Western Wednesdays: The Hard Hombre (1931)

William “Peaceful” Patton [Hoot Gibson] attempts to end a range war between two opposing ranch owners but is frightened off the job by violence that ensues between the two. He returns home to his pacifist mother [Jessie Arnold]. As the two travel to church, the sheriff [Christian Frank] informs Patton of a ranch foreman’s job available in the next county. Patton accepts and rides off.

Patton arrives to Senora Martini’s [Lina Basquette] ranch where she takes an immediate disliking towards the affable applicant for the job. She challenges him to recoup a herd of her cattle which were stolen by notorious Joe Barlow [G. Raymond Nye]. Patton gallops to Barlow’s ranch where a frightened Barlow offers to pay for the lost cattle. Patton reluctantly accepts and returns to the Martini ranch. As it turns out, the reason for Barlow’s unease is that Patton is a dead-ringer for the notorious outlaw known simply as “The Hard Hombre.”

Patton returns to Martini’s ranch where she anxiously awaits her cattle. Patton informs her that Barlow paid for them, however she is not convinced that he did so without threatening from Patton. He tells her that it was a peaceful transaction and an infuriated Martini dismisses Patton for the evening.

A few days later, Martini’s friend Senora Romero [Mathilde Comont] races to Martini’s ranch to misinform her that “Peaceful” Patton is none other than “The Hard Hombre,” both are terrified as Patton returns to the ranch to discuss business with Martini. Romero races off and Patton asks if he may leave the range to scope out new land for Martini’s cattle to graze on as their current setting is far too dry to maintain a healthy herd. Martini excitedly gives her blessing

Patton meets up with several ranch owners to negotiate range rights and they willingly oblige to sell to him. As Patton prepares to return to the ranch, he overhears the other men discussing him as if he were the murderous outlaw. Patton decided to use this to his advantage and rides back to the others and let’s them know under no certain terms that he means business.

Senora Martini rides over to the ranchmen where they inform her she’s too late to negotiate. Patton sees her, she races off but Patton scoops her up. Patton and Martini along with the ranchmen all take shelter at a nearby shack for the night where Patton regales them with phony stories of his murderous exploits.

The next day, Mrs. Patton receives news that her son is in danger and races off to save him. Meanwhile, Patton informs the men that they are to negotiate range rights at the nearby schoolhouse. As he is doing so, a woman [Florence Lawrence] and her brother [Tiny Sandford] show up to have it out with Patton, mistaking him for “The Hard Hombre,” whom has promised to marry the woman. Patton and the brother go behind the shack to fight it out, but the woman’s brother knocks himself out. Patton then carries the brute back to the buggy he rode up in, which convinces the ranchmen even more that he is the infamous killer.

The ranchmen follow Patton to the schoolhouse where they begin conference. Things appear to be going in Patton’s favor until his mother appears and exposes him. The ranchmen give chase and the real “Hard Hombre” [Frank Winklemann] arrives to do battle with his impostor. The outlaw violently pushes Patton’s mother away and an enraged Patton dukes it out with the heinous outlaw. Patton is declared victor and reunites with Senora Martini.

As you’ll recall, two weeks ago I reviewed the 1937 Grand National film “Trailing Trouble” starring Ken Maynard and mentioned that film was a remake of this earlier 1931 Allied Pictures effort starring Hoot Gibson. Comparing the two and going against the conventional wisdom, I have to say that I enjoyed the remake much better. What gives “Trailing Trouble” the edge is the fact that it had Ken Maynard portray the dual role of himself and his villainous counterpart, making the main story element of confusion between the two, much more realistic. By contrast, the title character of “The Hard Hombre” little resembles the jovial Hoot Gibson. The other reason I prefer the later film to this one and, this may be purely personal preference, is that Ken Maynard receives the rare opportunity to sing and play the fiddle in that film.

However, that is not to say I don’t enjoy “The Hard Hombre,” I quite like the film and find it entertaining as well as interesting for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is its casting. Hoot Gibson is his usual hilarious self and it was this film that first introduced me to the comical cowboy when I first viewed it a few years ago. He instantly won me over and one can definitely see why he so endeared himself to audiences in the silent and early talkie era.

Gorgeous leading lady Lina Basquette, whom fellow B-western aficionado Boyd Magers refers to as a “very bad actress” in his review, is passable as the feisty and moody Mexican senorita. Basquette’s life was an interesting one considering she was once wife to one of the Warner brothers, this being Sam Warner. The marriage was short-lived and lasted between 1925 until Warner’s death in 1927. Thereafter, Warner’s family disowned Basquette and forbade her access to the daughter she conceived with him. This was the beginning of a steep decline for Basquette who went from starring roles in Cecil B. DeMille epics to being relegated to lesser and lesser productions until she left the industry in 1943. One amusing story from this time period was when Basquette visited Germany, notorious dictator Adolf Hitler, whom referred to Basquette as his favorite actress, made a pass at her to which she responded with a swift kick to his impoverished private region. After retiring from films, Basquette devoted her life to raising and breeding Great Danes and even participated as judge at American Kennel Club dog shows well into the 1980’s. Basquette passed away in 1994 of lymphoma.

Another star of “The Hard Hombre” who deserves special mention is the actress portraying the sister for whom the title character promised marriage. Florence Lawrence was long thought to be the “first movie star,” until it came to light that French comedian Max Linder was the first to be credited on film. Lawrence was a major star in the early silent era, mostly for Biograph Studios which led her to being nicknamed “The Biograph Girl.” She appeared in over 300 motion pictures during her career. She starred in films for many of the early pioneering producers and directors including D.W. Griffith. In addition to her filmwork, she is also credited as being the inventor of the “turn signal” in automobiles, though she never patented this invention nor profited from it. Her career went in to steep decline with the birth of talking pictures and she eventually became one of MGM’s “old timers” who were hired for filmwork for a pittance as charity. Her final marriage resulted in severe abuse, which no doubt led to her health decline which resulted in her dwindling film roles. She committed suicide with ant poison and cough syrup on December 28, 1938. Florence Lawrence was 52 years old. She was later the subject of a novel entitled “The Biograph Girl” by William J. Mann, released in 2000 and in 1991 actor Roddy McDowall paid for her gravestone as her burial site remained unmarked for years.

All told, “The Hard Hombre” is an enjoyable early talking B-western from M.H. Hoffman’s Allied Pictures and one of the best for star Hoot Gibson. Anyone looking for a place to start with the career of the Hooter will find much to love in “The Hard Hombre.”