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With her scientist father (John Van Pelt) lost in the desert in search of an ancient Indian tribe, Mary
Russell decides do organize a rescue party. The 3 Mesquiteers (Bob
Livingston, Ray Crash Corrigan, Max Terhune) meanwhile have found a
member of the original expedition (C.Montague Shaw), who seems to be
tortured almost to death by said lost tribe. After he is murdered, the
Mesquiteers decide to join the rescue party, mainly because they are
convinced the killer is one of them. It turns out they are right of
course, when after a series of Indian ambushes - during which Mary
Russell is abducted, George Godfrey tortured & branded & their
supplies wagon burned - their Indian scout Yakima Canutt & Roger
Williams turn out to be members of the tribe. The rescue party, or what
remained of it, however succeeds in finding refuge in the Whistling
Skull-rock formation (actually a hollow rock in shape of a skull,
rather nicely done via matte-effects) where they even - among
mummies & skeletons - find Van Pelt - neither mummy nor skeleton but alive
(but so is one of the mummies, actually). Of course, at the climax, the
Mesquiteers can overcome the Indians (with the help of the Sheriff who
had them pursued by his posse), stop a human sacrifice & produce a landslide big enough to
destroy the Indians (an ending, at best questionably for today's
standards but perfectly happy back then) ...
This 3 Mesquiteers-feature was easily one of the
wildest indeed. Not content with ripping just another Western yarn,
this one also delves deep into science fiction & horror territory,
both in terms of plot and atmosphere, as it uses the lost tribe-motive
to great effect - this was not the first Western to do so, though,
according to all my sources this honour goes to Hidden Valley
(1932, starring Bob Steele), while the wildest variation on the theme
was no doubt Phantom Empire (1935, with Gene Autry in the lead),
but Riders ... still manages to stand on its own pretty well ! Later,
for some reason only few movies would re-use the theme, among them the
abysmal Yellow Hair and the Fortress of Gold (1984), which openly
pays hommage to these old b-pictures & serials.
Fourth in Republic's long running series (51 features from 1936 to
1943) about William Colt MacDonald's 3 Mesquiteers, easily the most successful of the late 30's/early 40's
cowboy trios (others were the Trailblazers, the Rough Riders, the
Range Busters, the Frontier Marshals, to name just a few). Livingston
& Corrigan would play their respective roles of Stony Brook &
Tucson Smith which they did since the beginning, while for Terhune it was just the third
time as Lullaby Joslin (Syd Saylor played the role in the first movie
The Three Mesquiteers). Livingston would leave the team after 15
films, being replaced by Ralph Byrd (for one film only, The Trigger
Trio, because Livingston was injured), then by John Wayne (in his
days immediately before Stagecoach, for 8 pictures), before
Livingston came back to do 14 more. Corrigan actually stayed on board
for 24 consecutive pictures (among other reasons, he left because
Livingston would come back, & they hated each others guts), Terhune for
21. Terhune & Corrigan, who became close friends while doing the
Mesquiteers, later rejoined forces at Monogram to do another cowboy-trio
series - the Range Busters !
Yakima Canutt, by the way, who plays the Indian scout here with his
unmistakingly snarling voice, was the great stuntman of his time
(& in some respects remains unsurpassed to this day), gracing many
of Republic's B-pics & serials with his work, sometimes singlehandedly
elevating them above the usual B-fare. Apart from that, he was also John
Wayne's personal stuntman & lifelong friend.
In 1949 the story was
remade as The Feathered Serpent at Monogram, not a Western at
all, but a Charlie Chan-picture (!).