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Prairie Law (1940)

Prairie Law (1940)

Directed by David Howard writing credits include: Bernard McConville (story) and Doris Schroeder & Arthur V. Jones (screenplay). This below average B Western is about the unique justice of the wild West including water rights the conflicts between farmers and cowmen a crooked judge and (of course) a hero.

Brill Austin (George O’Brien) is a rancher who freely offers his springs’ water to the new settlers even though he believes that the land is not suited for farming and is concerned with the recent losses of some of his cattle. Naturally he has a sidekick Silent played by Slim Whitaker whose only real lines become rather tedious because every situation prompts a “back it Texas we used to” comment from his character. Brill & Silent meet a pretty young woman Priscilla Brambull (Virginia Vale) when Brill assists her at one of his springs. Upon giving Priscilla a ride to her new homestead they meet her father Franklin (Henry Hall) and brother Larry (Dick Hogan). Franklin has just been appointed the District Attorney for Olympia City a new community established by self proclaimed Judge Curry (Paul Everton) who spends most of his time selling worthless land to the hayseeds that have made their way West. Brill’s makes note of this given the fact that his uncle (J. Farrell MacDonald) is Sheriff of the county seat Prairie Rose. However Franklin impresses Brill with his straight forward honesty which is more than can be said for his hot headed firebrand son Larry who Brill disarms in a simple pride-caused scuffle.

Pete Gore (Cy Kendall) is the local butcher in the new community who can’t afford to buy the ranchers’ beef. While he and the Judge discuss the problem Larry who evidently owes Gore a gambling debt suggests a way to steal the needed cattle by butchering them right at the springs under the cover of darkness. Gore insists that Larry participate and later that night Brill & his men are too late to catch the thieves. Larry returns home that morning with blood on his shirt causing Priscilla to suspect foul play. Her suspicions are confirmed when Brill and Silent arrive to get her DA father and discover Larry’s recently ridden horse but because of loyalty to her brother she says nothing. In the meantime Brill’s uncle arrives at Gore’s store and discovers the fresh beef. Before the Sheriff can arrest him Gore kills the Sheriff and hearing others approaching fires a shot. When Brill Silent Franklin and even the Judge arrive on the scene Gore claims self defense. Brill doesn’t believe him and insists that Gore be held for murder. To satisfy Franklin and his own interests the Judge promises that Gore will be delivered to the county seat within 48 hours.

The Judge then arranges for a bogus election to change the county seat from Prairie Rose to Olympia City so that he can release his friend Gore. Western veteran Monte Montague plays Sully one of the Judge’s henchman. When Brill learns of the balloting he begins to organize his fellow ranchers to keep the Judge from succeeding but the Judge has Sully and others start a fight such that Brill and his men are arrested and jailed until after the election. Witnessing the events and encouraged Brill et al Franklin agrees to seek assistance from the Governor to declare the election invalid. In the meantime Brill and his fellow ranchers try to keep their cattle alive after the Judge seizes the springs and prevents them from using the water. Of course Franklin returns in time with the desired ruling from the Governor who also made him Judge of the territory. However this leads to a race against time as the ranchers try to get Gore tried and convicted by Judge Brambull before Curry Sully et al can prevent it.

Not much mystery as to the outcome of this one which also features the requisite campfire song(s) fist fight (though not in a barroom this time I guess they couldn’t afford the mirror) shootout some mildly humorous situations (one overdone concerning a well some more in the courtroom) and happy ending where the hero gets the girl and there is redemption for the wayward son.

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