Deadwood Dick (1940) APPROVED · 4h 45min · Western · 19 July 1940
Columbia's 11th serial (between "Terry and the Pirates" and "The Green Archer") and the first western serial that James W. Horne solo-directed. The standard one-man-to-a-hoss and nobody walks rule of Westerns tended to cramp Horne's usual style of directing, in that he wasn't able to pour six or seven henchies into a four-door sedan and have them come tumbling out like the clowns at a circus, and the surprise with those familiar with his serials is that he didn't have all the henchmen riding around in a stagecoach or wagon. And, since they usually stayed on their horse, he was unable to have them rounding a corner on foot at an angle, freeze in surprise with their arms thrust over their heads, do a couple of takes and hot-foot it stage left for an alarmed feet-do-your-stuff exit. The character of "Deadwood Dick" in this serial is just a name that had a ring to it, was not intended to be based on the real-life "Deadwood Dick" in any manner, and those who delight in pointing out that the real "Deadwood Dick" was a black man and Columbia didn't know what they were doing miss an obvious point; the Columbia writers most likely knew that, but they weren't writing a factual history of the West and their fictional character could be what they wanted him to be. And was. That he ended up being played by the dullest actor (Don Douglas) ever to essay the lead role in a serial (at least until Republic came up with the likes of Bill Henry and Harry Lauter as serial leads) probably wasn't something they planned. This one had a little promise with veteran western actor Lane Chandler as "Wild Bill Hickok" but that promise soon faded with Hickok's demise in chapter one of this 15-chapter serial, where a renegade band led by a mysterious, masked character known as "The Skull" is terrorizing the town of Deadwood in the territory of Dakota. Dick Stanley, editor of the Dakota Pioneer Press and a leading member of the Statehood For Dakota committee, is, unknown to his fellow townsmen and committee members, the equally mysterious Deadwood Dick, who is fighting The Skull and his gang. This makes everything about even as, unknown to Stanley, fellow-committeeman banker Transon Drew is The Skull. Well, actually, The Skull is a bit ahead as his "speaking voice" in costume is that of Forrest Taylor, who is nowhere in sight among the suspected citizens. Frank Butler, Stanley's "star' reporter is killed when he discovers that The Skull has plans to build an mpire of his own, and this also raises the possibility that Butler's sister, Anne, is also in danger. Chapter One ends with Deadwood Dick involved in a fight on a railroad handcar (filled with dynamite, naturally) with Jack McCall, the slayer of Wild Bill Hickok, and the handcar crashes to the bottom of a deep gorge and crashes... and explodes. Stanley/Deadwood Dick faces 13 more cliffhangers (mainly because he keeps letting Drew in on his plans to capture The Skull),before he unmasks The Skull in Chapter 15, "The Deadwood Express," Most of the action footage involving the Deadwood Dick character shows up again in 1954's "Riding With Buffalo Bill", where Marshall Reed as Buffalo Bill sans goatee, rides around in Deadwood Dick's costume. - Written by Les Adams
Director(s): James W. Horne Cast: Donald Douglas, Lorna Gray, Harry Harvey
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