Cast & Crew
After the Civil War, Major Steven Braddock and his wife Lucy move West with other settlers to begin a new life. Braddock founds the community of New Hope Valley, and fifty years later, the peaceful and prosperous inhabitants celebrate the town's anniversary. Their jubilee is interrupted, however, when assemblyman William Proctor announces that New Hope Valley has been condemned and a dam will be built in the area to supply water to neighboring Metropole. M. C. Gilbert of the Metropole Construction Co. assures the outraged citizens that the state will pay them full value for their land, but they decide to take the matter to court. Judge Morse upholds the state's decision, however, by ruling that the dam will result in the greatest good for the greatest number. The townsfolk bitterly tear up the checks the state sent them for their land and vow to fight for their rights. Gilbert puts engineer Harmon in charge of construction and orders him to get his men working immediately. As the workers arrive, Braddock leads his fellow ranchers to meet them. Braddock's granddaughter Celia rushes to the ranch of Stony Brooke, Tucson Smith and Rusty Joslin, The Three Mesquiteers, and begs them to prevent the impending violence. The Mesquiteers reach the standoff as the construction workers, angered by the ranchers' warning gunfire, send a burning fuel tank hurtling into their midst. A huge brawl ensues, during which the Mesquiteers are arrested for fighting with Harmon, who ordered the fiery assault. While the Mesquiteers are in jail, Gilbert and Proctor scheme to entangle them and the others in Proctor's real estate scam. Proctor and Gilbert convince the Mesquiteers that the citizens of New Hope Valley will be better off in nearby Devil's Acres once the arid land is irrigated with water from the new dam. The Mesquiteers are enthusiastic about the idea and convince their friends to buy land in the planned development. Construction on the dam commences, with the stipulation that the valley denizens will not relocate until the water pipeline to Devil's Acres is completed. Soon the dam is finished and the Mesquiteers journey to their new home. The pipeline is not working, however, and the Mesquiteers realize the relocation was a trick to keep them quiet until Gilbert finished the dam and could drive them out. The trio race back to alert the others but are captured by Gilbert's men. Just as all the other citizens are beginning to leave and Gilbert starts to let water in to flood the valley, the Mesquiteers escape and warn their friends. A fight ensues between the ranchers and the workers, during which Gilbert is drowned in the raging water, but soon the water is stopped and the wrongdoers are captured. It is then not long before Devil's Acres is reclaimed, and the Mesquiteers help their friends settle into their new homes.
Following producer friend Trem Carr to Universal, Wayne scored a six-picture deal at the better equipped studio. Not one of the films Wayne made at Universal was a western, allowing him to play such change of pace roles as a Coast Guard commander running down smugglers (Sea Spoilers, 1936), a professional hockey player (Idol of the Crowds, 1937), and a lumberjack turned prizefighter (Conflict, 1936) - among others. Returning at last to Republic, Wayne was persuaded to climb back in the saddle to join the studio's popular "Three Mesquiteers" films, modern day westerns based on novels by writer William Colt MacDonald and influenced oh so slightly by the fiction of Alexandre Dumas. Republic bankrolled 51 "Three Mesquiteers" programmers between 1936 and 1948, eight of them starring Wayne. Though rife with horseback riding and gunplay, these films were usually set in modern times, or at the very least within the 20th Century.
Republic's Three Mesquiteers series had begun with Ray Corrigan as Tucson Smith, Robert Livingston as Stony Brooke, and Max Terhune as Lullaby Joslin - ranching partners turned prairie do-gooders. When personality conflicts arose between Corrigan and Livingston, Wayne was brought in as Livingston's replacement, joining the series with Pals of the Saddle (1938), directed by George Sherman. Wayne would reprise the character of Stony - the partner who invariably fell in love with the leading lady - seven more times. Resented by Corrigan for seeming to have trespassed on his territory (a bona fide star of B-westerns, "Crash" Corrigan's career was eclipsed by Wayne's, leading to bad blood between the costars), Wayne had a miserable time on the Three Mesquiteers films. His mood only worsened after he received a career boost playing the Ringo Kid in John Ford's majestic Stagecoach (1939), after which he was required to return to Republic to ride out the remainder of his contract.
Frontier Horizon (aka New Frontier, 1939) was Wayne's last ride as Stony Brooke. (By this time Raymond Hatton had replaced Max Terhune as the trio's comic relief.) Set in 1914, the script by Betty Burbridge (principal writer for Gene Autry at Republic) and Luci Ward focuses on a dastardly plan to flood out an historic valley settlement by corrupt land barons - an intriguing mash-up of the historic Johnson County War of 1892 (which inspired such frontier dramas as George Stevens' Shane  and Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate ) with the California Water Wars that culminated in the construction of the Owens Valley Viaduct (events that informed Robert Towne's script for Chinatown ). Though the film was no more than a programmer, Frontier Horizon rates footnote status for providing Jennifer Jones with her feature film debut. Billed under her birth name of Phylis Isley, Jones plays a homesteader's daughter who falls in love with Wayne's strapping Mesquiteer. In 1961, Jones remembered the assignment with wistful brevity: "John Wayne was the star and I was the girl who waved goodbye." Both performers had brighter days ahead of them, including an Academy Award for Jones in 1944 for The Song of Bernadette (1943) and for Wayne in 1969 for True Grit (1969).
By Richard Harland Smith
John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth by Michael Munn (Penguin Books, 2005)
Jennifer Jones: The Life and Films by Paul Green (McFarland and Company, 2011)
The film's working title was Raiders of the Wasteland, and the print viewed was titled Frontier Horizon. This picture marked Phylis Isley's screen debut. In the early 1940s, Isley changed her name to Jennifer Jones. Modern sources list the following additional cast members: Curley Dresden, Jody Gilbert, Cactus Mack, George Chesebro, Robert Burns, Bob Reeves, Frank Ellis, Walt LaRue, Oscar Gahan, Charles Murphy, Herman Hack, George Plues, Wilbur Mack and Bill Wolfe. For additional information on the series, consult the Series Index and for The Three Mesquiteers.
Released in United States 1939
Released in United States 1939