Western Wednesdays: The Devil’s Playground (1946)

Hopalong Cassidy [William Boyd] along with his saddlemates California Carlson [Andy Clyde] and Lucky Jenkins [Rand Brooks] discover Mrs. Evans [Elaine Riley] running away from their shack just outside of the canyon known as the Devil’s Playground. They board her for the night while Hoppy goes out to investigate. His trail leads him to the Devil’s Playground as well as shifty Judge Morton [Robert Elliott] and his gang. Morton claims that Evans is his daughter and that he has been attempting to locate her. They head back to the shack only to find Evans has escaped with Carlson’s clothes on her back.

One of the gang, Shorty [John George] attempts to get word to Hoppy about Evans but is knifed in the back for his trouble. Hoppy discovers the body along with a map of the canyon and saddles up to see the sheriff [Joesph J. Greene.] As it turns out, the sheriff has no interest in investigating the murder, choosing instead to focus on his card games. Upon learning that one of Judge Morton’s gang was behind the killing, he not only holds them but also Hoppy and pals for the slaying.

Hoppy notices Evans riding in to town and plays sick in order to escape custody. Hoppy and friends track down Evans via a map that Shorty had left. Evans confides in Hoppy, telling him she isn’t Morton’s daughter but also that she is the only possessor of a map that tells where Curly Evans’ [Ned Young] gold is, hence why Morton and gang are after her. Hoppy and Evans head back to town to see the sheriff. Evans reluctantly hands over the map to the sheriff.

Morton double crosses the sheriff, steals the map and heads off in search of the gold, with Hoppy and friends in hot pursuit. Eventually, they discover where the gold is hidden but are spotted by Curly whom holds out in the cave. Mrs. Evans convinces Curly that Hoppy is trustworth, they grab the gold and head off with Morton and his gang riding after them. A shootout ensues in Hoppy’s shack, and Hoppy gets the drop on the thugs.


“The Devil’s Playground” was a fun little time-waster, with William Boyd carrying the film as the sagebrush superhero Hopalong Cassidy. Most of the acting ranges from pedestrian to bad, with the worst performer being the unconvincing Elaine Riley as Mrs. Evans (She is never given a first name). Andy Clyde provides some great comic relief as Carlson, however, and is the best performer in the film next to Boyd. The action, though, is relegated to shootouts and there are no fistfights to be had in this outing for Hoppy and pals, but nevertheless is still an energetic “B” western that is sure to delight fans of the genre (like me).

Hopalong Cassidy was a character devised by Clarence E. Mulford in 1904 in a series of novels and short stories. Unlike Boyd’s portrayal of Cassidy, the Hoppy of the original text was rude, curmudgeonly and coarse. The reason for the name of “Hopalong” is that Cassidy was shot in the leg during battle causing him to limp. Boyd portrayed Cassidy as clean-cut and reserved, the total antithesis of his literary counterpart. In total, there were 28 “Hoppy” novels written between 1906 and 1941.

William Boyd started his career in Hollywood as an extra but quickly rose through the ranks and became a leading man for such film directors as Cecil B. DeMille and D.W. Griffith. He transitioned to sound flawlessly, working for RKO Radio Pictures (formerly RKO-Pathe) on a series of films until he was promptly fired when a photograph of himself was misprinted in a news story in which another actor named William Boyd (later to be known as William “Stage” Boyd) was arrested on gambling and liquor charges.

His portrayal of Hopalong Cassidy began in 1935 and lasted on the big screen until 1948. The films were initially produced by Paramount Pictures until 1941 when United Artists picked up the series. It was at United Artists where the character began to wane, with Boyd producing the last 12 films himself. However, television breathed new life in to the character, as well as Boyd’s career and became the very first national television star. This resulted in mass-merchandise of Hopalong Cassidy including a series of comic books and trading cards.

Boyd was an excellent person on screen and off and considered his legions of children fans to be his friends. He declined licensing his name to any merchandise he deemed to be dangerous or inappropriate and refused to participate in events that forced admission fees for his friends. Boyd considered it his duty to be loyal to his friends and worked tremendously to strengthen the youth of America. William Boyd died of Parkinson’s disease and congestive heart failure in 1972.