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Under the Radar DVD of the Week: 'Pals of the Saddle'

Dennis King Published: April 29, 2013

PalsSaddle

This week, the oddest DVD to appear on release lists is:

“Pals of the Saddle”

Before he became the iconic Duke, America’s cowboy of all cowboys, John Wayne was a raw and callow studio contract player who galloped his way through scores of B-westerns before his star rose. Some of his early oater work included a stint as cowpoke Stony Brooke in the popular Three Mesquiteers series, and his first outing in that role, “Pals of the Saddle,” is due out on DVD Tuesday.

This 1938 adventure – shot just a year before Wayne’s big breakout role as the Ringo Kid in John Ford’s classic “Stagecoach” – was the first of eight Mesquiteer movies that the Duke appeared in. It introduces Stony to his partners, Ray Corrigan as Tucson Smith and Max Terhune as Lullaby Joslin, and sets the trio off on a chase after foreign spies who are trying to steal and smuggle the deadly chemical “Monium” out of the United States.

In all, 51 Three Mesquiteers movies were produced between 1936 and 1943, and Wayne, who took over the Stony Brooke role from Robert Livingstone, appeared in eight films shot in 1938 and ’39. All were directed by George Sherman, who later helmed Wayne in the 1971 western “Big Jake.”

The Republic Pictures series, based on western novels by William Colt MacDonald, drew casual inspiration from The Three Musketeers, and featured a rotating cast of studio players in the key roles.  One of the amusing trademarks of the movies was blending traditional western motifs with modern 20th century elements (for instance, in films shot during World War II, well after the uber-patriotic Wayne departed the franchise, the three cowboys sometimes found themselves thwarting the devious schemes of Nazis).

“Pals of the Saddle” is not rated and runs 55 minutes. It’s being released by Olive Films.

- Dennis King