Republic's first venture into the world of the Three Mequiteers was a movie appropriately entitled THE THREE MESQUITEERS.
From a 50,000 foot overview, the film tells how the trio came together, even though the guy who first played Lullaby, Sid Saylor of bobbing adam's apple fame, was cast in only one 3M film. It was released on September 22, 1936 and featured Bob Livingston as the real Stony Brooke, Ray Corrigan as Tuscon Smith, and Kay Hughes as the female lead. This threesome had recently completed an action-packed serial, THE VIGILANTES ARE COMING, with a Cold War theme a few years ahead of its time. Livingston, for the second time in his budding career wearing a black mask, successfully prevents the Russians with help from an other bad guy turn coat, Fred Kohler, from taking over northern California during the 1840s Gold Rush era.
The setting of the initial 3M film is 1919 in a small New Mexico town where Tucson and Stony are getting ready for a plate of steak and beans. WWI vets themselves, Stony and Tucson are adventuring after six months of hard work on their ranch. After all, our heroes need their time for fun too! Little do they know that their first episode is to begin. Five miles out of town is an approaching convoy of disabled WWI vets who are planning to homestead in the area. Anyone familiar with westerns knows that homesteaders are anathema to cattlemen. This is the basic plot of the story, a struggle for the veterans to survive in the west with the help of Stony and Tucson. The Canfield gang which includes "professional bad guy actors" John Merton, Al Bridge and J. P. McGowan, throw every possible road block in the veteran's trail. The movie climaxes when Sgt. Bob, the brother of Kay and unofficial leader of the vets, is brutally strapped to a horse and killed. Stony and Tucson ride into town to settle accounts, but are trapped themselves by the Canfield gang. Who comes to their rescue? Lullaby and the group of disabled veterans come charging into town to the strains of the George M. Cohan / WWI song "Over There". Imagine two of the three Mesquiteers being rescued by disabled WWI veterans fighting in New Mexico!
So after the rescue, what can we get out of the movie? In the end Lullaby is warmly welcomed into the trio as he decides to accompany Stony and Tucson for further adventure. Stony is established as the fun loving, outgoing, gregarious, romantic, head strong guy who rides a white horse, carries a single holster, and wears a white hat so tall it needs a safety light on top. Tucson is sort of a strong but not- so-silent type given to more deliberate thought, not necessarily romantically inclined yet, a sort of cross between a big brother and kind uncle, and a guy good with his dukes. The Lullaby in this film bears no resemblance to the Lullaby of later 3M films. Thank the Republic gods that this happened. As might be expected, this film is not as exciting or action packed as subsequent 3M movies, but it was a start nonetheless.
Above, the first Three Mesquiteers grouping for Republic Pictures --- from L-to-R are Syd Saylor, Ray 'Crash' Corrigan and Bob Livingston. Saylor's film career spanned from the mid 1920s until the early 1960s.
The plotline of the initial film had the trio pals returning from WWI to find crooks ruling the range. From L-to-R are: Bob Livingston, Syd (sometimes spelled Sid) Saylor and Ray 'Crash' Corrigan doin' battle!
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Above from L-to-R are Corrigan, Terhune and Livingston in GHOST TOWN GOLD. The initial "range costumes" on both Corrigan and Livingston would change as the Mesquiteers series matured. Note the tall Stetson and pattern shirt on Livingston, and the double-action revolver carried by Corrigan (instead of the traditional single-action).
Released in October 1936, GHOST TOWN GOLD (GTG) is Republic's second Three Mesquiteer flick. For me, it's notable for a few reasons. Most importantly, Max Terhune, the gentle country boy, joins the trio and the comical sidekick. Secondly, there is a host of top notch bad guy actors who make their 3M debut. Included in this lofty group are Le Roy Mason, the smooth faced, sometimes mustached, thespian who has threatened most Republic heroes, almost always owning a saloon or posing as a well dressed card cheater. Didn't you always know that any one who owned a saloon was evil? Supporting him was Yakima Canutt, his right hand man "Lefty". Yak, the worlds' greatest stunt man, always had a menacing look made more so by a pair of piercing eyes. Remember Yak in GONE WITH THE WIND? He is wearing his usual gun belt with white piping, but this time with two holsters. Toting two six shooters, he must really mean business! Lastly, another actor with an ominous kisser named Bob Kortman teams with Yak. Bob just looks plain nasty, and I would not want to meet him on a dark street. Kortman was a frequent villain in Republic and Hoppy movies.
No one really knows what happened to the first Lullaby, Syd Saylor. Maybe, during the first 3M movie, he fell off his motorcycle. In his place is Hoosier Max Terhune. This movie ably demonstrates Terhune's abilities as a ventriloquist and a person who can handle the paste boards. It's interesting that in the opening scenes of GTG, both Tucson and Stony are really beating up on Lullaby by forcibly admonishing him to make an immediate bank deposit of a check for some cattle they recently sold ... and to stear clear of saloons and card games. Basic good advice! Never, in any of the subsequent 3M movies, do I remember such abuse being shown among members of the trio.
Anyway, after winning Elmer with slight of hand in a carnival game of chance, Lullaby does get stuck in a card game with Bob Kortman which delays his depositing of the check. Luckily for him, the bank is robbed that evening. Barrington (Le Roy Mason) is really bent out of shape with the local bank president. It seems that the good citizens of Prospect, under the influence of the bank president, have managed to postpone a championship fight sponsored by Don "King" Barrington. Now Barrington has counter punched by robbing the bank.
In order to save their friend, the bank president, from the calamity of a failure and to get in solid with Kay Hughes, the banker's daughter, Stony cons Tucson into a boxing match with the world chump (I mean champ!). The plan is to use the prize money to cover the bank loss. This might have meant something special to the Depression era movie goers who could probably identify very closely with bank failures. During the match, an old desert rat who lives in Nemesis, a nearby ghost town, tries to place a bet after removing some greenbacks, actually stolen loot, from a Prospect bank bag in the presence of a large audience.
Noticed by both bad and good guys alike, the race is on to find the rest of the stash. After Tucson decked the chump, he and Stony ride to Nemesis and get into a fire fight with Yak and his crew. Unbelievably, the desert rat comes to their rescue. Seems he is an "uncle" of Kay Hughes. And in his spare time, he has rigged the ghost town with various collapsing walls and booby traps which allow our heroes the chance to return to Prospect with the dough.
Hot on their heels are the bad guys. But, in true cowboy fashion, each Mesquiteer drops back to pounce on the pursuing villains in their own style, leaping on them from low hanging branches, hog tying them to trees, and using trip ropes in their path. Would you have expected anything different but having the 3M arrive in time to catch Barrington and stop the run on the bank? Off course not.
You can detect some growth and evolution in the 3M. GTG takes the series down a more light hearted, less serious path than did the first movie. But how realistic is the rigging of the ghost town with collapsing walls and booby traps?
The characters are also evolving into the personas that we all know. Tucson is a muscular, two gun hulk who wears a white hat and denims cuffed at the bottom but worn outside his boots. Stony, still with his mile high Stetson, wears stretch pants inside his star studded boots, rides his white horse with a plain ordinary saddle and has a single holstered gun belt. Interestingly, Stony changes shirts many times in the same scenes during GTG. During the initial scene in Nemesis where he and Tucson are talking to the desert rat, he is seen in a solid color shirt and shortly after he has donned a checkered shirt. He must have been perspiring profusely which is evident, if you look closely, in the early scenes of GTG.
Neither has yet emerged as the true leader of the trio which remains for subsequent movies.
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Bob Livingston (left) and Max Terhune (right) try to impress Wally West, the keeper of the time and official bell-ringer during the GHOST TOWN GOLD prize fight
From counting Ghost Town Gold, we mosey on to dodging ROARIN' LEAD, Republic's third 3M picture and the last Mesquiteers release for 1936. I wonder how Republic, or any other studio for that matter, came up with unique names for B westerns. It was probably easy when the movie had a central theme, like RIDERS OF THE WHISTLING SKULL or THE PURPLE VIGILANTES. But when they didn't ... like this one ... movie film namers resorted to using hybrids and combinations of western artifacts, rivers, town names, states, song titles and any other means to arrive at a film name which had not been used by any other studio. All 3M movies contained lots of roaring lead, but this one is sanctified by being so named. Why? Who knows! Maybe the Shadow!
The plot line is sort of unique. The chief crook Hackett is head of the Cattlemans Protective Association, an insurance company for cattle losses with its own uniformed police squad (and rustlers). None other than George Chesebro is the Captain of Hackett's gang, and his assistant is Yakima Cannut. Yak is known as a "Canary" in this flick because they all believe him to be yellow. The other wing of Hackett's empire, where he serves as overseer, is the Buena Ventura Orphanage. However, none other than the 3M are trustees of both organizations. Hackett's game is to bankrupt the CPA, take it over, liquidate the orphanage, and leave town with a getaway bag of cash. Our boys will have something to say about that.
After a rash of rustling he instigated himself, Hackett instructs his "police" to round up the usual suspects so that things look good. Riding down the trail minding their own business are our heroes who are about to become those suspects. They ride peacefully down the trail humming and singing to Listen to the Mocking Bird as Lullaby does his bird whistles. Suddenly, Chesebro and company set upon Stony, Tucson, and Lullaby who take the whole matter quite lightly, joking about the police being a dance band or, worse yet, a funeral crew. For their smart remarks, Canary slaps Tucson, thus setting the stage for the traditional brawl which is about to come. After being taken to CPA headquarters in cuffs, dumbfounded Hackett informs his goons that they have just arrested their bosses. With that, Tucson clocked Canary and dunks him in a water trough.
Already smelling a rat, the boys head for the orphanage where they close down a mass adoption again brought about by Hackett. Once more Lullaby takes center stage firing six shots in the air, scattering would-be "cruel" parents who were portrayed as wanting to adopt children merely for work. (Did this have some meaning for 1930s B western audiences? Did dressing the Cattleman's Police in uniforms also have something to do with what was going on in the world of 1936-37?)
The threesome return to CPA headquarters and decide to track down the last bunch of rustled cows with the assistance of Chesebro and his constabulary. Finally picking up the tracks of the steers, Stony and Tucson are almost "mistakenly" gunned down by the police but for the intervention of Lullaby. Upon their return to town, Stony fires Hackett and the entire crew after reviewing the company books. With the baddies sore from being pink slipped, another brawl ensues with our trio leveling the entire crew of cattle cops, all nine of them! Now Hackett and the cattle cops are really upset.
They plan a more lethal ambush on a cliff above a river. During the fracas, our heroes test their jumping and water skills. To avoid being trapped, each leaps off the cliff into the river and swims to safety. How many times in Republic movies have we seen that same thing happen? I last remember a replay of that scene in the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Did they watch the 3M too?
To raise money for the orphanage, a talent show is scheduled at the town hall. As orphanage trustees, Stony, Tucson, and Lullaby plan to check out the patrons as buy their tickets. They are looking for the bad guy (really Yak) who was wounded during the fire fight on the cliff. Strangely, the interior scenes of the talent show reveal that Yak is already seated in the audience when in fact he not yet arrived at the theatre !!! Anyway, when Yak finally arrives, Lullaby notes his wounded hand, conclusive proof that he was in the ambush. The plan is for Stony , dressed as a swami, to spotlight Canary and apply psychological pressure on him to confess. When he does, he earns a Hackett bullet.
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Imagine the real life reaction of our Three Mesquiteers when they had to do this scene of the talent show.
In the finale, another gunfight ensues with Stony and Tucson coming up behind the defrocked cattle cops and getting the drop on them. Where is Lullaby? He's at Hackett's ranch getting the drop on Hackett and Chesebro as they try to make their getaway with the loot. The true indication that Hackett was indeed evil shined forth when he abandoned his men in the fire fight and took off. Any decent crook would have stayed with his men until the end.!!! As Lullaby, Hackett, and Chesebro are struggling in fisticuffs, Stony and Tucson arrive on the scene just in the nick of time! Orphanage saved! Rustlers put in jail! End of story!
Beyond a truly trivial plot, there are some interesting aspects to this film:
• This movie seemed to straddle the calendar, a common characteristic of most Republic 3M movies. Is the movie set in the 1880s or the 1930s? At the orphanage we see people in 1930s clothes, yet the lighting in the town hall appears to powered by natural gas?
• Stony seems to be emerging as the group's leader. This wasn't so obvious in the past two films but is here. He is the first of the three to be introduced during the credits at the beginning of the movie. He is seen giving orders which are readily followed by the other two 3M members. Was this Republic's plan or just a natural outgrowth of the interaction of their personalities?
• After the boys leveled the cattle cops in the major brawl, they are seen shaking hands and congratulating themselves on a fight well fought. I noticed that Tucson warmly greets Lullaby, and Stony warmly greets both of them, but Tucson did not even look at Stony. Was this a sign of the beginning of the feud between Bob Livingston and Ray Corrigan?
Both Stony and Lullaby have had a change of habit. Instead of his mile high white Stetson and plain shirt, Stony now sports a black hat with a flat top and a plaid shirt. Same boots, gun belt, and pants so far as I can tell. Lullaby is not decked out in his usual polka dot shirt and black hat. He has a white hat and a white shirt. Tucson never seems to change the style of his outfit, unless he wears his ape suit.
At the very end of the movie, Lullaby lives up to his promise to adopt one of the kids. As the youngster mounts double with Lullaby, you get a quick glimpse of his watch. The adoption must have been quick since, Bobby, the young man in question, does not appear in subsequent films. The Lullaby character did receive a good deal of exposure and development in this film, from bird whistles, to breaking up the adoption sale, to his performance with Elmer in the talent show, and finally being the guy to catch the chief crook, a duty usually reserved for Stony.