Watching 1939: Bad Lands (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  Bad Lands (1939)

Release date:  Aug. 8, 1939

Cast:  Robert Barrat, Noah Beery Jr., Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams, Andy Clyde, Paul Hurst, Robert Coote, Francis Ford, Addison Richards, Douglas Walton, Francis McDonald

Studio: RKO Radio Picture

Director:  Lew Landers

Set in Arizona in 1875, a sheriff and his posse are traveling through the desert trying to find a killer. The group is short on water and Apaches are a threat to the group.

1939 Notes:
• Guinn Williams was dubbed as Guinn Williams rather than Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams.
• Robert Barrat acted in nine films released in 1939.
• Addison Richards acted in 22 films released in 1939
• “Bad Lands” was Andy Clyde’s only feature-length film released in 1939. Six other credits were shorts.

Other trivia: 
• A version of Philip MacDonald’s story “Patrol.” Versions include “The Lost Patrol (1929), “The Lost Patrol” (1934) and “Bataan” (1943).

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
At first glance, “Bad Lands” (1939) is a run of the mill low-budget western. But taking a deeper look, it’s a gritty and grim story with some history behind it.

The plot of “Bad Lands” (1939) isn’t a new one, but the location is. The story was first told in the novel “Patrol” by Philip MacDonald, where British soldiers get lost in the Mesopotamian desert during World War I and die one by one. This story was told twice on-screen: “Lost Patrol” (1929) and “The Lost Patrol” (1934), and then the location and setting changed.

In 1939, Mesopotamia was changed to the Arizona desert and the time to 1875 while a sheriff and his posse are looking for a killer, and Apache Native Americans are a threat to the group.

This story was later adapted to a World War II story. “Bataan” (1943) set the group of men in 1942 in the Philippines with the Japanese advancing on the unit.

“Bad Lands” (1939) is a grim and gritty story. Knowing the outcome of “The Lost Patrol” (1934), I was sad knowing the fate of each character.

My only complaint with the film is that there were so many characters to keep up with — 10 to be exact — that I got a little bit confused about who was who and had to refer to the cast list.

One interesting note: I have been keeping track of how many films actors and character actors were in during the year 1939. So far Addison Richards, who is in this film, wins with 23 credits released in 1939.

While “Bad Lands” (1939) isn’t the most important film of 1939, it’s an interesting retelling of a grim story.

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