, Yakima Canutt, Roger Williams, Fern Emmett, C.Montague Shaw, George Godfrey, Chief Thundercloud, John Van Pelt
screenplay by Oliver Drake, John Rathmell, based on a story by Oliver Drake, Bernard McConville and on characters by William Colt MacDonald, special effects by Howard Lydecker, Theodore Lydecker, Jack Coyle, Ellis Thackery

Three Mesquiteers, Republic's Three Mesquiteers

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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With her scientist father (John Van Pelt) lost in the desert in search of an ancient Indian tribe, Mary Russell decides do organize a rescue party. The 3 Mesquiteers (Bob Livingston, Ray Crash Corrigan, Max Terhune) meanwhile have found a member of the original expedition (C.Montague Shaw), who seems to be tortured almost to death by said lost tribe. After he is murdered, the Mesquiteers decide to join the rescue party, mainly because they are convinced the killer is one of them. It turns out they are right of course, when after a series of Indian ambushes - during which Mary Russell is abducted, George Godfrey tortured & branded & their supplies wagon burned - their Indian scout Yakima Canutt & Roger Williams turn out to be members of the tribe. The rescue party, or what remained of it, however succeeds in finding refuge in the Whistling Skull-rock formation (actually a hollow rock in shape of a skull, rather nicely done via matte-effects) where they even - among mummies & skeletons - find Van Pelt - neither mummy nor skeleton but alive (but so is one of the mummies, actually). Of course, at the climax, the Mesquiteers can overcome the Indians (with the help of the Sheriff who had them pursued by his posse), stop a human sacrifice & produce a landslide big enough to destroy the Indians (an ending, at best questionably for today's standards but perfectly happy back then) ...

 

This 3 Mesquiteers-feature was easily one of the wildest indeed. Not content with ripping just another Western yarn, this one also delves deep into science fiction & horror territory, both in terms of plot and atmosphere, as it uses the lost tribe-motive to great effect - this was not the first Western to do so, though, according to all my sources this honour goes to Hidden Valley (1932, starring Bob Steele), while the wildest variation on the theme was no doubt Phantom Empire (1935, with Gene Autry in the lead), but Riders ... still  manages to stand on its own pretty well ! Later, for some reason only few movies would re-use the theme, among them the abysmal Yellow Hair and the Fortress of Gold (1984), which openly pays hommage to these old b-pictures & serials.

 

Fourth in Republic's long running series (51 features from 1936 to 1943) about William Colt MacDonald's Three Mesquiteers, easily the most successful of the late 30's/early 40's cowboy trios (others were the Trailblazers, the Rough Riders, the Range Busters, the Frontier Marshals, to name just a few). Livingston & Corrigan would play their respective roles of Stony Brook & Tucson Smith which they did since the beginning, while for Terhune it was just the third time as Lullaby Joslin (Syd Saylor played the role in the first movie The Three Mesquiteers). Livingston would leave the team after 15 films, being replaced by Ralph Byrd (for one film only, The Trigger Trio, because Livingston was injured), then by John Wayne (in his days immediately before Stagecoach, for 8 pictures), before Livingston came back to do 14 more. Corrigan actually stayed on board for 24 consecutive pictures (among other reasons, he left because Livingston would come back, & they hated each others guts), Terhune for 21. Terhune & Corrigan, who became close friends while doing the Mesquiteers, later rejoined forces at Monogram to do another cowboy-trio series - the Range Busters!

Yakima Canutt, by the way, who plays the Indian scout here with his unmistakingly snarling voice, was the great stuntman of his time (& in some respects remains unsurpassed to this day), gracing many of Republic's B-pics & serials with his work, sometimes singlehandedly elevating them above the usual B-fare. Apart from that, he was also John Wayne's personal stuntman & lifelong friend.

In 1949 the story was remade as The Feathered Serpent at Monogram, not a Western at all, but a Charlie Chan-picture (!).

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
-
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner

 

Out now from
Amazon!!!

 

 

 

On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD