Directed by: Harry L. Fraser
This film is so old that the cast are introduced as ‘The Players’. We open to a very youthful looking John Wayne, who plays Randy, the man who rides alone. He finds himself at the ‘Half Way House’, a saloon bar in the middle of nowhere. I like how there is no real build up, we don’t know anything about Randy, he just appears, and now we must follow him around. When Randy goes inside, no doubt enticed by the charming music that can be heard from outside, he finds a piano that is programmed to play automatically, and numerous bullet riddled bodies strewn across the bar. Randy then reads a defaced ‘Wanted’ poster on the wall for a man named Marvin Black that issues a threat to the local Sheriff.
Despite shoddy camera work, hilariously wooden acting (Wayne surprisingly not being the worst culprit), and aging terribly ‘Randy Rides Alone’ will always be remembered for its terrifyingly dramatic opening. The unique automatic piano (which I’ve discovered via Wikipedia is called a player piano) that plays on and on and on, the powerful sight of a bar room massacre, and somebody’s panic stricken eyes looking through peek holes in a portrait of Ulysses S. Grant create an unbearable sense of tension, which admittedly goes down the plug hole when a bunch of mean looking riders turn up to arrest Randy, who they wrongly suspect is one of the men behind the brutal murders. The clunky dialogue from this exchange underlines that ‘Randy Rides Alone’ is from a time in cinema history when we didn’t have scriptwriters in the calibre of somebody like Aaron Sorkin.
George ‘Gabby’ Hayes plays the villain Marvin Black who is behind the massacre, and plots to take control of the Halfway House. Black also has an alter-ego called Matt the Mute, a hunchbacked man (the hunch cleverly created using a pillow that he stuffs into his suit jacket) who annoying scribbles down messages on a notepad to communicate with other characters, each scene he’s in lasts an eternity as we watch a hand clutching a pen scrawl something insightful down on paper. “Gee, Matt I never thought of that” seems to be the stock response of the characters that get to read these messages. It gets dull fast.
Hayes just about does enough as the villain of the piece, but it is Alberta Vaughn who plays Sally, the niece of Half Way House’s owner who shines brightest and steals not just John Wayne but also this viewer’s heart. Sally’s not traumatized by the carnage she witnessed, is very feisty and isn’t your usual damsel in distress. She’s a real tough classy broad, and absolutely adorable, in that time long ago before young women began to down countless WKD’s on a Friday Night and guzzle cum like it was Activia pouring yoghurt.
With a fifty two minute running time ‘Randy Rides Alone’ isn’t a painstaking watch. There is plenty of unintentional humour that might work even better if viewed with some snarky like-minded mates for an afternoon of Mystery Science Theater 3000 style commentary.