This week’s mystery movie was the 1939 RKO picture “The Marshal of Mesa City,” with George O’Brien, Virginia Vale, Leon Ames, Henry Brandon, Harry Cording, Lloyd Ingraham, Slim Whitaker, Joe McGuinn, Mary Gordon and Frank Ellis.
Screenplay by Jack Lait Jr.
Production executive Lee Marcus, photographed by Harry Wild, art direction by Van Nest Poglase, associate art director Charles F. Pyke, recorded by John C. Grubb, edited by Frederic Knudtson.
Directed by David Howard.
Produced by Bert Gilroy.
“The Marshal of Mesa City” is available from Warner Archive with “Legion of the Lawless” and “Triple Justice.”
I rarely do Westerns as mystery movies, but “The Marshal of Mesa City” has been on my list since the beginning of the year (yes I do plan the mystery movies) and I only have a few weeks left before we roll into 2021. Westerns of the 1930s often had low production values, repetitious plots and survive in murky dupes, but this film has a decent story, moves quickly (it’s only an hour), good acting and it’s a nice, sharp print.
“Marshal of Mesa City” has the stock characters of many Westerns: The lovely schoolteacher, the corrupt powerbroker with an assortment of dimwitted followers. And the hero, of course, who comes to town and cleans up Mesa City. One unusual angle is the “good bad man” (Henry Brandon), a hired gun who comes to down to kill the hero and is charmed into being on the side of the law. George O’Brien is the impossibly perfect hero who always plays fair and doesn’t believe in shooting a man in the back. He also insists on taking away everybody’s guns and I wonder how that plays with the 2nd Amendment crowd. Virginia Vale is the obligatory pretty schoolteacher and love interest. It’s a special treat to see Leon Ames as a villain – he’s a good one.
Showmen’s Trade Review (Oct. 7, 1939) said:
The standard combination of George O’Brien as star, Dave Howard as director and Bert Gilroy as producer has produced here a better than average western action story, which marks Gilroy’s last film before going over to the “A” productions. A good story helps and the addition of such capable players as Brandon and Ames makes for material which is sure to please the George O’Brien and action story fans.
Motion Picture Herald (Oct. 7, 1939) said:
“Marshal of Mesa City” makes able use of the entertainment formula that caused such pictures as “Dodge City” and “Frontier Marshal” to be well regarded by large numbers of exhibitors and theater-goers. Yet is is freshly different and by no means a digest of either. The first George O’Brien show on RKO-Radio’s new season schedule, it should be influential for creating a vogue for its successors.
The Exhibitor (Oct. 18, 1939) said:
While this is formula, as far as western plot is concerned, embracing a combination of numerous outdoor action scenes, it stacks up as one of the better George O’Briens from the viewpoints of production, direction and histrionics…. O’Brien is in top form and Henry Brandon, a professional killer, brought to the city to polish off O’Brien, only to join hands with him through admiration of his bravery, gives a standout performance. Offering is packed with action, thrills and suspense. Audience reaction was good. Top-notch O’Brien.
Film Daily (Jan. 2, 1940) said:
A bang-up western is rousing action thrill for the cowboy fans. One of the best O’Brien starrers to hit the screen in a long time. “The Marshal of Mesa City” is a sure-fire western that will give the action and western fans a big kick. O’Brien has never had a vehicle that gives him more opportunity to play the rugged he-man roles he is suited to and he has been provided with a good supporting case. David Howard directs the picture with a snappy pace and puts plenty of suspense into the gunplay sequences.
Let’s see how much the New York Times hated it – if it even bothered to do a review.
No review, just a Dec. 22, 1941, item that director Dave Howard died at the age of 45.
For Monday, we have a mystery girl. The leading lady has been cropped out due to insufficient mysteriousness and will appear Friday.
Update: For Friday, here’s our mysterious leading lady.
Update: Our mystery girl, alas, remains unidentified. The schoolteacher is Virginia Vale. She co-starred with O’Brien in “Triple Justice,” “Prairie Law,” “Legion of the Lawless” and “Stage to Chino.”
For Tuesday, we have this mystery gent, plus Back of the Head Leading Lady and Back of the Head Bad Guy.
Update: This is Steve Pendleton with Virginia Vale as Back of the Head Leading Lady and Harry Cording as Back of the Head Bad Guy, though I also gave credit Slim Whitaker because he’s BOTH and if you don’t have a print of the movie you can’t tell them apart from the back.
This mystery bad guy isn’t wearing his mask properly.
Update: This is Joe McGuinn.
We also have this mystery gent. The leading lady has been cropped out due to insufficient mysteriousness and will appear Friday.
Update: For Friday, our mystery leading lady joins our mystery stagecoach driver.
Update: This is mystery stagecoach driver Bob Burns (448 credits on IMDB!) and Virginia Vale.
For “Hm Wednesday,” we have these two mystery gents.
Update: This is Edward Peil Sr., left and mystery mayor Lloyd Ingraham.
We also have these mystery musicians.
Update: Our mystery band has an actual killer: Spade Cooley on the fiddle. Also Rudy Sooter on bass.
And this mystery fellow.
Update: This is Henry Brandon who gives an excellent performance as Duke Allison.
Brain Trust roll call: Mike Hawks (mystery movie, Tuesday’s mystery cowpoke and Back of the Head Leading Lady) and Mary Mallory (mystery movie, Monday’s cropped-out leading lady, Tuesday’s mystery cowpoke, Back of the Head Leading Lady, Back of the Head Villain and mystery masked man).
And for “Aha Thursday,” we have this mysterious gent.
Update: This is Leon Ames. So evil.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (Wednesday’s mystery mayor, mystery musicians and mysterious good bad man), B.J. Merholz (Wednesday’s mystery fiddle player), Mike Hawks (Wednesday’s mystery guests), Howard Mandelbaum (mystery movie, Tuesdays Back of the Head Persons, mystery masked man, Wednesday’s mystery mayor and mystery good bad man), Benito (Wednesday’s mystery good bad man) and Sheila (Wednesday’s mystery mayor).
For Friday, here’s our mystery leading lady.
Update: This is Virginia Vale.
And finally, our mystery leading man takes control of the situation.
Update: This is George O’Brien. Later to appear in “Fort Apache” and “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.”
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (Thursday’s mystery bad guy), Tucson Barbara (mystery movie, Wednesday’s mystery good bad man and Thursday’s mystery bad guy), Sylvia E. (mystery movie, mystery leading man and leading lady, mystery mayor, mystery good bad man, mystery masked man, Tuesday’s Back of the Head Bad Guy, mystery violinist and Thursday’s mystery bad guy), L.C. (mystery movie and mystery cast), Gary (mystery movie, Thursday’s mystery guest and peering into the future to get Friday’s mysterious leading man), Noir Allie (mystery movie, Thursday’s mystery bad guy), Mike Hawks (Thursday’s mystery bad guy), Anne Papineau (mystery movie and Thursday’s mystery bad guy), Sheila (Thursday’s mystery bad guy), Megan and Thom (mystery movie, Monday’s mysterious teacher, Tuesday’s mystery cowpoke, mystery bad guy, Wednesday’s mystery mayor, mystery musicians and mysterious good bad man, and Thursday’s mysterious bad guy) and Blackwing Jenny (mystery movie and Thursday’s mystery bad guy).