Lindsey Tries to Appreciate Westerns: Code of the Prairie (1944)

Bat Mason (Tom Chatterton) is a retired marshal who is traveling with his daughter Helen (Peggy Stewart) to Canyon City. He wants to start a newspaper there, and to stop the town from being overtaken by lawless men.

(Image via Netflix)
(Image via Netflix)

On their way to town, Bat and Helen are ambushed by three such lawless men. They’re saved by Sunset Carson and his camera-happy sidekick, Frog Millhouse (Smiley Burnette). Helen had invited Sunset and Frog to join herself and her father in Canyon City, and they showed up at just the right time.

Thanks to Sunset and Frog, Bat and Helen make it to Canyon City and begin establishing their newspaper by first setting up the printing press.

Professor Graham (Roy Barcroft), the local barber, is dead-set on ruining Bat’s plan to bring order to the town. Unknown to Bat and his three companions, Professor Graham is a secret outlaw. He thinks he can keep the town lawless by controlling the upcoming sheriff election.

Will Canyon City be saved, or will it fall into the evil hands of Professor Graham and his gunslingers? The panhandle’s future is at stake in 1944’s Code of the Prairie, directed by Spencer Bennett for Republic Pictures.

Though Netflix’s version of this film runs at only 55 minutes or so, the film starts out somewhat slow. Bat and Helen travel down the road to Canyon City, and along the way pick up a man who appears distraught for having had to kill his cow, which had been seriously injured. As it turns out, this whole cow plot was a set-up, leading to he ambush.

Once the ambush occurs things do pick up. It becomes clear that there’s someone who really wants to keep Bat, Helen and their printing press out of the panhandle, and a gunfight ensues.

Once it picks up, the film is an exciting little watch and the pace stays pretty quick, luckily.

"Sunset Carson" starred in a long series of Westerns. (Image via A Drifting Cowboy)
“Sunset Carson” starred in a long series of Westerns. (Image via A Drifting Cowboy)

The characters make the film enjoyable, and the performances make those characters fun to watch, particularly quirky Frog and spunky Helen. As a hobby photographer who carries a DSLR with me practically at all times, I found Frog’s obsession with his camera even at the most inconvenient times to be hilarious. The gag may get old quickly for some, but as a camera enthusiast it was a bright spot of the film for me.

Enjoyability aside, there’s a dash of corn to be had here, particularly in some of the fight scenes. In the first ambush, for example, Bat hits a man off of a horse with a wooden plank in a manner that is completely over-dramatic. (Is there a subtle way to hit a man with a wooden plank?)

I, of course, appreciate a little corn, though, and the Professor Graham storyline of political scheming brings serious redemption to the film’s level of merit by adding intrigue to the story. Because of this subplot, this minor film offers a bit more meat for the mind of the viewer to chew on than the average, less-than-an-hour outlaw B-movie.

Did it boost my appreciation of the Western genre?: SOMEWHAT. I enjoyed watching this film. It’s a quick piece of entertainment, but it isn’t without flaw, so I can’t say it did much to bolster my opinion of the genre, other than providing some variation to the typical “outlaw” storylines.
The score: 3.5/5

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8 thoughts on “Lindsey Tries to Appreciate Westerns: Code of the Prairie (1944)

    1. I’ve been liking them a lot more since I began this “Lindsey Tries to Appreciate Westerns” series, which I guess means the series is doing its job haha. :) I don’t think it’ll ever be a favorite genre for me, though!

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  1. Bat? Sunset? Frog? Were you watching a Western or a National Geographic special on South America?

    And yes, I’m still waiting for reviews on ‘Jeremiah Johnson’ and ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’…or if you prefer black-and-white, maybe ‘High Noon’ or ‘The Ox-Bow Incident’ might be to your liking!

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    1. It was a Western sponsored by Nat Geo, obviously!

      Fear not, those are all on my to-be-watched list. I don’t want to buy them & I’ve had trouble finding ways to rent them. None were on Netflix streaming last time I searched. My library had Josey Wales but some dummy lost it and they have yet to replace it.

      I do have a review coming soon of Red River, which you recommended to me ages ago when I began this project! It’s already written, just have to pick a day to post it.

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      1. Cool! Glad they’re still on your list! Can’t wait to read the reviews. ‘Red River’ is out on Criterion now…hopefully someday I can find it at Target for $5!

        ‘National Geographic presents: Tree Frogs of the Wild West’. Also available from Criterion.

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        1. I hear Criterion’s working on a whole series of those Nat Geo films. “Tree Frogs of the Wild West,” “Tree Frogs of Prohibition-Era New York,” “Tree Frogs of the Yukon,” etc.

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