Zane Grey Collection 4
Two of the four movies in this set, The Light of Western Stars (1940) and The Fighting Westerner (1935), were originally produced by Paramount Pictures, while the The Dude Ranger (1934) was made independently by producer Sol Lesser at United Artists, and Wanderer of the Wasteland (1945) was produced at RKO. They're all together in this set, however, because at some point in their history their ownership reverted to the estate of Zane Grey, who authored the books on which each was based. But beyond the common authorship, three of the four offer as a hook the presence of a recognizable leading man -- for established western stars, we have no less a figure than George O'Brien, John Ford's first major western leading man, in The Dude Ranger, and a very young Randolph Scott in The Fighting Westerner, while The Light of Western Stars offers a most unconventional but extraordinary leading man in Victor Jory, a theater veteran who didn't do too many westerns but was a superb actor; and Wanderers of the Wasteland gives us James Warren, a good actor whose attempts at western stardom failed through no fault of his own. With production spread around so many different venues, and across more than a decade of screen history, it's not surprising that the quality varies significantly between each of the four discs, as well as in the movies themselves. What's more, these were B-pictures, each clocking in at well under 70 minutes, so it's not as though there was a huge amount of money spent on any of them to begin with. The Fighting Westerner, although made in 1934, retains a lot of the look and feel of a silent film, and many of the scenes, as well as the acting styles employed, recall the late silent oaters of Tom Mix. None of the others seems so stylistically out-of-place with its actual origins, but the strangest aspect of this set resides in a matter of quality, and can be found in Wanderer Of The Wasteland. By far the newest of the pictures, it is in the roughest shape of any of the four films here, transferred off of a worn, scratched 16mm C&C Television print. Sad to say, it would not pass muster for most broadcast or cable outlets, and it is in such poor condition that it resembles what one expects of a movie 20 years older than it is (i.e. a silent). And it's a pity, too, because it isn't a badly made movie, and it is well written. The Light of Western Stars looks a lot better -- in fact, it looks as good as any major studio release of the late 1930's or early 1940's, with a properly preserved source print very carefully transferred. The Dude Ranger is a bit grainy but more than passable, and The Fighting Westerner has also been well-preserved. Each DVD is appended with a black-and-white video presentation by Loren Grey, the son of author Zane Grey, who introduces an extended body of documentary footage about his father's lesser-known activities as an adventurer; and each contains the same two period short documentaries on Grey and his work and travels. The movies have been given a paltry four chapters, which is hardly adequate, even at an average 64 minute running time. And all four discs open to identically-structured simple two-layer menus.Randolph Scott stars in this adequate Zane Grey adaptation. Lawman Larry Sutton (Scott) is assigned to solve a series of murders occurring at a radium mine. Among the suspects is mine owner Mrs. Borg, played by legendary Broadway star Leslie Carter in a rare film appearance. The key to the mystery would seem to be a sinister Chinese gent named Ling Yat (Willie Fung), but he proves to be one of many red herrings. Hoping to beat Sutton to the solution is local sheriff Tex Murdock, played by veteran vaudevillian Chic Sale. With so much high-powered talent, it's small wonder that many reviewers failed to mention the ingenue, a young actress named Anne Sheridan. A remake of the 1922 film Golden Dreams (the original title of the Zane Grey novel), Rocky Mountain Mystery was reissued as Vanishing Pioneer.Previous filmed three times (most recently in 1930), the 1940 Paramount production Light of Western Stars was the latest in the studio's "Zane Grey" series. Victor Jory earns a rare top-billing slot as Gene Stewart, a hard-drinking Westerner who is reformed through the love of Boston debutante Majesty Hammond (Jo Ann Sayers). Along the way, he tries to help Majesty prevent the marriage of her headstrong brother Alfred (Russell Hayden) to the blowzy Flo Kingsley (Ruth Rogers). Noah Beery Jr. offers an unusual characterization as Stewart's Mexican (!) sidekick, while veteran Western hero Tom Tyler essays a meaty character role as a small-town sheriff. Also on hand in a teeny-tiny role is Alan Ladd, on the verge of bigger and better things.In this western, a young cowboy rides out to avenge his father's killer. Eventually, he finds the scoundrel, but by this time opts not to kill him for the cowboy has fallen in love with the outlaw's niece. Later, the killer ends up killed and the hero is blamed for the crime. Mayhem ensues until the hero can prove his innocence. In the end, he and the niece get together and live a long happy life together.In his first in a series of well-mounted Westerns and action melodramas for independent producer Sol Lesser, George O'Brien plays Ernest Selby, a young Easterner who cannot get rid of his inheritance -- an Arizona ranch -- soon enough. But when Sam Hepburn (Henry Hall), the wheelchair-bound operator of his ranch, mistakenly assumes that the youngster is seeking a job to get better acquainted with his haughty daughter Ann (Irene Hervey), Selby decides to stick around and look into the mysterious disappearance of 10,000 heads of cattle. With the help of cowhand Nebrasky Kemp (Syd Saylor), our hero quickly learns that nothing at the Red Rock Ranch is quite as it first appears: Old man Hepburn is only faking an injury, and the foreman, Hyslip (LeRoy Mason), knows more about the missing cattle than he cares to admit. Released by the Fox company, The Dude Ranger was filmed on location at Utah's Zion National Park.