|The nadir of B western film-making is often assigned to Victor Adamson, AKA Denver Dixon, AKA Art Mix or Al Mix. While Adamson did produce-direct-write some pretty downtrodden stuff starring the likes of Buffalo Bill, Jr., Wally Wales and Buddy Roosevelt, the distinction of creating the worst B western programmers belongs to Robert J. Horner.
But to reduce any arguments and ensure that both are treated equally, the prestigious Old Corral Bottom-Of-The-Barrel award is bestowed on both Horner and Adamson / Dixon.
There was some commonality in the films of both men:
- just about all their cinema efforts utilized silent era heroes who had faltered when sound arrived - i.e. Jay Wilsey/Buffalo Bill, Jr., Wally Wales, Buddy Roosevelt, Bill Cody, Edmund Cobb and Jack Perrin. And there was "Art Mix", the cowboy hero created by Adamson / Dixon who was later portrayed by one George Kesterson ... who adopted the Art Mix name for the remainder of his life. These folks were probably hired cheaply, yet their name still carried some marquee value.
- one of the redeeming factors on Horner / Adamson films was the occasional camera work of Brydon Baker. He did a few for Horner and a half dozen or so for Adamson. Baker, as he did on the close-to-the-bottom scrapers from Imperial and Reliable, concentrated his camera on deep focus shots of the scenery, although the Adamson locations offered little of that. Baker had a way of making sand and weeds look good.
- the casts of both men's films were filled with names seldom seen elsewhere in the casts of sound-era westerns: Harry Leland, Allen Holbrook, Ken Broeker, William Ryno, George Hazel, Jack Bronston, Bart Carre, Tom Palky, Hamilton Steele, Boris Bullock (William Barrymore), et al. And a few of the films featured some amazingly bordering-on-the-plain leading ladies.
- upper echelon B-western performers such as Lafe McKee, Bud Osborne, the whole McKenzie family, Marin Sais, Jimmy Aubrey, George Chesebro and Merrill McCormick appeared but not in bunches. More like one or two at a time. Also more like they needed a name, besides the star, that somebody had actually heard of to put on the posters.
- chase and riding scenes often seemed to go on forever (probably to fill some footage to bring the film close to one-hour in length).
- actors seemed to be milling around with little action or dialog (which implies that the actors had no direction and/or script).
- the dialog was often incredulous, and storylines were disjointed and seemed to be missing vital parts.
- exteriors always seemed to be dusty, desert locales with ramshackle buildings ... not the scenic locales used in westerns from Columbia, Universal and Republic.
- and there were spelling errors in film titles, names of performers on the title credits, posters, etc. But spelling boo-boos were fairly common, even with big production companies like Universal and Columbia.
While we are critical of the cinematic creations of Horner and Adamson / Dixon, one needs to fully understand the times in which they worked. Their movies were peddled to states rights distributors. And these indepedendent exchanges would market the films to local theaters, many of which were small town movie houses. Horner and Adamson / Dixon were also competing with other production outfits that had bigger heroes and larger budgets, and those films received more playing time at the local Bijou.
There's a section on the Old Corral titled "Poverty Row & the B Western Producer" which provides a more detailed perspective on this (link below). Included is a hypothetical story about producer B. B. "Big Biz" Whiplash and his new film, BELCH VALLEY RAIDERS.
Special thanks to Les Adams, Boyd Magers and Hans Wollstein for their help and input. Thanks also to Renee Brouillette for providing several newspaper clippings on Robert J. Horner. And ye Old Corral webmeister enjoyed the detective work to learn more about the lives and careers of both Horner and Adamson / Dixon.
Above - face shot of Robert J. Horner from a 1927 tradepaper ad.
Above is Albert Victor Adamson (acting under the name Denver Dixon) in a bit role in a 1942 Range Busters oater for Monogram.