Gentle Annie (1944)
A turn of the (20th) century Western set in Oklahoma with several well known actors including James Craig Donna Reed Marjorie Main Harry Morgan Paul Langton and Barton MacLane. Morris Ankrum and Noah Beery also appear. It’s a better than average B movie that was directed by Andrew Marton with a screenplay by Lawrence Hazard that was based on a novel by MacKinlay Kantor.
Three persons wearing sugar sacks with eye-holes rob a train of its bounty. Though the robbery is a success brothers Cotton (Morgan) & Violet (Langton) Goss and a third person thought to be an Indian scorch much of the money when they blow the safe. Because there was mail on the train U.S. Marshall Lloyd Richland (Craig) is in charge of catching the criminals. Richland doesn’t trust the local Sheriff Tatum (MacLane) so he goes to town incognito as a bum hitching a free ride on the train. Tatum with his deputy (Ankrum) decides not to charge Rich Williams the name Richland assumes and releases him. In the local saloon/restaurant Rich meets Violet and a high strung waitress Mary (Reed). A dispute between Tatum and Violet also in the restaurant leads to a fight in which Rich intervenes to keep the deputy from shooting Violet. Cotton enters and the three men (the Goss brothers & Rich) exit together with their guns drawn and backs to the door. Mary’s had enough so she quits and the four of them become fast friends. The Goss brothers invite Rich & Mary back to their ranch to spend the night.
The Goss family matriarch is the title character Annie (Main) who’s also referred to as “Mud” or “Muddie” by her boys. She’s a rough but loving woman from the South who believes that stealing from a Northerner is O.K. though she’s unawares that her sons robbed the train. Otherwise she has raised her boys well: they’re polite respectful giving and will do anything to please their “Mud”. She says what she really wants is to get back to Missouri where they used to live. So she and the boys haven’t really put down roots worked the farm much or anything else to establish themselves in the community. Mary tells Annie she wants to get back to St. Louis (which is ironic given that Main was in the film Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)) the same year as this one … and it too is a turn of the century story) which endears her to Annie who tells Mary she can stay as long as she wants. Rich takes all this in and doesn’t want to believe that the Goss brothers are the ones who robbed the train though he finds some evidence that they did. He helps the brothers run some unknown people (the Sheriff & his deputy) off their ranch that evening and has earned their trust and friendship. Plus a relationship develops between Rich and Mary who also suspects the guilt of their hosts.
*** SPOILERS ***
There isn’t much more to the film besides further development of the relationships between the characters. Tatum is shown to be corrupt or at least of less than sterling character while Rich wrestles with his fondness for the Goss family and his responsibilities while falling in love with Mary. When the Goss brothers invite Rich to join him in robbing a train and show him the money from the previous job he has no choice but to take them in. But they get the drop on him until the three of them are needed to battle the greater foe Tatum who’s just shot Annie. In the ensuing shootout Violet is killed as are the Sheriff and his deputy. The last scenes involve Rich putting Cotton on a train to be arraigned promising to do his best to help him get a reduced sentence and Mary deciding not to return to St. Louis but instead stay with Rich.