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.
The Fighting Gringo (1939)
Aug. 8, 1939
George O’Brien, Lupita Tovar, William Royal, Lucio Villegas, Glenn Strange, LeRoy Mason, Mary Field
RKO Radio Pictures
When Don Aliso del Campo (Villegas) is wrongly accused of the murder of John Courtney (Mason), Wade Barton (O’Brien) and his men work to clear his name.
• By the numbers:
– George O’Brien was in six films released in 1939.
– Lupita Tovar was in three films released in 1939.
– Lucio Villegas was in five films released in 1939.
– LeRoy Mason was in nine films released in 1939.
– Mary Field was in 15 films released in 1939.
• Filmed at the Iverson Ranch in Los Angeles, Calif.
• First film of actor Ben Johnson, who played in an uncredited role.
My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
Watching how an acting career evolves can be fascinating.
For films of early cinema, George O’Brien stars in one of the best films of the silent era — F.W. Murnau’s SUNRISE (1927), where he plays a farmer seduced by a city woman. But then reconnects with a happy day spent in the city with his wife.
With a film career starting in 1922, O’Brien’s career evolved, and he turned fulltime cowboy by 1934 making mostly quickie westerns. This week’s 1939 film is no exception.
In this 59-minute RKO western, George O’Brien plays Wade Barton, a cowboy who comes across a stagecoach hold up, and assists. The stage coach is carrying Anita del Campo, played by Lupita Tovar, and Barton and his crew ride back to her home with her. They stay for a fiesta where a man is murdered and Anita’s father is falsely accused of the killing. While tracking down the truth, Wade plays both sides — cozying up to those he suspects by pretending he’s tracking down Anita’s father who escaped.
This type of quickie western is often spoofed in television shows and other movies as not being tired and perhaps not being very good. And to be sure, some are a bit watered down. But George O’Brien’s westerns have a different quality to them than even the Gene Autry variety. I think it has to do with O’Brien’s acting abilities. He brings a charm and humor to them that many of these brief westerns lack.
O’Brien made six films in 1939 — all being westerns.
I was also excited to see Lupita Tovar’s credits in this film, as I haven’t seen many of her films (with the exception of the Spanish-language version of the 1931 Dracula). Tovar is lovely in this, but unfortunately didn’t have enough screen time for my liking. Tovar, the mother of actress Susan Kohner, only just recently passed away in 2016 at age 106.
Admittedly, if I watched this back-to-back with another quickie RKO western, I’d probably find them pretty similar. However, THE FIGHTING GRINGO was a fairly pleasant way to pass an hour.
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