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Category:    Home > Reviews > Western > B-Movies > Johnny "Mack" Brown double feature

Johnny Mack Brown Set   (VCI)


Picture: C-     Sound: C     Extras: C     Main Films: C



Of the heroes during the in Westerns produced in its pre-1939 embryonic stage, Johnny Mack Brown was one of its best gunslingers, with one of the most interesting cinematic journeys.  He found work in Hollywood in the 1920s and was so impressive to M-G-M early on, they cast him as the title character in their big 1930 production of Billy The Kid.  The twist with this particular production is that it was the first film shot in and presented in 70mm.  Other films, like The Fox Movietone Follies of 1929, three other Fox films the following year (dubbing their 70mm format The Grandeur Process,) and Warner Bros.’s A Soldier’s Plaything (also 1930) had also been shot that way, but M-G-M was the largest of all studios and presented their film in landmark projection presentations.


Despite this, the film was not a big hit, nor could M-G-M figure out hat else to do with Brown, so their loss became Universal Pictures’ gain.  In a series of serials and B-movies, Brown hit his stride.  This new DVD from VCI offers two of his B-films, plus adds the first chapter of one of his serials as a bonus, so this is a nice edition of what the company hopes will be a series of Mack DVDs.


Bad Man From Red Butte (1940) and Rawhide Rangers (1941) came out as John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939) made Westerns a full-fledged genre.  They are singing cowboy films where the main cowboy does not sing!  Instead, others sing while Brown does the shootin’, chasin’, and fightin’.  Each B-film runs under an hour and follows a formula that pulls the aforementioned strands together.  The sound and picture are average, but better than you will find on VHS or cable.


The first story has outlaws trying to rob an entire ranch, while the second has the twist of “our hero’ going under cover to stop extortion.  These stories center around that point of Western history where people are settling, but how these settlements can be challenged.  They are fairly good, but really for fans only.


Besides five biographies of those involved, and trailers for four other VCI-issued Westerns, the serial chapter offered is from Wild West Days.  Issued in 1937, he plays “Kentucky” Wade.  It is the best of the three stories on the DVD, even if it is incomplete and the print is not in the best of shape.  There is a faster pace, better writing, and Brown is at his best. This is an interesting piece of Westerns history, worth a look for those interested.



- Nicholas Sheffo


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