WILD BILL HICKOK RIDES is airing on TCM tonight, November 27, at 9:30 pm EST.
Nothing too special here. My biased opinion is that Warren William has the most interesting bits in Wild Bill Hickok Rides, but that most of them come before he even arrives in Powder River where the bulk of the film takes place.
It felt like old times at the open while Chicago burned. The blaze is roaring and there’s panic in the streets. Mrs. O’Leary even toddles by and doesn’t seem too upset over that cow of hers.
A couple of men stand outside the Chicago Cattle Exchange and one remarks that a dozen churches have burnt but “this den of iniquity not even scorched.”
“Yes, and look at those buzzards up there,” says the other. “Nero’s fiddling while the city burns.”
Who do you think is up there?
Warren William stands out on the balcony with a pack of business associates and doesn’t seem the least bit concerned as the city is reduced to ash around him. His Harry Farrel hustles the men back inside with one telling him to hold his horses: “It isn’t our fault the city is on fire.”
Around the table Farrel lays out his plan. Out in Powder River, Wyoming, the greatest cattle raising section in the west, there’s land ripe for the taking. Oh, it’s settled all right, but he’s got the folks who’ve planted themselves there on a technicality: They never actually filed claims on their land.
Farrel is leaving Chicago for Powder River that very night. But first he has to stop by Belle Andrews’ place.
Belle (Constance Bennett) and her girls sit with neatly charred faces outside the burnt out ruins of Belle’s, ahem, Gambling Palace. Belle’s girls wonder what comes next.
“What are you gonna do, Miss Andrews?” one asks.
“Anybody I can,” says Belle, just before Farrel’s coach rides up.
“Well if it ain’t Mr. Farrel,” Belle says. “When bad luck starts running against you it keeps on running.”
Farrel is practically beaming as he approaches Belle’s ruins. “Looks like you’re out of business,” he says. “Maybe it’s all for the best.”
Farrel sells her on Powder River: “It’s an up and coming town, I practically run the place. And it won’t be long before I own the whole state.”
Belle and the girls join Farrel on the train to Powder River.
Farrel and Belle share a laugh over a fellow holding a doll, but when three desperadoes spill into their car the man drops the doll and starts firing. Once the hub bub comes to its conclusion the fellow doing the shooting rises from Belle’s lap and Farrel comes out of the bathroom where he was hiding.
The hero with the doll? It’s Bruce Cabot as the cleanest cut Wild Bill Hickok you’re ever going to see!Once Farrel and company land in Powder River, where he’s greeted by Ward Bond’s sheriff, it’s quickly apparent that Warren’s going to have to butt heads with Cabot’s Wild Bill if he’s going to make good on his plans of taking the town over.
Toss in an awkward love story between Cabot and Bennett and you’ve pretty much got Wild Bill Hickok Rides. Bennett’s role seems tailor-made for Mae West through the first half of the film. After that, through no fault of her own, she all but disappears.
After our Powder River arrival even Warren’s part loses most of its luster as he’s left to plot with Bond most of the way.
Somehow, Bruce Cabot emerges as the real focal point of this entertaining but routine Western.
One of the more interesting scenes is a crooked trial, with an honest J. Farrell McDonald presiding as judge and Howard Da Silva on Warren's payroll as prosecuting attorney. This leads to a nasty lynch mob scene inspired by Warren, who watches satisfied as the organized chaos unfolds on the streets below him.
Wild Bill Hickok Rides was Warren William’s first—and last--film back at Warner Brothers after he and his agent had arranged his early exit five years earlier upon completion of Stage Struck (1936).
“It was just like old home week,” Warren told a New York Post columnist. “Lots of the folks of my day were still around—Cagney, Bette Davis [I wonder how that went], George Brent for instance. Kay Francis was back for one picture, and I renewed an acquaintanceship with Monty Woolley.”
There was another familiar face on the scene as well. Warren had six Lone Wolf films down, three to go at the time of Wild Bill Hickok Rides, so it’s fun to spot Fred Kelsey, Dickens of the Lone Wolf series, briefly at his side in Hickok. Kelsey plays the jailer in this one and while he only has a couple of scenes, and not too many lines, he does share them with Warren.
Besides working with Warren in seven of his nine Lone Wolf films, Kelsey also appeared with Warren near the end of Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933). I’m just going with my gut here, but with nine shared credits I’d imagine no one ever appeared in more movies with Warren William than Fred Kelsey (Eric Blore 8; Thurston Hall 6. All of those were Lone Wolf entries).
It was only a few days before the attack on Pearl Harbor when Warren and wife Helen were on vacation in the East after completion of the Hickok film.
Warren said that Hickok was an easy one for him “since most of the action was on location fifteen minutes from my home and all I had to do was get into my dressing-room truck each morning, drive to the appointed place, do my stint and return in time to superintend my 2-1/2 acres of citrus fruit.”
Warren claimed this was his first trip back east since he came out to aid in promotion of Union Pacific (1939) three years earlier. “We were in such a dither that we didn’t get to see or do a single important thing,” he said of that three-day visit. “This is my first official holiday.”
After that trip it was back west to Columbia and one of those eight other jobs with Fred Kelsey in Counter-Espionage (1942), his seventh Lone Wolf film for the studio.
WILD BILL HICKOK RIDES (1942) was a Warner Brothers release that premiered January 31, 1942. Directed by Ray Enright and starring:
- Thirer, Irene. “Screen News and Views.” New York Post 5 Dec 1941: 23. Old Fulton NY Postcards. Web. 25 Nov 2012.