Return of the Frontiersman (1950)

Film Review

RETURN OF THE FRONTIERSMAN

Release Date: 24 June 1950

Studio: Warner Bros.

Director: Richard Bare

Starring: Gordon MacRae, Julie London, Rory Calhoun, Jack Holt, Raymond Bond

Story and screenplay: Edna Anhalt

Cinematographer: Peverell Marley

Synopsis

Identified by his clothes and horse, Logan Barrett (MacRae), son of Sheriff Sam Barrett (Holt), is arrested for murder and bank robbery. With the assistance of Larrabee (Calhoun), he escapes jail. Shot and treated by Doctor Martin (Bond), he kidnaps the Doctor's niece, Janie (London), and flees into the hills.

Hiding out from the posse led by Sheriff Barrett, Logan and Janie witness a stagecoach robbery in which one of the robbers is dressed exactly like Logan and riding a similar pinto horse. Logan realizes that Larrabee had helped him escape jail to get him out of the way during the masquerade that framed him for the crimes. Logan pursues Larrabee who gets away and unites with his gang. Logan joins Sheriff Barrett's posse, and they capture the entire gang after a shoot out and a fist fight between Logan and Larrabee. Cleared of all charges, Logan takes Janie for a buggy ride.

Discussion

An enjoyable, low-budget western has a conventional plot, capable dialogue, and plenty of action: fist fights, bank and stagecoach robberies, horseback chases. MacRae, pleasant and wholesome, makes a surprisingly solid westerner. He looks comfortable in western outfits and on a horse and handles the action acceptably. His presence carries the film and makes it fun. Julie London has little to do except to provide feminine good looks and some mild romance. The direction and camerawork are straightforward and serviceable.

The meaningless title has little association with the story or action. As was often the case with low-budget westerns, loud generic music plays during the chase scenes. Intended to pump up the action, the music is repetitive and tiresome.

A singer and actor, Gordon MacRae was appearing in a review on Broadway in 1946 when he signed with Warner Bros. He alternated roles in musical comedies and non-musical dramas during his first couple of years with the studio, before settling into musicals. Return of the Frontiersman was MacRae's fifth film and his only western. He sings two short songs while in jail.

After this western, MacRae stayed in musical comedy. He made four films with Doris Day and versions of three Broadway hits: The Desert Song (1953), Oklahoma (1953) and Carousel (1956). MacRae's film career ended rather abruptly in the mid-fifties when production of movie musicals waned.

After his film career declined, MacRae toured in musical comedy and starred in summer stock. With his first wife, Sheila, he appeared on TV, in nightclubs, and in concert.

In contrast to MacRae's relatively short film career, Rory Calhoun was active in films and on television for nearly fifty years, accumulating a filmography of eighty films and hundreds of television programs from 1944 to 1993. Calhoun was one of the most active cowboy stars of the fifties and sixties.

Richard L. Bare spent most of his career directing short films. Starting in 1942, he directed dozens of Warner Bros. shorts in a series titled So You Want To…, starring comedian George O'Hanlon as a character named Joe McDoakes who comically demonstrates what happens when you want to do something, such as be a detective or play the piano. Bare also wrote many scripts for this series. The final entry in the series, So Your Wife Wants to Work, was released in 1956.

In 1948, Bare signed a contract with Warner Bros. stipulating he would direct features and shorts. Bare directed several low-budget features in association with producer Saul Elkins. Return of the Frontiersman was Bare's second feature for Elkins' unit. Features apparently did not suit Bare; in 1950, his contract with the studio was adjusted, and he returned to directing shorts exclusively.

With his extensive experience directing shorts, Bare had no difficulty moving to television. He directed hundreds of episodes of TV series, including Green Acres (1965-1971, 166 episodes out of 170), Petticoat Junction, Route 66, The Twilight Zone, Maverick, and many others. Bare is credited with the discovery of James Garner, TV and film star.

References

Gordon MacRae: Star of Movie Musicals. The New York Times Obituary. January 25, 1986

Remembered. Bare Wrote, Helmed Classic TV Shows. Variety. April 21, 2015