Western Wednesdays: Silverspurs (1936)

Janet Allison [Muriel Evans] returns home to Loma to discover that the town she grew up in has become overrun with bandits and outlaws. One such outlaw is Art Holden [Robert Frazer], referred to as “Silverspurs,” whom Janet takes an immediate disliking to. Janet, while waiting for her father at the train depot, witnesses a holdup wherein a large sum of money is stolen and the depot attendant killed.

Arriving on the scene too little too late is Jim Fentriss [Buck Jones], the foreman on Janet’s father’s ranch, the Two Diamond. Jim and Janet arrive back at the ranch to meet Janet’s father Webb Allison [J.P. McGowan].Meanwhile, Jim eavesdrops on a conversation between Durango [Earl Askam] and the Yuma Kid [Bruce Lane], they are plotting a robbery. Some time later, an old friend of Allison’s comes to visit, Drag Harlan [George Hayes]. As it turns out, Harlan is an agent for the governor, assigned to capture Holden, Snell [W.M. Lawrence] and their gang.

Janet’s friend Peggy Wyman [Beth Marion] arrives and becomes smitten with Dude [Denny Meadows]. She goes to meet him at his house, however she is met by Durango whom attempts to attack her. He is stopped in the nick of time by Jim when they engage in a slugfest. Jim returns to the ranch looking to fire Dude only to be told that Durango was killed. At Janet’s insistence, Peggy leaves town.

Drag takes Allison out on a ride and shows him where Holden’s hideout is, he then proceeds to tell Allison that Holden and his gang are using the hideout to rebrand and resell stolen stock. While riding, Jim and Janet spot some of Holden’s men rustling cattle. Janet draws a map so that Jim can trail the baddies. Later, while waiting for Jim at the same spot, Holden spots her and the map to his hideout and promptly kidnaps her.

Jim finds out Janet has been kidnapped and trails Holden and his gang, little knowing that they have laid a trap for him. Yuma Kid arrives to the hideout and when Holden and Snell reveal their plans, he turns the tables on them revealing that he is Jim’s brother. Holden then tells the Kid that the plan is off and as the Kid walks off, Holden shoots him in the back. Jim arrives and gets the drop on both Snell and Holden.

“Silverspurs” was a fun western from Universal. There are some genuinely thrilling moments, such as Fentriss’ fight with Durango and there are many shocking moments as well, the sequence where Durango attempts to attack Peggy startled me and there is a moving sequence shortly thereafter where Janet consoles and comforts an emotional and traumatized Peggy. The chemistry between Buck Jones and Muriel Evans is quite good and it is fun (however, quite predictable) to watch the initially contentious relationship between the two gradually form a romantic partnership. It was also great seeing a pre-Gabby George Hayes in the mix as Drag Harlan. Unfortunately, the film’s final act leaves much to be desired and the action-laden ending is absolutely ruined by the fact that it was shot at night, compounding matters is the fact that the print I viewed was exceptionally dark, making that end sequence a rough watch. There are times during the final shootout where the action is indiscernible.

Buck Jones, born Charles Gebhart in December 1891, was one of the most memorable western actors of the silent era, the 1930’s and 1940’s. Like many of the screen’s earliest western heroes, Jones was a real cowboy and married his wife during a rodeo show as he and his wife, fellow equestrian Dell Osborne, had very little money. Jones entered the film industry during the silent era, first earning five dollars per day as a stuntman and extra at Universal and eventually earning $150 per week with the Fox Film Corporation (later known as 20th Century-Fox). His first starring role was in 1920’s “The Last Straw.”

By the time “Silverspurs” was released, Jones was still producing some good films for the likes of Universal and Columbia Pictures where he rode through dozens of oaters atop his steed Silver. As a matter of fact, it was during his Universal run where he replaced the tempestuous Ken Maynard as Universal’s top western hero. At the end of 1936, the year “Silverspurs” was issued, Jones’ salary topped out at $143,333.00

However, times were changing by the end of the 1930’s, singing cowboys were in and the stalwart heroes that Jones had played were considered passe. His career continued to decline until starring in the serial “White Eagle,” which rejuvenated interest in him. His final series of films came at lower-budgeted Monogram Pictures, where he starred in the “Rough Riders” series opposite veteran cowboy Tim McCoy and actor Raymond Hatton, with his last film being “Dawn on the Great Divide” (1942).

On November 28, 1942, Jones along with 492 others, became trapped in and died as a result of the horrendous Coconut Grove fire in Boston. The fire is still considered the deadliest nightclub fire in American history and is the second-deadliest single building fire. Erroneous reports often state that Jones had escaped and rushed back in to save remaining patrons but perished alongside them. Charles “Buck” Jones was 50 years old.