Monte Hale (playing a character that shares his own name) is on his way to California when he comes upon an unconscious gunslinger, the notorious Gunsmoke Lowery (Dan Sheridan). There’s a telegram in the man’s pocket summoning him to Gunnison, California — the very town where Monte was headed.
Monte holds onto the telegram and continues his journey to Gunnison, where he assumes the identity of Lowery and is named the new marshal of the town.
Monte’s real goal in Gunnison is to find out what happened to his uncle, who he thinks was killed by the corrupt town officials… but he must keep up his ruse as Marshal Lowery while he tries to find the truth.
Starring alongside Hale and Sheridan are Lorna Gray, Paul Hurst, Alice Tyrrell, LeRoy Mason and Tristram Coffin. Philip Ford directs California Firebrand, a 1948 Western/musical/comedy written by J. Benton Cheney and John Butler with additional dialogue by Royal Cole.
This film is a remake of the 1941 Roy Rogers flick Sheriff of Tombstone, and it was remade again as Thunder Over Arizona (1956) with Skip Homeier. (I have seen neither of these versions, but would be interested in watching them for comparison. I didn’t see them in Netflix’s list, so let me know if you’ve got a clue as to where I can find them!)
California Firebrand starts out a bit slowly, which is problematic given its tiny, 63-minute running time. The story doesn’t really begin to pick up until it’s almost half-way finished, after Hale is made marshal.
Despite its slowness, there are some redeeming qualities to the film. The music is very fun. The sets and costume design are great. I was particularly impressed with the flashy outfits worn by Alice Tyrrell as “Dulcey Waggoner.”
Monte Hale’s performance adds to the fun, too. Some of the supports are very stiff, but Hale is full of sass. He’s constantly either side-eying or running away from people, as though he’s uncertain that he can pull off the “Gunsmoke Lowery” persona.
California Firebrand is not a winning film, but once it finally gets going it serves the purpose of light entertainment very well.
Did it boost my appreciation of the Western genre?: YES – Though it isn’t a perfect film by any means, it’s a fun little watch and has furthered my suspicion that the “singing cowboy” sub-genre will probably be one of my favorites to watch as I continue with this project.
The score: 3/5