Saturday, September 12, 2009

My Outlaw Brother (Bogeaus/Eagle-Lion, 1951)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film we picked was one Charles had downloaded from My Outlaw Brother, a 1951 vehicle for Mickey Rooney produced by Benedict Bogeaus for release through Eagle-Lion Pictures, which was basically the old PRC after J. Arthur Rank bought it in 1948 to have a guaranteed American outlet for his British product. (Among the big-budget Rank films Eagle-Lion got to distribute in the U.S. was the 1948 Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger film The Red Shoes, a spectacular movie and a sensational hit that put the company on the map big-time.) Rank’s ownership and name change to symbolize the American (Eagle)/British (Lion) alliance led to some minor increases in budgets and star power in the PRC product (PRC’s best director, Edgar G. Ulmer, got to make the 1948 film Ruthless with Louis Hayward and two of Warners’ “B”-listers, Zachary Scott and Sydney Greenstreet), but My Outlaw Brother was an independent production and a really cheap movie, filmed in Mexico to take advantage of the country’s desert locations (with the studio work done at the Tepeyac studios in Mexico City — I guess Bogeaus’s budget was so low he couldn’t even afford Mexico’s best studio, Churubusco!) and with a surprisingly good cast — Wanda Hendrix, Robert Preston, Robert Stack — and a story based on the novel South of the Rio Grande by pulp Western specialist Max Brand.

It’s a Western, of course, with Rooney playing Denny O’Moore, who’s traveling through Texas in the border regions looking for his long-lost older brother Patrick (Robert Stack) and encountering U.S. marshal Joe Walter (Robert Preston), who’s looking for “El Tigre,” a Mexican bandit leader who uses a large gang of about 20 or so to raid banks and other cash-rich businesses on this side of the border, then flees back across la linea and thumbs his nose at U.S. authority. Walter has negotiated with the Mexican government to pursue “El Tigre” on both sides of the border, and Denny happens to be driving his buckboard through a Texas town when “El Tigre” stages a raid — and “El Tigre,” not being the brightest bulb in Mexican bandit-dom, lets the sole witness to his raid get away alive. The sequence of “El Tigre”’s raid on the tiny town’s trading post is easily the action highlight of the film — and it’s over in the first reel; from there on in the movie (written by Gene Fowler, Jr. and Al Levitt, and directed competently but unspectacularly by Elliot Nugent) is nothing but a series of boring scenes involving Rooney’s character as a comic-relief role swollen to movie-dominating dimensions.

Nugent scored one directorial coup — he got Rooney to underplay in his two big scenes, one midway through when Preston’s character informs him that his brother is “El Tigre”’s right-hand man, and another at the end in which “El Tigre” is shot down (at the end of a singularly unexciting attempt at a big action climax), the wig he’s been wearing to make himself look indigenous falls off and it’s revealed that Patrick O’Moore wasn’t just “El Tigre”’s sidekick, he was the “tiger” himself. Other than that, though, this is a singularly dull movie that’s 82 minutes long (which is about 20 more minutes than its meager plot could sustain), fun to look at thanks to the marvelous red-filter effects from cinematographer José Ortiz Ramos but utterly boring otherwise — and Hendrix’s role doesn’t help much either; she’s a Mexican señorita who starts the movie as Stack’s girlfriend and ends up as Rooney’s (something he’s especially glad about because, unlike all the other women he’s dated, she’s small enough he can actually lift her — it’s that kind of a movie!) and the twitchy appeal she showed off in movies like Confidential Agent and Ride the Pink Horse is totally absent here.