Written by John Rathmell and Oliver Drake
Story by Bernard McConville
Based on the book by William Colt MacDonald
Directed by Joseph Kane
The Three Mesquiteers is a prolific series of dime store cowboy novels (beginning with 1933’s Law of the .45’s by William Colt MacDonald) that became a long-running movie franchise. The span of films lasted 12 actors in the three lead roles over 51 films, probably most famously John Wayne during a long stint. Republic Pictures produced all of the films in the series. The original film is simply called The Three Mesquiteers, and stars Robert Livingston, Ray “Crash” Corrigan, and Syd Saylor. Saylor was replaced by Max Terhune as Lullaby Joslin and the three lasted until the 17th film in the series – Pals of the Saddle, where John Wayne took over for Robert Livingston (Livingston also missed one film when he was injured and was replaced by Ralph Byrd.) The cast changes the get more complicated (including Livingston returning after the other two stars were replaced) and if I ever get around to watching all 51 films I’ll be sure to do a retrospective.
As is the case with all popular things, there were a slew of imitation cowboy trio series trying to capture the magic of The Three Mequiteers. Monogram Pictures lured Ray Corrigan away for The Range Busters series (1940-43, with Max Terhune also showing up for a few), and then got later Mesquiteer Raymond Hatton for The Rough Riders series (1941-42). Their final attempt was The Trail Brazers (1943-44). Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) had two attempts of their own, The Texas Rangers (1942–45) and The Frontier Marshals (1942). Info on these films can be found on the wonderful B-Westerns site.
Ghost-town Gold is the second film in the series. It’s also the “supernatural” one, in that ghosts are referenced, though ultimately it turns out to just be an elaborate ruse by a crazy old man. Spoilers. It is a typical cheapo Western excursion of the 1930s, back when movies were pumped out like crazy to fill theaters before TV turned America into a land of couch potatoes. Thanks to the magic of existing sets and stock players, these cheap films look way more expensive than many of the cheap films produced today. The supporting cast (as is the case in many of this films) is like a laundry list of legendary Western actors and actresses. Kay Hughes plays the daughter of the mayor, she had a career that was notable for many parts in Westerns. Dirk Barrington is played by LeRoy Mason, who often played the villain in cowboy pictures before his life was cut short by a heart attack. Yakima Canutt, Bob Kortman, and Frank Hagney are among the other players.
The Three Mesquiteers get paid for the cattle season in the form of a huge check. Lullaby says he can go deposit the check in town by himself, despite his two partners giving him a hard time for getting into trouble the last time he did that. It seems like there is no way Lullaby should be heading off by his lonesome, but if he didn’t, we wouldn’t have an adventure. Lullaby heads to town, while Stony and Tucson make their way back to wherever it is the Three Mesquiteers live. EuroDisneyLand? Who knows. What we do know is that Stony and Tucson pass their way through a ghost town, where they see a poster advertising a fight in the town of Prospect between Thunderbolt O’Brien and Wild Man Joe Kamatski. This is bad because Prospect is the town where Lullaby and the bank is! Also who puts up posters advertising a fight in a ghost town miles away? That should be their first clue that they’re trapped in another wacky adventure! The ghost town does have one resident, a crazy old man named Jake. Is he Ghost Crazy? We shall see…
Lullaby starts getting suckered into the atmosphere of the town of Prospect, which is a town where everyone is grifting everyone else out of their hard-grifted money. But Lullaby isn’t a complete tool, he suckers a three-card monty guy out of the big prize – a ventriloquist doll! All these shenanigans means that Lullaby doesn’t get to the bank in time, as it closes at 3pm (!!)
The Prospect town council is upset over the bad influence people coming to town to gamble on fights, yelling at the rich fight promoter Barrington. While the meeting is going on two of the rabble get into a fight and start shooting randomly. A kid is hit, but Stony and Tucson arrive just in time to stop the fighters by punching them repeatedly and saving the kid who was shot. The boxing match is banned, but the not very nice guys promoting it decide to get even with the town council and rob the bank
Stony and Tucson drag Lullaby away from a card game, where he’s using the ventriloquist dummy Elmer to mock the other players as he wins. The owner of the gambling hall doesn’t want Lullaby to leave before he has a chance to lose his winnings back to the casino, so there’s a fight with Tucson. This town is like a real life Grand Theft Auto city…before there were autos to grand theft!
The bank is robbed, and now all the good people in town have lost all their money. Remember when bankers were good people and tried to help the town? We haven’t had a good banker since Jimmy Stewart! But Ghost-town Gold is set back when the Mr. Potters and Mr. Burnses of the world hadn’t won yet, so we can still cheer for the bankers to get their money back and save the town. The Three Mesquiteers are the first to find out, and they need to figure out a plan to keep the bank open without people finding out there is no money until they can get the money back. If you think this involves things that were also used 10 years later in It’s a Wonderful Life, you win a fabulous ghost…FREE! I’ll email it to you. No givebacks allowed. Now, why are the Three Mesquiteers getting involved in all of this? Well, for one, they are nice dudes. Two, the banker has a hot daughter named Sabina. Okay, mainly two.
Stony signs up Tuscon to fight Wild Man Kamatski without Stony’s knowledge, to get the prize money for the bank. And the fight’ on! Tuscon almost loses until he’s saved by the bell, and not the Screech kind! Tuscon regains his composure, so Wild Man cheats so he can be saved by the bell! And not the Jessie is addicted to caffeine pills kind! Damn it, Jessie, stay off the caffeine pills, you might end up a Vegas stripper!
During the fight, the crazy old man Jake from the ghost town has sacks of the bank money to bet with, because the robbers hid the money in the ghost town. The baddies see this, and end the fight by firing a gun causing a panic. You would think in this town, everyone would be so used to guns being fired they wouldn’t even blink. Then everyone goes to the ghost town to find the money. And check this out: The ghost town is named Nemesis! No wonder people abandoned it, Star Trek: Nemesis was terrible! I’d move, too.
Everyone, good and bad, arrives at the town at the same time and let’s cue a bunch of shots of cowboys shooting in the dark at dark shadows. Ghost towns sure don’t have good lighting. Crazy old man Jake uses noisemakers and other random booby traps to make things sound haunted in the town, adding to the chaos. And one of the bad guys has a bad English accent for some reason. Probably ghost reasons…
Sabina helps convince crazy old Jake to give back the money, but they must rush back to town before the local miners lynch the bankowner because they have no money on miner payday. Hookers aren’t free, you know! The chase back involves a stunt where a character trips three horses that are running with a rope, there is no way that stunt would be allowed today.
Back in town, there is a shootout at the bank, people are dying, it’s like a normal Thursday at Bank of America. The Mesquiteers grab Barrington and make him tell the miners the money is found. The bank opens! The day is saved! The hookers will get paid! They run Barrington out of town as our heroes laugh. You’d think they’d try him for murder and hang him because he’s responsible for all the people getting shot. But, nope. He’ll probably die of exposure in the wilderness, anyway.
And after a final two jokes, the Three Mesquiteers ride off into the next film…Roarin’ Lead!
Rated 7/10 (manly mustache, prize doll, prize doll, prize doll, prize doll, prize doll, prize doll)