The name “Rita Hayworth” brings to mind glamorous musicals, plenty of romance, and, of course, a very famous Gilda hair flip. What would you say if I told you that the lovely lady once starred as an outlaw being hunted by a Texas Ranger?
It may sound far-fetched given what her career would become, but that’s exactly the case in 1938’s The Renegade Ranger, directed by David Howard. Hayworth stars as Judith Alvarez, Western rebel and suspected murderer.
Texas Ranger Jack Steele (George O’Brien) is being sent by his supervisor to find Judith. The last surviving member of a once-powerful family, Judith has recently lost her land and allegedly killed the man who took it over, rancher Sam Dunning. In addition to being tracked for arrest by Jack Steele, there’s also a reward being offered for her capture by powerful Pecos City landowner Ben Sanderson (William Royle).
While typecasting may have pegged Hayworth into the role of Judith, the character is an interesting one for her, especially considering that this film was made relatively early in her career. Judith is an outlaw, but not an evil woman. She’s somewhat of a crusader for truth, driven by the fact that her family’s land was truly stolen from her, rather than being driven by hatred or greed. When she’s not pointing guns at Ben Sanderson or leading raids, she’s quite mild-mannered. Those who aren’t on her bad side and treated with respect and fairness.
Though The Renegade Ranger is a B-Western, it’s a pretty great watch. It offers up an interesting tale of corruption, leaving Jack Steele caught between his duties as a Ranger and his moral compass, which tells him that Judith is in the right. There are gunfights, jail cells, kidnappings, and plenty of scheming to occupy the viewer’s attention.
Consistently-engrossing story aside, the film isn’t particularly high on tension or atmosphere, and the ending that wraps it all up is a bit too cheery. The action scenes are nicely-staged, however, a few of them taking place in dimly-lit, moody settings.
Fans of Rita Hayworth will delight in the opportunity to see her in an early-ish (and somewhat different) role, but The Renegade Ranger is also a nice watch for any fan of Westerns. The score: 3.5/5