Cast & Crew
When Arizona cowboy Chito Rafferty receives word that his uncle, rancher Manuel Bustamante, has died without leaving a will, he and his best friend, Tim Holt, leave for California to help settle the estate. Upon arriving in the bustling town of Santo Domingo, the cowboys go to see Elias P. Stevens, the local land administrator who is handling the Bustamante property, but are told by his clerk, Whittaker, that Stevens is not available. Later, while dining in the town's saloon, Tim and Chito are accosted by "Honest" John Jordan and his partner, Bart Barton, land sharks who have been sent by Whittaker to "take care of" Chito. Although Jordan and Barton try to kill Chito during the ensuing brawl, Tim gets the better of both of them. Tim and Chito then ride to the abandoned Bustamante ranch, where Chito is attacked from behind by a man who turns out to be Chito's cousin, Ramon Bustamante. After Tim subdues Ramon, who is Manuel's son, Ramon accuses his cousin of trying to steal his inheritance. Stevens and Sheriff Anders then ride up and demand custody of Ramon, who they claim murdered his father, but Ramon escapes. That night at the ranch, Tim and Chito are visited by Ramon's devoted sweetheart Luisa, who explains that Ramon and his father argued bitterly about their romance because she was not of "pure blood," but insists that Ramon did not kill Manuel. Just then, an unseen gunman fires shots at the house, and Tim concludes that Chito was the intended target. At the land office the next morning, Stevens explains to Tim and Chito that, because Ramon is a wanted felon, he cannot inherit the sprawling Bustamante ranch. Consequently, as the only other living Bustamante, Chito will inherit the property as soon as he produces proof of his identity. After leaving town, Tim and Chito are followed by Jordan and Barton, who, acting on Stevens' orders, shoot at Chito. Chito is hit in the leg, but Tim shoots at Barton, seriously wounding him. Tim delivers Chito to a mission, where Luisa and a priest tend to his leg. Suspecting that Ramon is responsible for the attack, Tim then asks Luisa to set up a meeting with the fugitive, promising that if Ramon proves his innocence, he will not turn him in for Manuel's killing. Luisa's secret signals to the hidden Ramon are detected by a sheriff's informant, and during Tim's meeting with Ramon, a posse surrounds the ranch and captures Ramon. After he accuses Tim of betraying him, Ramon is taken to town, where Stevens has formed a citizens' committee to assure his quick execution. Stevens also orders Jordan to hide the wounded Barton at his ranch to prevent him from confessing in his weakened state. Later, as Tim and the recuperated Chito are leaving the mission, they spot Jordan riding by and follow him to his ranch. There, the gun-wielding Tim and Chito surprise the outlaws, but Jordan manages to escape on his horse. While Chito takes Barton to the Bustamante ranch, Tim tracks Jordan to town and sees him with Stevens. Tim then prevents Ramon's hanging and delivers his cousin to his ranch, where Chito forces Barton to reveal Stevens' guilt in Manuel's murder and his plans to take over the Bustamante ranch. At that moment, the ranch is surrounded by Stevens and his men, and a gunfight ensues. After Tim manages to flee on his horse, he directs the sheriff and his posse to the ranch. There Tim knocks out Stevens as he tries to escape, and the posse overwhelms the remaining outlaws. Later, after witnessing Ramon and Luisa's wedding, Chito and Tim return to their Arizona home.
Robert B. Williams
Leander De Cordova
Albert S. D'agostino
The Mysterious Desperado
The Mysterious Desperado was Holt's thirteenth B western since World War II (he'd also made well over a dozen before the war), and he'd go on to star in sixteen more before calling it quits with Desert Passage (1952). Unlike many other movie series around Hollywood, Holt's pictures maintained a consistent high quality of production through to the end. (The films of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers also preserved their high standards.) Like most of Holt's others, The Mysterious Desperado is full of solid action, beautiful landscapes in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, Calif., and above-par editing and musical scoring.
Most of all, it has Holt himself, whose looks, athleticism, and horsemanship show why he was so popular. In fact, Holt's childhood friend, the western director Budd Boetticher, once said that he felt Holt and Joel McCrea were the two best horsemen in town. Holt even had a reputation as Hollywood's fastest draw, supposedly able to clear his holster in just five frames of film -- about one-fifth of a second.
In this picture, Holt plays a character named Tim Holt (how's that for a strong star persona?) who leaves his job at an Arizona ranch when his friend and sidekick Chito (played as usual by Richard Martin) learns that he has inherited his late uncle's estate in California. Arriving there, they learn the uncle was murdered and his son is wrongly accused, and they set about getting to the bottom of the mystery, with plenty of fistfights and gunplay along the way. The leading lady is played by the actress known as "Movita" (real name: Maria Luisa Castaneda), who had a sporadic career but appeared in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) and The Hurricane (1937). She later was briefly married to Marlon Brando and died in 2015 at age 98.
Critics received this picture well. The Hollywood Reporter praised the "savage fistfights that are unusually convincing," and Variety declared, "Producer Herman Schlom slams home a strong credit with this one, ably aided and abetted by Lesley Selander's knowing way with an oater... Holt's as strong, silent and quick-on-the-trigger as ever." The trade paper also singled out "Paul Sawtell's rip-roaring score" and the "excellent photography" of Nicholas Musuraca, a top RKO cinematographer who had shot Out of the Past (1947), The Locket (1946), and The Ghost Ship (1943), among other atmospheric classics.
By Jeremy Arnold
James Robert Parish, Great Western Stars
Buck Rainey, Heroes of the Range
David Rothel, Tim Holt
The Mysterious Desperado
The working titles of this film were Renegade of the Rancho and In Old Capistrano. Although Hollywood Reporter news items list Dick Simmons in the cast, his participation in the final film has not been confirmed. Some scenes were shot in Lone Pine, CA, according to Hollywood Reporter. Modern sources add Kermit Maynard to the cast.