Wagon Train (1940)
Academy Award nominated best assistant director Edward Killy led this transition from RKO B Western veteran George O’Brien to Tim Holt in the leading role. Written by Bernard McConville with a screenplay by Morton Grant it’s also the only one I can remember in which crooner Ray Whitley is shot and killed. Whitley who wrote his own songs and played Holt’s amiable singing sidekick in several such Westerns plays wagon driver Ned to Holt’s Zack Sibley in this one; Emmett Lynn plays Whopper the other recurring character in this earliest B Western series starring Holt. Martha O’Driscoll plays Holt’s soon-to-be love interest Helen Lee while Cliff Clark plays the power hungry leader of the “bad guys”.
In the old west covered wagon trains were the way in which supplies such as food and other goods made their way from Missouri (and the east) to the western outposts of the early settlers on the North American continent. Threatened by the elements the terrain Indians and road agents (i.e. bandits) Zack Sibley (Holt) leads one such wagon train stopping only to mourn his father who’d been killed by a man named Anderson some years earlier. Zack is unaware that the owner of the largest number of stores west of the Mississippi Matt Gardner (Clark) intends to kill off all the other wagon train operators in order to control the price of goods. Zack isn’t aware that he’s one of the last remaining competitors and is also ignorant of the fact that his wagonmaster O’Follard (Wade Crosby) has been bribed by Gardner and his son Coe (Malcolm McTaggart) to lead the train into a trap. But O’Follard has second thoughts when the convoy takes on the responsibility of transporting a baby cared for by the homely Amanthy (Ellen Lowe) Whopper’s lady friend.
Things happen fast (and predictably) in these sub-hour B Westerns. Not so coincidently Helen who’s having second thoughts about her fiancé Coe (especially after she meets Zack) is traveling by stagecoach accompanied by Gardner’s representative Mr. Wilkes (Carl Stockdale) at the same time and by the same route as the wagon train. Ethan Laidlaw Monte Montague and Bruce Dane plays Gardner henchmen; Glenn Strange plays the coach driver.