In this convoluted Western mystery, "tall in the saddle" is more of a genealogical clue than an accurate index of the hero's behavior. John Wayne has come to town, so he says, to work for a local rancher--who was murdered shortly after sending for him. Prime villain would appear to be Ward Bond, exuding oiliness as the local judge, who doesn't seem to be a real judge. Paul Fix (who cowrote the screenplay) and Harry Woods supply the thuggery. But mostly it's women that Wayne has trouble with: the dead man's genteel niece (Audrey Long) and her virago of a duenna (Elisabeth Risdon), and especially Ella Raines, who dresses like a man (well, a very pretty boy), runs the neighboring ranch, and falls into instant love-hate with Wayne. (This was Raines's glory period--within a few months in 1943-44 she was breathtakingly lovely in Corvette K-225, Hail the Conquering Hero, and Phantom Lady--but alas, here she's mostly just shrill.)
As run-of-the-mill Wayne Westerns go, this RKO picture is a bit upscale from the fare at Republic, if also less robust. Edwin L. Marin's direction is undistinguished, but the RKO craftsmanship is handsome as usual, and it must have been nice to work from a coherent screenplay for a change. Gabby Hayes is around to discuss sexual politics with Duke. For some reason the veteran character actor Frank Puglia goes uncredited as Raines's enigmatic servant, who seems to have wandered in from a Val Lewton production. --Richard T. Jameson
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