Cast & Crew
Upon receiving a wire that fugitive John Brant, wanted for murder in Maryland, is aboard a train traveling near Sagebrush, Texas, Sheriff Parker searches the train for Brant, who escapes on a horse. The sheriff and his deputy chase Brant to a lake, where Brant escapes their gaze as he stays underwater breathing through a reed, but as they are about to leave, the sheriff and deputy see the reed and fire at it. Assuming they've killed Brant, they leave, but Brant emerges, and a man who identifies himself as "Jones" compliments him on eluding the law. Jones dubs Brant "Smith" and takes him to his gang's hideout at an abandoned mine, where Brant becomes the cook. Brant earns Jones's friendship by suffering a knockout blow in his effort to help Jones in a brawl. To prove to the suspicious chief, Ed Walsh, that Brant is no lawman, Jones plans to rob a safe with Brant in the Sagebrush general store. While casing the store, Brant leaves a note for the owner's daughter, Sally Blake, that unless they leave men in the store with the lights on that night, the safe will be robbed. Sally's father informs the sheriff, and when Brant and Jones enter the darkened store, the sheriff and his men fire on them, wounding Brant. Jones takes him to "Blind Pete's," a saloon, to convalesce. As Brant recovers, his courtship of Sally provokes Jones's jealousy. When Brant learns that the gang plans to rob the stage of a mine payroll, he robs it himself and hides the money box. Jones suspects Brant of double-crossing him, but after his suspicions are allayed, Jones confesses that he came West after killing his wife's lover in a fight in Baltimore. Brant, who was the man convicted of the murder, learns that Jones left Baltimore without knowing that anyone else was charged with the crime. Brant decides to continue with the gang to help Jones, now his friend, go straight. When he hears Walsh announce the target for the next robbery, a shipment of gold by stage, he immediately leaves for town, arousing Jones's suspicions. Jones follows after arranging with the gang that if Brant returns alone, it should be taken as a sign that he has revealed the plan. Upon seeing the sheriff and deputy at Sally's store, Brant goes to Blind Pete's and leaves word for Sally to meet him there. Jones follows and after Sally arrives, trailed by the sheriff and deputy, she helps them escape. Jealous of Sally's displayed affection for Brant, Jones sends him back to the mine alone to be killed, but then learns from Sally of his true identity and his reason for staying. Jones sends Sally to get the sheriff and his posse while he goes to help Brant battle the gang. Surrounded by the gang, Jones and Brant ride the stage through the mine. Pursued, Jones is hit by a bullet, and the stage falls over a cliff. The sheriff captures the gang, and as Brant, who escaped from the stage, Sally and the sheriff and his men, surround Jones, he admits killing his wife's lover before he dies. Brant and Sally then walk off together, embrace and kiss.
Monogram was just the company to supply those films and in 1933 they hired Wayne to an eight-picture deal. Sagebrush Trail (1933) was his second picture for Monogram. His first, Riders of Destiny, was an awkward fit that cast Wayne as a singing cowboy (his singing voice was dubbed for the film), but producer Paul Malvern was impressed with his confidence and charm and liked the way Wayne took instruction and threw himself into action. "Handled himself real well," he noted. "And we had no problems with him."
He quickly put Wayne into Sagebrush Trail as John Brant, aka "Smith," an earnest young man convicted of a murder he didn't commit who breaks prison and goes west to find the real killer. Economy was the watchword of these films, all budgeted between $10,000 and $12,000 and shot in under two weeks (some even less than a week), and Wayne was ready for the challenge. "We didn't worry about nuances in these serials or B pictures," he explained to a Life magazine reporter. "Get the scene on film and get to the next scene." He learned his craft on the job. "[T]hey taught me three things. How to work, how to take orders, and how to get on with the action."
To economize, Sagebrush Trail skips the jailbreak completely and opens Wayne already riding the rails west and escaping into the hills with the local sheriff in hot pursuit. Spotted by another outlaw, an affable fellow who uses the name Bob Jones (Lane Chandler), he's taken in by a local gang of bandits who rob the stages that pass through the town and begins his search. It's a revenge movie, an innocent man drama, a buddy picture, an outlaw western, a sagebrush redemption story, and a romantic triangle, and the dialogue is there just to get us to the action: shoot-outs, hold-ups, racing horses, and a runaway stagecoach, all in under an hour. Director Armand Schaefer makes memorable use of the film's most distinctive location: the hideout in an old mine that runs clear through the hill to the other side. He stages a big shootout around the mouth of the cave and sends the climactic chase right through the tunnel, giving a familiar convention a whole new dynamic.
The great stuntman Yakima Canutt, who taught Wayne how to perform his own stunts and doubled for Wayne in his more dangerous and elaborate action demands (most famously doing the daring drop under the racing coach in Stagecoach, 1939), takes a supporting role as the leader of the outlaw gang. Not much of an actor, he stands out thanks to a prominent scar applied to his right cheek and a rough-and-tumble fistfight early in the film. His more important role in the film was performing the more challenging stunts, notably a novel method of sneaking aboard a moving stagecoach without the drivers ever seeing him. Wayne handled the rest of the action himself, jumping into the saddle and leaping from a moving horse to take down another rider.
By Sean Axmaker
Sources: John Wayne: American, Randy Roberts and James S. Olson. The Free Press, 1995.
The Young Duke: The Early Life of John Wayne, Howard Kazanjian and Chris Enss, Twodot, 2007.
The Complete Films of John Wayne, Mark Ricci, Boris Zmijewsky and Steve Zmijewsky. Citadel, 1990.
According to modern sources, Yakima Canutt doubled for John Wayne in some scenes of this film, and the following were additional cast members: Hank Bell, William Dyer, Charles "Slim" Whitaker, Hal Price, Archie Ricks, Tex Phelps and Blackjack Ward.
Released in United States 1933
Released in United States 1933