|Capt. John Holmes
|Don Luis Gonzalez
|Released by Warner Brothers | Directed By Mack V. Wright
Proof That It’s Pre-Code
- “Aww, stick those cards in your–”
“In your pocket. Come on!”
- The film’s comic relief spends the second half of the film in drag. And rocking it.
The Man From Monterey: A Bonanza of Wackiness
The Man From Monterey now holds my quickest turnaround records, from “Oh great, another John Wayne poverty row snoozer” to maniacal giggling in just a few short minutes. The short programmer– 57 measly minutes– is exactly what you’re expecting for a film where the second billed star is a horse.
Vast collisions of exposition kick off the film as we’re told, in four different scenes, how new American land laws will be affecting Californian ranchers who had gotten their grants from the Spanish government. The Castanares are the biggest landowners, and they’re encouraged by the the Gonzalez family to continue to refuse to obey the law. But the Gonzalez’s are acting out of greed– should the Castanares not sign up with the government, their land will go up for sale and the Gonzalez can swoop in.
The son of the family, Luis, is also the de facto villain of the film. Luckily for everyone involved, he’s a huge weenie. He’s been pursuing Don Castanares’ daughter, Dolores, for well over both’s adult lives and gets only laughter. He’s also been shacking up with a waitress in town and she doesn’t respect him for a minute. Luis even tries to fake a bandit attack on Dolores so he may swoop in and prove himself the hero and even that ends in a complete disaster.
That’s because who should show up other than square jawed Captain Holmes of the U.S. Army, there to talk to the landowners and fight off a few bandidos as necessary. John Wayne was working through his b-movie purgatory of the early 30s in this one, but shows much more spirit and joy than he had in either His Private Secretary or Arizona, if just because he gets the chance to jump more walls and throw more punches than in either of the other films combined.
His enthusiasm here is infectious, and he’s helped greatly by the supporting cast. Louis Alberni his his comedic sidekick, a world-traveled guitar player/psychic/heavy drinker who is also willing to put on a wig and a dress if it means helping to infiltrate a dubious wedding. Then there’s Jake Morgan, a boisterous and honorable bandit who gets double crossed by Luis and decides to help bring him down, even if that interferes with his plans to just sit around in the woods all day.
That being said, I’m not entirely sure that Duke the horse deserves second billing. The most heroic act he performs is to simply run and alert Morgan’s men that they need help in taking on Gonzalez’s gang. In the meantime Wayne takes on a dozen bandits with a single sword at once, though his ‘swing the sword around frantically’ method doesn’t seem to guarantee the best results without help from a few foley artists.
But that’s okay. Like much of The Man From Monterey, its weaker moments are wallpapered by a sense of fun and playfulness. Reused stunts from silent films integrate well, and the film’s pace through much of the convoluted plot leaves hardly a dull spot. But most of all, it’s the sincerity of The Man From Monterey that sells it. In the right place, John Wayne’s big dumb grin and a posse of misfits is the perfect formula for a good time.
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Trivia & Links
- TCMDB several time notes that things occur “without a sense of irony” and talk about how the film sustained Wayne after The Big Trail (1930) flopped:
Then Leon Schlesinger, who in addition to creating and overseeing the Warner animation unit also produced films for the Warner’s B-western unit, had the bright idea to recycle the silent films that Ken Maynard made for the studio. Schlesinger signed the broad-shouldered young actor partly out of his physical resemblance to Maynard, the easier to match the stunts and action scenes from the earlier films. Getting such a hungry and serious young screen actor, a rising star who made up for his inexperience with his commitment to his roles and focus on learning his craft, was a bonus.
- Mitch Lovell at The Video Vacuum shares my enthusiasm for the film:
Wayne gives a terrific performance befitting a Legend of the Silver Screen. In addition to beating the crap out of people and being a total pimp, he gets at least one positively badass moment where he enters a guy’s house through the window and smoothly strikes up a conversation. If anyone else did that, it would seem goofy and out of place, but The Duke just has that air of coolness about him that you welcome him into your home whether he comes through the door or the window.
- And, as Mitch noted, I bust out laughing when Wayne delivers his character’s name in the movie, since “John Holmes” would later be a name much associated with a far different kind of movie.
Awards, Accolades & Availability
- This one is available on DVD over at Amazon. I caught this one over at Warner Archive Instant, but it’s since been taken down from the service.
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