I've seen a lot of Bob Steele westerns over the past few months. Not because I wanted to, exactly, but because I've been working my way through the 50-film cheapo public domain collection, The Way West, and he stars in a lot of them. None have been bad. As a cowboy hero, he's a scrappy little guy with no more personality or acting ability than is absolutely necessary. Get me? He's just okay.
The Rider of the Law is really no exception, but I single it out because for at least the first 15 minutes, I found it more amusing than the standard Steele entry. The film opens with rowdies shooting up the town and the city fathers moaning that they'll never find a sheriff willing to stand up to them. Enter a scruffy, Gabby-esque buffalo hunter (played by Si Jenks) who takes the job. Then the stage rolls in, and off hops a dude in a fedora and horn-rimmed glasses who appears to be straight from the East. You guessed, it, it's Bob Steele.
For the first few minutes of the movie, Steele displays an aptitude for slapstick humor that's missing from the other films I've seen. He attempts to mount a horse with all the acrobatic ineptitude you'd expect from Charlie Chaplin. And when he's cornered by two outlaws with guns, he flounders around until he stumbles between them and cause them to shoot each other dead. Good stuff.
We soon discover, though, that he's a federal marshall sent to clean up the town, and the dudishness is all an act. The film then falls into the usual pattern, complete with cowardly townspeople, a good girl Steele is smitten with and a bad girl who's smitten with him.
After making a ton of these cheapies in the 30s, Steele went on to make a lot more in the 40s (many as Billy the Kid, before Buster Crabbe assumed the role). In the 50s, along with more films, he did guest stints on various TV Westerns, and in the 60s had small parts in such films as McLintock!, The Longest Day and 4 for Texas before settling into a regular role as Trooper Duffy on F-Troop.
More Overlooked Films & Stuff await you, as usual at SWEET FREEDOM.