Pros: A decent script and John Wayne...
Cons: A z-grade budget and crude filmmaking…
The Lawless Frontier (1934)
The short lived team of actor John Wayne and director Robert N. Bradbury delivered a handful of enjoyable quickie westerns for Lone Star Productions in the 1930s. All of these pictures were fairly simplistic, most of them featured George Gabby Hayes in some sort of sidekick position, and the bulk of them also employed the stunt expertise of Yakima Canutt who usually also played one of the villains in most of these movies as well. In the case of the Lawless Frontier, all of the above is true, and it still manages to be a relatively entertaining film despite the fact that it is rather cheaply made even by the rather low standards that Lone Star Productions had exemplified for the bulk of its existence.
John Wayne is John Tobin, a young man whose family has been murdered by the outlaw Pandri Zanto (Earl Dwire), and his gang of henchmen (featuring Yakima Canutt among their ranks). Tobin sets out to avenge his family, while Zanto seeks out a new hideout for him, and his men. Zanto targets Dusty (Gabby Hayes), at first because he wants his home for a base of operation that his gang can work out of, but later because the outlaw has taken a fancy for Dusty’s daughter Ruby (Sheila Terry). When Dusty and Ruby attempt to escape from Zanto and his gang, they cross paths with Tobin who helps them by distracting Zanto and his men while they make their way to town, this chance meeting leads to Tobin attempting to take out Zanto on his own. Further complicating matters is the local sheriff, who doesn’t trust Tobin, and is convinced that John is actually secretly working with Zanto.
Despite the simplistic storyline, crude directing, generally poor acting, and fairly bad editing, the Lawless Frontier is an enjoyable and very entertaining b-western movie. Not a classic or a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. But, the movie manages to deliver the goods despite itself, and its multitude of shortcomings. John Wayne is a believable hero, Gabby Hayes could play this part in his sleep, and Earl Dwire is rather enjoyable as the half white and half Apache villain. Dwire’s performance seems like a bad stereotype, but he manages to make the character a little more enjoyable than the original script probably intended for him to be. The directing is nothing spectacular, Bradbury seems to have employed a bunch of stock footage in an attempt to pad out the picture, and most of the acting performances seem very weak. If anything, it’s the slightly imaginative script that takes a bare bones story and adds just enough elements to make it interesting, and Wayne’s presence that makes this movie rise slightly above the bulk of its competition.
-William J. White