It’s always sort of surreal to see a Roy Rogers western actually set in the Old West. I keep expecting him to hop off Trigger and dart into a night club, radio station or county fair, or just into the general store to use the telephone.
Doesn’t happen here. This one is set in mythical Purvis County, Texas just after the end of the Civil War. In another unusual move, Roy’s name isn’t Roy. He’s Vance Corbin, son of a local judge who’s been off fighting the Yankees, and just released from Fort Delaware Prison. And if that’s not strange enough, he sings only one song - and it’s not even to a girl. In fact, the romantic subplot is so low key that I didn’t even notice it until the end, when Roy delivers the best line of the show (stay tuned).
Another shocker: The title character, the “Robin Hood of the Pecos,” is not Roy, but Gabby Hayes. Gabby is known as the Night Rider, and annoys the local greedy carpetbagger by encouraging his fellow Purvisites to form a committee of vigilantes to fight Northern oppression. When in Gabby mode, he wears his trademark sat-on hat and thatch of gray beard, so the Night Rider disguise is easy - he dies his beard black and puts on a suit. After all, who would ever recognize Gabby Hayes in a suit?
Also on hand are characters named Sam and Belle Starr, who bear no resemblance to their historical counterparts. Sam is a paunchy rancher, and Belle is a grown-up tomboy who dresses like Annie Oakley and talks like one of the Little Rascals. The U.S. Army plays a part, too, and is consistently noble and purehearted - a threat only when misled by the aforementioned lowdown dirty skunk of a carpetbagger.
Roy, of course, accounts for most of the heroics, and triumphs in the end. And that’s where the romance rears it’s head. As Roy strolls along with Gabby’s good-lookin’ niece, we join a discussion already in progress:
ROY: . . . But suppose you’d have gotten yourself killed?
GIRL: Would you miss me?
ROY: Well, I couldn’t very well get along with you.
GIRL: Would you mind telling me why?
ROY: Well, uh, because you cook like a Chinaman.
Visit Todd Mason, the Robin Hood of Overlooked Films, at SWEET FREEDOM.