Columbia Pictures, being a poverty-row film studio for many years, was a little bit behind its rival studios throughout the 1930s and 1940s. They did not really make it into the big league until the mid-1930s when they began outputting some truly entertaining screwballs such as It Happened One Night (1934) and Frank Capra pictures like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Technicolor was still a relatively new medium in the late 1930s, but studios like Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Warner Brothers and Paramount jumped on the color bandwagon, quickly hiring experts in the field of Technicolor to help them launch their upcoming blockbuster films like Gone With the Wind, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and The Wizard of Oz. Columbia Pictures didn’t release their first Technicolor picture until 1943….but when they did they made it a doozy.
It was a western entitled The Desperadoes, and it featured one of the newest contract players at Columbia – Glenn Ford – as well as that charismatic warhorse of the westerns – Randolph Scott. Ford portrayed a wanted criminal who came out of hiding to do a bank job in a small western outpost, but instead falls in love with a local girl (Evelyn Keyes) and decides to reform.
A truly good western features colorful characters, plenty of adventure, a gentle romance, beautiful locales, and an interesting protagonist, and The Desperadoes featured all of this. Plus, it was packaged within a sprightly 87 minutes. Columbia really hit the bullseye with this film.
Randolph Scott, always a “good guy”, was often cast in the part of a just sheriff in westerns before he became a leading player in the Budd Boetticher films of the 1950s. In The Desperadoes, his character is not unlike Sheriff Will Wright from Jesse James (1939). In both films, Scott portrayed a sheriff who was willing to pull off his tin star long enough to let a criminal he has faith in escape…..even though this same criminal heads off into the sunset with his gal! The gal, in this case, being Evelyn Keyes, a sweet-natured filly who works in her father’s (Edgar “Uncle Joe” Buchanan) stable. Her faith in Glenn Ford makes him willing to risk his life exposing the real criminals who pulled the bank heist in town….one of whom happens to be Evelyn’s father.
Also in the cast was Claire Trevor as a sympathetic saloon gal, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams as Ford’s pal “Nitro”, Raymond Walburn, Porter Hall and Joan Woodbury.
Constance Metzinger runs the website Silver Scenes, “a blog for classic film lovers.”