Western Wednesdays: Trailin’ Trouble (1937)

Friendly Fields [Ken Maynard] is casually riding along on his white palomino Tarzan when he witnesses a holdup by Blackie Burke [Ken Maynard]. Fields darts out to get a closer look but is stopped by Burke who promptly steals Fields’ hat and rides off.

Fields and his mother [Grace Woods] venture in to town where Fields returns the stolen valuables to the sheriff [Fred Burns] and the rest of the townsfolk ans vows to apprehend Burke. Ma Fields resents her son hauling off to fight the marauder and insists he return home. Being the good son that he is, Fields obliges.

Back at home, Fields is visited by a friend whom informs him that Patty Blair [Lona Andre] is searching for a foreman on her Bar-X ranch. Fields accepts and rides off. While entering the ranch, Fields is shot at by Blair, who is undertaking target practice.

Blair is disdainful of Fields and sends him off to notorious cattle thief Crocker [Roger Williams] to retrieve her missing herd. Before heading to Crocker’s, Fields stumbles upon a band of musicians playing a tune, Fields enthusiastically joins in and performs a number with them on the fiddle.

Fields rides in to Crocker’s ranch with Crocker’s son in tow. Crocker believes Fields to be notorious outlaw Burke and offers payment for Blair’s missing cattle. Upon returning to Blair’s ranch, Fields delivers payment to his boss as he takes his place as new foreman of the Bar-X. Fields proceeds to give orders to Blair’s men, with rider Shorty [Ed Cassidy] taking issue with Fields’ changes and is immediately fired from the ranch.

Mrs. Johns [credited as Mrs. Burns and portrayed by Marin Sais] frantically arrives on Blair’s ranch to tell her that Fields is actually Blackie Burke. Blair is convinced and becomes frightened being in the same room as Fields. Fields informs Blair that her cattle are dying and he volunteers to round up a new herd. Thrilled with the idea that Fields is leaving, Blair hurries him along.

As it turns out, Crocker and his men have purchased the entire valley though quickly sell it to Fields convinced that he is the deadly outlaw. After Fields leaves, Crocker and his men conspire to kill Fields. Fields sees Blair riding away from him and gives chase, they venture to a shack for room and board where Fields, masquerading as the marauder, regales Crocker and his men with phony stories of his exploits as an outlaw.

Ma Fields receives a letter from her son regarding the brewing range war and sets off to set her son straight. Meanwhile, Fields is conducting a conference in a nearby schoolhouse with Blair and the other ranch owners regarding property rights. Fields uses his likeness to Blackie Burke to advantage and provides Blair with first perusal of range rights.

All is going swimmingly until Ma Fields interrupts the proceedings and the men gang up on the exposed Friendly Fields. A fight breaks out in the schoolhouse, while the real Blackie Burke, upon hearing of Fields’ deception, storms off to gun him down. Burke happens upon the schoolhouse and Fields escapes to hunt down the outlaw. Fields catches up with Burke and the two fight it out. Burke surrenders

“Trailin’ Trouble” (also referred to as “Trailing Trouble”) was an enjoyable Ken Maynard vehicle from his later period. Many commentators have stated that the Ken Maynard of the late 30’s and 40’s was a shell of his former self, overweight and immobile. This assessment couldn’t be further from the truth. Maynard, while slightly paunchy, is no less agile than he was when he made his westerns for World Wide Pictures and Tiffany at the start of the decade.

This film, produced for the struggling and short-lived poverty row outfit Grand National Films, was a delight and I deeply enjoyed the sequence where Ken sings and plays the fiddle, one of the rare instances of him doing so in the later films. As stated in my previous review of “Hell-Fire Austin,” Maynard was the first singing cowboy of the movies and was also one of the earliest cowboy movie stars to record music.

While watching this film, I could not help but feel that I’ve seen this story before and this was confirmed with a quick visit to the Internet Movie Database where I discovered this was in fact, a remake of an earlier B western I’ve seen, this being Allied Pictures’ 1931 film “The Hard Hombre” starring Hoot Gibson, a film I may choose to formally review at a later date. It bears mentioning that both films were produced by M.H. Hoffman, a prolific producer of poverty row filmmaking. Anyone whom has seen the earlier film will no doubt be able to notice the parallels with “Trailin’ Trouble.”

The trappings of poverty row are evident in the fact that the only way to decipher the heroic Maynard from his villainous counterpart are the color of hat (the evil Maynard wears white, ironically enough) and the evil Maynard appears to have not shaved in some time. The acting from the remainder of the players is passable to middling with Lona Andre, the film’s heroine, appearing worse for the wear. It was amusing to see Andre paint eyeglasses on her face during one scene, providing me shades of obscure stage and screen comedian Bobby Clark of the team Clark and McCullough.

While I cannot recommend “Trailin’ Trouble” to Maynard newbies, I certainly recommend it to his most ardent fans, such as myself. Additionally, it is intriguing to see Maynard remaking a film starring another favorite of mine, Hoot Gibson, even if Maynard’s gruff exterior doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the peaceable, jovial types that Gibson played in his films. The highlight for many will be the aforementioned sequence where Maynard belts out a tune with the boys on the ranch as well as some of Maynard’s world-famous trick riding which he could still successfully do in 1937 despite what his biggest detractors have said. An enjoyable and breezy watch that never wears out its welcome.