It begins with scrolling titles, then scrolling information about how, after the Civil War, everyone needed food. And plenty of beef was wandering around Texas, but there was no way to get them to the hungry people back east because, well... read it yourself:
Well, right off the bat, we know this is going to be an exciting movie, huh? Indian depredations, outlaws, rustlers -- sounds like a good time! At least, for the audience. Those frontier Adventurers might have things a bit tougher, but we shall see.
To start things off, we have a lovely train engine rolling into Abilene, being welcomed by rowdy cowboys and excited citizens. It's not a dust storm, that's smoke from all the pistols being fired off in celebration. And some smoke and steam from the train too, but mostly it's from the merrymaking.
Speaking of merrymaking, over at the courthouse, two cute little puppies named Dan Thomas (William Holden) and Tod Ramsey (Glenn Ford) are facing charges of trespassing and stealing a hog. The judge (Raymond Hatten) is a rabid Confederate-hater who goes easy on anyone who claims to have fought alongside Sherman, but cracks down hard on anyone who wore a grey uniform in the Civil War.
They're such cute young things, I don't see how they don't get let off on account of sheer adorableness. But when he finds out they were Confederates, the judge insults them, plus General Lee and a bunch of other "rebel riff-raff," and tells them the sooner they leave Abilene for Texas, the better. Dan does not take kindly to such talk.
The judge does not take kindly to being dragged across his desk. He fines them $50 each for the thievery, and fines Dan an extra $50 for contempt of court. They admitted they tried to steal a pig because they were starving and broke, so of course they can't pay their fines, and the judge knows it.
In walks a gent called Windy Miller (George Bancroft). He pays their fines, makes remarks about being contemptuous of the court in general, and stand up for the honor of General Lee and associates. You can imagine how this makes Dan and Tod feel.
But why imagine it when you can see it, right? Awww, look at those smiles. Yes, they're babies here -- Holden is about 23, and Ford is about 25. So young and gangly!
Anyway, this Windy Miller guy is pretty famous and popular and influential around these parts, as evidenced by the fact that he gets his name on the town welcome sign.
Windy Miller hires Dan and Tod for unspecified work, and says he'll see them "at the fight" tonight. What fight, you may ask? Why a prize fight celebrating the opening of the largest corral in the world. See? It says so, right here:
I always celebrate the opening of a new corral by paying people to punch each other in the face, don't you?
Well, these people do. This here is Dutch Henry (Lyle Latell), pride of Camp 19. He's endowed with a floppy mustache and a peculiar fighting style.
Seriously, he does this whole "squatting rooster" pose for the entire fight. I'm not making this up.
His opponent breaks his leg right before the match, and the crowd gets really mad that there's not going to be a fight. So Windy Miller offers Dan $200 if he'll fight Dutch Henry. Tod thinks that's a bad idea.
Dan's not so keen on it himself, but he says he'll do it for $50 -- he and Tod owe Windy the rest for bailing them out at the courtroom.
Might want to go grab your swooning couches, folks, as there are about to be a whole bunch of shirtless pictures of a young and tender William Holden. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Poor Dan gets knocked cuckoo. Tod gently revives him in the time-honored way.
Dan keeps on slugging, and Tod keeps on picking him up, dousing him with water, and sending him back into the ring.
There's not actually a good reason for this picture to be here, but it was so doggone cute I couldn't leave it out. This is Dan, about to get clobbered for the gazillionth time. The fight goes on for quite a while, though I tend to laugh through most of it because it's quite silly.
Poor Tod has to sit there and watch his friend get pounded into pulp -- and he has to pretend to cheer him on too, but you can see as the fight wears on that he just wants this to be over. But Dan won't quit -- round 45 comes and goes, and he's still getting up and slugging.
I promised you shirtless William Holden pics, so shirtless William Holden pics you shall have.
Dan eventually wins the match -- I think. Mostly, it just turns into a giant free-for-all, and our two heroes sneak off in the commotion. They've never made any secret of the fact that basically, they're on their way to Texas, so off they go while the going's good.
Riding to Texas turns out to be hot, dusty, tiring work. It also necessitates chewing on weeds as a means to pass the time, because they have ridden for a solid week without seeing another human being and they're getting bored. Dan declares Texas is too big, but Tod finds it "kinda quiet and peaceful after coming through that Indian country." Why we had to cut out all the exciting stuff that happened in Indian country is beyond me -- I'd like to see some of what went on there! However, this movie is called Texas, and it's not going to waste any more time not being in Texas.
Suddenly, what to their wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature stagecoach and a whole bunch of outlaws shooting at it!
Aboard the stage is one Doc Thorpe (Edgar Buchanan), a dentist who complains a lot about the hold-up taking place out in the hot sun instead of in the shade. He'll be important later on, so better give him his own picture here.
The outlaws know there's a cattle buyer on the stage, and they relieve him of $10,000.
Our intrepid heroes do not come to the assistance of the beleaguered stagecoach. Instead, they watch from above, admiring the efficiency of the outlaws. This does not bode well for their futures as upstanding citizens.
In fact, Dan and Tod sneak up on the outlaws and relieve them of their ill-gotten gains. Dan thinks they should keep the money, and Tod thinks they should give it back to whomever it belongs to.
While Dan's off chasing down a wild longhorn for dinner, poor Tod is set upon by a posse. Guess how the posse thinks he came by that money? They jump to the obvious conclusion and commence hunting for a tree to hang poor Tod from. The sheriff (Don Beddoe) opines, "I never saw the beat. Every time I wanna hang a fellow, there ain't no trees."
Meanwhile, Dan has hidden in a convenient clump of tall weeds to watch. (My 9-year-old wants you to know that this is a bad idea, because Dan could get ticks.)
They head off to a big tree that is obviously popular for such purposes -- if you look closely, you can see two empty nooses dangling from a limb on the right side.
The sheriff and his deputies elect to use a new rope to hang Tod, after informing him that the tree he'll be executed on was planted by Davy Crockett. They seem to think that should cheer him up. It doesn't.
Know what does cheer him up? The sight of Dan galloping up. Dan yells that there's hundreds of Indians chasing him, and the posse promptly rides away as fast as they can skedaddle.
It doesn't take the posse long to figure out they've been hornswoggled, and they quit running away from nonexistent Indians and start chasing Dan and Tod. So our heroes split up, hoping at least one will get away. They shake hands and say nice things about each other like, "You're not much to look at, but I'm sure gonna miss you."
And that's the end of my favorite part of this movie, the half an hour of Dan and Tod running about having various adventures. The rest of the movie has an actual plot, but isn't quite as rompingly adorable. Still enjoyable, though, so don't worry, I'll keep on reviewing the rest.
Enter "Mike" King (Claire Trevor), intrepid rancher. Dan loses his horse when he jumps off a cliff into a river to escape the posse, so he tries to steal one of hers at gunpoint.
That goes over about as well as you'd expect.
She pretends to capitulate and asks him to help her down. When he puts his gun away to help her out, she smacks him with the buggy whip, then whips up the team and takes off.
Here we see the latest in a series of Dan's bright ideas.
Actually, he manages to hoist himself into the wagon somehow (well, he has to use all those muscles he was displaying earlier for something, right?), and a merry fight over the whip and reins ensues.
First one person gets the upper hand, then the other. It's a random bit of adorable slapstick and funniness that I laugh aloud over. Especially when Claire Trevor gets bounced up and down in the back of the wagon, and later gets so mad she literally says, "The blankety-blank!"
I'm full of spoilers today, sorry. This is such a little-known western, I feel like I should just tell you everything, because ten to one, you're never going to make the effort to find it and see it. Unless you're nutty about westerns, William Holden, and/or Glenn Ford like I am. And if you are, you're going to dig up this gem (you can get it used on Amazon for about $5 last I checked) whether or not you know the whole fight on the buggy ends with Claire Trevor sitting in the dirt, right?
I lied. It ends with William Holden sitting in the dirt. Not that he looks too disappointed about the fact.
Mike heads home, where she meets up with Tod, who's just been hired on at her family's ranch that afternoon. Their meeting goes better than the one between Mike and Dan. Mostly.
Meanwhile, Dan walks the rest of the way to town, where he makes himself a sandwich at the saloon, which is offering free lunch with purchase of drinks. He hasn't purchased a drink, being broke, but that doesn't stop him from chowing down.
Yeah, Dan has a knack for getting himself in trouble. One thing leads to another, as tends to happen very rapidly in B westerns like this.
But before Dan can get himself incarcerated or worse, he gets his bacon saved by none other than Doc Thorpe.
Doc Thorpe swears Dan wasn't on the stage, and the sheriff believes him. Dan flashes his dimples around to show how happy he is about this turn of events.
Once again, one thing leads to another, and Dan winds up in Doc Thorpe's chair having a "bad bicuspid" worked on. This is Doc Thorpe's favorite way of incapacitating someone so he can talk them into something they'd otherwise not look so favorably on. In this case, he talks Dan into taking a job as a cowpoke for Matt Lashan (Addison Richards).
Turns out it was some of Lashan's men who held up that stage coach. After a misunderstanding or two, Dan decides to throw in with them. Dude, really? You've been away from Tod for like four hours, and you're hanging out with outlaws and thieves? Tsk tsk tsk.
He doesn't look any too repentant about it, either.
Dan soon learns that this bunch does more rustling than stage-robbing, which lends itself to thrilling montage of cowboys riding around with bandannas over their noses, firing off guns and stampeding longhorns.
Meanwhile, the other ranchers gather at Mike King's ranch to discuss the recent bout of cattle thievery.
Tod remains skeptical of their plans to hire famous gunslingers to protect their herds. Before anything gets decided, the rustlers attack, shooting Mike King's father and knocking several boards loose from their picket fence, the hoodlums.
Hey, remember this guy from the beginning? Windy Miller is back and ready to do some more speech-making and tall-hat-wearing.
Surprise, surprise -- guess who else is at that cattleman's meeting? Why it's Dan and his new "friends." Mike IDs him from across the room as the guy who held her up months earlier, and Tod (who is basically courting Mike, and also running her ranch now that her dad is dead) rushes over to avenge his lady friend, only to discover her would-be hijacker is none other than his old buddy!
A joyous reunion ensues.
Tod tries to be stern when quizzing Dan about how come he tried to steal one of Mike's horses, but gosh, he's just so doggone happy to see his old friend, he can't pull it off.
Tod's so busy introducing Dan and Mike, smoothing Mike's ruffled feathers, and generally being overjoyed to have his friend back that he totally fails to notice that Dan has taken quite a fancy to Mike himself.
To warm up the crowd, Doc Thorpe sings "Buffalo Gals" while Mike plays the pump organ. Dan and Tod get sent back behind the organ to pump.
You can see how evenly the labor gets divided here. Tod does the pumping, and Dan snatches the opportunity to flirt with Mike from under the organ's pipes.
Mike isn't sure what to think about this.
But it's gotta be tough to keep on disliking a cutie like Dan. Especially since she doesn't know he's hanging with the guys who killed her dad.
Dan tells Tod he wants to marry Mike, and they scuffle a bit, but have to go back to behaving because the organ won't work if no one pumps. This time, Dan gets out-maneuvered and has to do some work for a change.
Windy Miller takes the stage at last, and our boys cozy up to Mike on her organ bench.
Windy makes a big speech about how much the East needs beef, and how much Abilene needs herds from Texas to fill that need, and how he's going to personally help drive the herds there, but Dan's more interested in watching Mike than Windy, and let's be honest -- we're more interested in watching Dan and Mike and Tod ourselves.
Dan starts getting all pesky, like a ten-year-old boy with a crush on the new girl at school. Tod ignores him, and Mike keeps trying to make him behave, but you can imagine how effective both those approaches are.
Windy Miller offers to buy everyone's cattle at $2 a head and drive them to Abilene himself, since no one else seems able to get herds up the trail without losing them to the rustlers. Tod stands up and says he's going to take the King herd through himself because he knows he can get $17 or $18 a head once he gets to Abilene.
While Tod tries to convince other ranchers to go in with him on a big cattle drive, Dan takes Mike outside.
There, he tries to sweet-talk her, and Mike calls him a "blankety-blank hamstrung hunk of jerky beef." I'm so not kidding, she really does. I love Mike, don't you?
And then this happens. Well, you know... he might be a blankety-blank, but he's also William Holden, young and possessed of a pair of deadly dimples and an enormous amount of swagger, and yeah... can't say I blame her. I mean, it's not like Tod's proposed or anything -- he's mostly been hanging around making cow's eyes at her. And running her ranch, and being perfectly wonderful, but Dan has made his intentions clear in the few minutes she's known him. He's even told her he wants to marry her. Tod could take some lessons in how to catch a girl, that's for sure.
So meanwhile back at the plot, look who turn out to be buddies? Why, yes! Matt Lashan (head of the rustlers), Doc Thorpe (chief bad-biscuspid-remover), and Windy Miller (slick-talking Abilene mogul) all have themselves some likker and a palaver. They've cooked this whole thing up as a way to get rich off Texas cattle, either by stealing them outright, or else by buying them at crazy low prices and driving them north themselves. The scoundrels! They discuss whether or not to kill Tod, but decide he's too popular now, and agree that Lashan should pitch in a thousand head of his own cattle for the big group cattle drive Tod's organizing so no one gets suspicious.
The town has a shindig to celebrate the herds leaving, and Dan gets Mike alone again. Don't you love Mike's dress? I would totally wear that.
Dan insists they're in love, but Mike isn't convinced. So he kisses her to convince her.
Guess who walks by right then? Guess who walks away because he can't bear the thought of fighting with his best friend, even over the girl he loves? Guess who my favorite character in this is?
So then there's a cattle drive, and Dan has to decide when and where to steal the herds. He convinces the others to wait until they're really close to Abilene, then steal the herds and drive them in and sell them off instead of handing them over to Lashan and Windy Miller to sell. The other rustlers agree this makes good economic sense and, after a measured and intelligent deliberation, they decide to go along with his plan. Or something like that.
Windy Miller gets wise to their scheme and comes out to stop them, but he should have seen this coming, what with there being no honor among thieves and all. They take Windy's money and split.
Because Dan and his gang have gone their merry way, Tod and his friends can drive their herds into Abilene unmolested. They sell them and get ready to celebrate.
Instead of leaving with his ill-gotten gains, Dan goes into Abilene and buys a fancy saddle for Mike. He gets her name engraved on it, which takes a long time.
Windy finds out he's there and waylays him. Again, you'd think they'd expect this sort of thing, all being thieves and so on. (I am TOTALLY SPOILING THE ENDING from here on out, just so you know.)
Dan shoots Windy. Lashan pops up and draws on Dan from behind.
But then who should join the party but dear old Tod? Here in a fancy new coat to rescue his old friend Dan.
Tod has figured out that it was Dan who stole Windy's money, and Dan and his pals who were involved in the rustling back in Texas. They argue a bit, as erstwhile friends will. Dan tells Tod that now they've each saved each other's life, and they're even, and they don't need to have anything to do with each other anymore. But Tod says that won't work because he's in love with Mike too, even though he never told her so.
At this, Dan looks stricken, as if he'd suspected this for a while, but been hoping it wasn't so. But he rides away, intent on pursuing and winning Mike.
Dan decides to take over Lashan's outfit, only it turns out Lashan didn't own his ranch. Doc Thorpe did. Dan thinks he can flash those dimples and charm his way into Doc's good graces, but it turns out that Doc is much smarter and savvier and scarier than everyone thought. Because Doc's one condition for being willing to work with Dan is that they have to kill Tod so he can't talk the ranchers into selling their cattle in Abilene again.
Dan, to his credit, says no way.
Tod and the other ranchers return, and Mike is much happier to see Tod than Dan would like.
In the saloon, everyone celebrates the return of the ranchers, and Tod and Dan glare at each other a bit. Tod tells Dan he needs to talk to him in private, so they retire to the back room. This last eight minutes or so of the movie is my other favorite part. The middle stuff is necessary for The Plot, but the beginning and ending are what make me love this movie.
In the back room, Tod tries to show Dan how unfair it would be if Dan married Mike -- unfair to Mike. He tells Dan to leave. Then he offers to leave with Dan. He will give up Mike if Dan will too.
Dan looks at Tod for a long moment. He knows Tod's not kidding. And Dan realizes that Tod loves Mike far more than he ever could. Tod loves Mike so much, he will give her up to keep her safe. But before he can do the honorable thing and get out of town, Lashan sneaks up and shoots Tod through an open window. Tod goes down, and Dan leaps out the window because townsfolk burst in and think he shot Tod.
Tod's not hurt badly, but the townsfolk don't care. They go after Dan with a vengeance.
We get a stampede thrown in the mix to liven things up, but the whole shebang ends with Doc Thorpe shooting Dan, Dan shooting Doc Thorpe, and Tod arriving on the scene just a moment too late.
And then we cut to Tod and Mike riding off toward the mountains, holding hands and smiling.
Well, I did warn you I was going to spoil the whole ending.
This has been my entry into the Second Golden Boy Blogathon: A William Holden Celebration hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema in honor of his birthday, which is April 17. He would have been 99 today. Happy birthday, Mr. Holden!
(One last nice picture of the birthday boy that I didn't have room for in the review, but couldn't bear to leave out.)
Is this movie family friendly? Yes, it is. Has a little smooching, a little mild gunplay with no blood shown, that brawly prize fight. No cussing at all. My kids watched it over my shoulder while I screencapped it for this post, and they want to watch it all in one piece now, which I think will be great fun.