Northwest Rangers (1942)
As I was watching this I knew I’d seen something very similar to it before but the setting was so different that it took me a while to think of it. It was Manhattan Melodrama (1934) with Clark Gable & William Powell in lieu of James Craig and William Lundigan. That one also had Myrna Loy instead of Patricia Dane and a less prominent actor as the villain (the Assistant DA) than John Carradine. Plus Jack Holt figures more prominently as the father figure in this one than Leo Carrillo did in the previous one as does Keenan Wynn as Blackie’s “flunkie” vs. Nat Pendleton in the first. Of course the earlier version did have Mickey Rooney;-) Also in contrast to the other film this one uses a silk scarf as the plot device where an overcoat was used previously.
Boyhood pals Jim & Blackie play junior ranger games with Blackie always getting the better of Jim. As they return home from one of their games they witness their families under attack from Indians on the frontier. They run to get the Mounties but return to find that they are orphans. Sergeant Frazier (Holt) adopts them. However after a short time it is clear that while Jim wants to become a ranger like his adoptive father Blackie is not living up to Frazier’s expectations. For example Blackie gambles & loses a valuable pelt in “The Topaz” the local club owned by Martin Caswell (Carradine). So one night Blackie packs up and leaves after telling Jim hat he expects great things from him.
Years later Jim (Lundigan) is a full fledged ranger in the same community when Blackie (Craig) a successful gambler returns home. After a happy homecoming including their now retired “father” Jim informs Blackie that he must find something to do & somewhere to live else he’ll officially be a vagrant and Jim will have to “deal” with him. But Blackie works quickly. He heads to “The Topaz” still being run by Caswell and wins it from him in a series of escalating roulette wheel bets on black as always. Caswell would have won but Blackie with help from his friend “Slip” (Wynn) who’d been scouting & working in the place was wise to his cheating method. During this process Blackie meets Jean Avery (Dane) who’s left San Francisco and is looking for a job as a singer. Whereas Caswell wasn’t going to hire her the smitten Blackie does.
Jim is happy to learn that Blackie is taking up residence and equally happy to meet Jean. Some time later Blackie discharges a local miner Tom Fowler (Grant Withers) from his club for unpaid debts. The act is witnessed by Caswell at the same table and others in the establishment at the time. Later when Fowler is found dead (by Hugh Beaumont uncredited) Blackie is suspect. However like in Manhattan Melodrama (1934) Jim is convinced of his friend’s innocence when Blackie’s flunkie (in this case Slip) unbeknownst to Jim produces a duplicate (the aforementioned silk scarf) of the object found on the body … and Jim knew about the item through Blackie’s girlfriend. Jim then warns Blackie that he’d better stay clean else he’ll have to arrest him. To which Blackie replies he’d be disappointed in Jim if he didn’t.
Much like the first film Jean leaves Blackie for Jim and Blackie gets in trouble again. In this one however Frazier plays a role that the priest did not in the other one. And justice is realized more suitably (and quickly;-) to the wilderness environment than that in the urban setting of the other.