Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Trouble at Melody Mesa (Three Crowns, 1944, rel. 1949)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Certainly it was better than the other film we watched last night, an hour-long “B” Western called Trouble at Melody Mesa, which according to imdb.com was actually made in 1944 but not released until 1949 (the titles have a copyright notice for 1948 but there’s no evidence that it was ever actually copyrighted), which was issued under the studio name “Three Crowns Productions” and was a pretty abysmal piece of filmmaking, directed by W. Merle Connell from an “original” (quotes definitely merited!) script by Ned Dandy and starred Brad King as federal marshal Brad King (virtually all the actors in this film use their real names!), who’s out to break up a land-grabbing scheme targeting the Henshaw ranch, whose rightful owner has just been murdered by his brother-in-law Mark Simmons (I. Stanford Jolley, virtually the only person associated with this film I’d heard of before!) by stringing a rope between two trees so the brother, an expert horseman, would trip over it (actually his horse would) and he would die in the fall and it would look like an accident.

Only Mark’s sister Mathilda (Lorraine Simmons, virtually the only person in this movie who shows even a hint of star charisma) is on to him and ultimately she and Brad solve the mystery, save the ranch and more or less end up together. The opening credits list about eight songs, some of them performed by a band at the barn dance that closes the film (except for a chase climax that seems decidedly beside the point!), and two by the real-life brothers Walt and Cal Shrum, also playing themselves in this weird and irritating movie. It’s just Standard Western Plot 1-A with a few songs grafted on (of which virtually the only one that’s memorable is Paula Blackburn’s engaging cover of Patsy Montana’s “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” the first country hit ever by a solo woman artist), and it didn’t help that the print we were watching was in atrocious condition, with a scratch through the whole thing that multiplied into two or three or more scratches that had us wondering, “Did someone try to project this film in a meat cutter?”