The Man From Monterey (1933)Danny Like Banner

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Capt. John Holmes
John Wayne
Felipe Verranca
Louis Alberni
Dolores Castanares
Ruth Hall
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Don Luis Gonzalez
Donald Reed
Jake Morgan
Slim Whitaker
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.

"Got any evil planning to discuss?" "Oh, you'd better believe it."

“Got any evil planning to discuss?” “Oh, you’d better believe it.”

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.

A match made in heaven.

A match made in heaven.

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.

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.

May our caballero hats hide our shame.

May our caballero hats hide our shame.

  • 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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Danny is a writer who lives with his lovely wife, adorable children, and geriatric yet yappy dog. He blogs at, a website dedicated to Hollywood films from 1930 to 1934, and can be found on Twitter @PreCodeDotCom.


justjack · April 21, 2014 at 4:29 am

review arrives just in time! There’s a whole bunch of John Wayne stuff on TCM this week, including a lot of his Poverty Row junk. I initially passed this over when setting the DVR, because Leonard Maltin didn’t like it even a little bit. I’ve now corrected the oversight. This one sounds like a lot of fun.

    Danny · April 21, 2014 at 10:44 am

    It’s a goofy little charmer. And it popped up just in time because it’s the one time I managed to actually coordinate something with what would be showing on TCM. It won’t happen again any time soon, but it was nice for it to work for once!

Colly · April 24, 2014 at 7:15 pm

I went through a binge of 30s John Wayne films last year, and no doubting that they can be quite variable in quality – you really need to be in the mood.

That said, the six he did at Warners (including THE MAN FROM MONTEREY) at least have alright production values (even if the action shots are transposed from Maynard silents). I’d recommend RIDE HIM, COWBOY and, even though it has Blue Washington as a painfully dated black stereotype, HAUNTED GOLD has some good cheap thrills.

    Danny · April 27, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    I’ll definitely hit them at some point. I had watched a few of his poverty row pieces before this one and found them lacking, so Man From Monterey was a nice surprise.

justjack · June 22, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Danny, I’m surprised you didn’t mention the fact that Francis Ford’s name is in the cast list (thought I can’t spot him in the actual movie). Neither did you mention the fact that we can often hear airplanes flying overhead during various backlot shots. But otherwise, you’re absolutely spot on with The Man From Monterey. I can’t quite figure why, but this is head and shoulders above the other Leon Schlesinger Z-pictures that John Wayne made. It’s guerilla moviemaking at its best, like the original Rocky.

    Danny · June 24, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    Ha! Well, my blame for the second point is that I live next to an airport, so I’ve learned to tune out airplane noise. The first point will have to be from the fact I didn’t know Francis Ford actually acted– but now I do! And, yeah, this movie is weirdly fun. I have more Wayne movies to catch from early 30s, and this is the first one to give me hope.

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