IMPEACH TRUMP.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Trail of Robin Hood (1950)

Jack Holt and Roy

The Trail of Robin Hood (1950) is about Christmas tree rustlers and how Roy Rogers saves the day with a dream-team of retired B-western heroes.

The movie is just over an hour long, and despite the constant fisticuffs and thundering hooves of chases on horseback that make these westerns chock-full of action but short on character development, its real charm is in its simplicity.  Christmas trees are a benign and cheerful image of the holiday that has little to do with religion and more with commerce -- at least in this movie.



Fortunately, there is no story line of feeling pressure over Having the Best Christmas Ever with the perfect tree, or perfect gifts, or following exacting annual rituals lest the spell be broken if we forgot to make a certain dessert.  To be sure, there are homes with perfect-looking trees, but for most of us, it is our less than perfect trees that have the warmest memories, not with the perfectly matched set of expensive ornaments, but the homemade ones, or the ones bought so long ago at a store that no longer exists, that are scratched, beat up, but beloved.

Probably Charlie Brown’s iconic pathetic tree is the most famous of all.

When I was a child, I used to snatch a small branch of a pine tree from nearby woods, no more than a foot long, to bring home to use as a tiny Christmas tree.  I stuck it in an old plastic candle holder with some clay, and decorated it with paper chains.  A construction paper star on top.  It was separate from the big tree in the living room (for most of my childhood years, an artificial tree), and rather like a personal-size pizza, it was all mine.  It was my piece of portable Christmas.  So simple, and so much pleasure derived from it.  The big tree in the living room was fun, too, but that was a more complicated project.  Parents and older siblings decided when it would be put up, where it would go, and would fuss over lights and ornaments, and imperfect branches, and they were always seemingly always dissatisfied.  The big tree needed constant adjusting by them.   

I’d cobbled together a crèche scene as well, with wood scraps, popsicle sticks and plastic farm animals that were my toys.  It wasn’t that great looking, but since the Holy Family wasn’t staying at the Holiday Inn, it was probably better than they were used to.

Lest this become a post about pathetically crappy homemade Christmas crafts (which I think would be hysterical if women’s magazines would feature just once, instead of everything needing to be perfect to create The Best Christmas Ever), let me meander back to the movie.  Its simplicity is its charm and its imperfections bring a smile.  Even, say, the title, which makes not a whole lot of sense.  Robin Hood?  There’s no Robin Hood aspect to the story.  It should have been called Christmas Tree Rustlers And How Roy Rogers Saves The Day With A Dream-Team of Retired B-Western Heroes.  But, as usual, nobody asked me.

Roy, Clifton Young and Penny Edwards

Roy Rogers, whom as we noted in this previous post got to a self-branding point in his career where the character he always played was named Roy Rogers, is a U.S. Soil Conservation Service agent.  I’m not sure how many soil conservation government workers dress like cowboys and wear six-shooters, but this is Roy’s movie.

His pal, Jack Holt, who, like Roy is self-branded to the point of playing former western movie star Jack Holt, is now retired and running a Christmas tree farm.  He intends to market his trees as cheaply as possible, selling them about 75 cents or 80 cents per tree, so that poor families can afford one and all the little children will be happy.  A noble sentiment, as is his line, “Kids like that made it possible for me to become a star.”

We shall pause here that you may blanch over the idea of paying only 75 cents for a Christmas tree.  I think the cheapest you can find now is something like $45.

We should take a moment to note that Trigger, “The Smartest Horse in the West” has second billing only to Roy.  Bullet, Roy’s dog, who attacks bad guys in this movie and chews up their arms and legs, is sadly not credited.  We can only fault a lousy agent perhaps, but as we know, character actors rarely made the big bucks. 

Two supporting players who are my favorites in this movie are Gordon Jones, who plays affable misfit Splinters, a handyman who is not so handy; and his kid sister, Sis, played by Carol Nugent.  She appeared in a bunch of movies and TV shows right up through the sixties.  Her poker-faced delivery is quite funny, as is the team of brother and sister playing off each other.  Though she’s just a little kid, she’s the brains, sometimes sounding like a nagging wife to keep him to task.

She demands, when trouble rears its head: “Are you going to investigate, or do I have to?”

“Sis!”

“Don’t be afraid, Splinters, I’m here.”  He's this big mountain of a guy and she's something like four feet tall and sixty pounds.

There’s trouble aplenty, to be sure, pardners.  Jack Holt’s business rival, played by Emery Parnell, wants to buy him out, or run him out of business, anything to corner the market on Christmas trees, which he intends to sell for a lot more than 75 cents.

But Mr. Parnell is unaware of the lengths his hired men are going to in their attempts to compete with Jack Holt, including poaching, left, arson, kidnapping, and…murder.

Clifton Young is the evil foreman, and the movie starts with fisticuffs between him and Roy.

Interesting thing about Roy Rogers, no matter how many fistfights, or running to leap onto his horse, he never seems out of breath.  And he has to do one or the other every five minutes.  He must be fit as heck, by golly.

And, like a lot of government soil conservation workers, he sings purty.  There are a few pleasant musical interludes in between bouts of arson, fighting and…murder.   The songs include “Home Town Jubilee” at a town picnic and turkey shoot—where Sis, due to her marksmanship wins a turkey, which becomes her pet.  She calls him Sir Galahad.  He has no billing in the credits, either. 

“Get a Christmas Tree for Johnny,” is a peppy ditty they all warble when the town turns out (including the Riders of the Purple Sage) to help tie bundles of Christmas trees together to load onto the wagons.  They use the saloon for this party, and a huge decorated tree is the centerpiece of the festivities. 

“Every Day is Christmas in the West,” is a slow, rather lulling ballad.  This is sung as an early Christmas dinner, with Jack Holt supposedly dying in the next room.  I’m not going to get into the particulars, except that he got smoke inhalation trying to save Sis, who was trying to save Galahad, when the bad guys set the saloon on fire.  Roy saved Jack, though.  Hoisted him in a fireman’s carry and never broke a sweat or got out of breath.

There is a sort of love interest for Roy, if you can call it that, when Penny Edwards comes to town.  She’s the daughter of the rival businessman Emery Parnell, and she’s using her business acumen and womanly wiles to get Jack Holt’s signature on a contract signing his land over to her pop.  She’s a pretty snooty conniver at first, but the whole arson thing turns her stomach and she reforms, gets out of her faux cowgirl duds into a gingham dress and cooks dinner for the first time.  She and Roy exchange only smiles, but we don’t want a full-blown romance because that would be mushy.

Famous retired movie cowboy heroes, Roy, Gordon Jones, 
and the little girl is the intrepid Carol Nugent.

The climax of the film is the brief, but warm-hearted thrill for western fans when a gang of former movie cowboys show up to help drive the trees to market in a convoy of wagons.  Rex Allen, Monte Hale, Crash Corrigan, Kermit Maynard, Allan “Rocky” Lane, Tom Keene, Tom Tyler, Bill Farnum, even former villain George Chesbro shows up, having been reformed by Jack Holt.  Sis, who is really the only sensible person in this movie, has called them to help.  She is the best administrative assistant you could ever have.

And she drives one of the wagons loaded with trees all by herself over a burning bridge.  She is the last one to make it across before it collapses in a burning heap over a deep gorge.  I hope she wasn’t working for scale.

The villains, by the way, meet suitably grisly ends.

Jack Holt, former square-jawed hero, shows an old movie of his on a screen at the Christmas tree tying party at the saloon.  You know how much we love to watch old movies at Christmas.  This is a silent feature, called Dead Man’s Gulch.  However, you may note it does not appear authentic, and that is because Mr. Holt never made a movie by that title. 

Just don't make them mad.

The movie is Republic’s Trucolor photography, which as you know is a two-color process, unlike Technicolor which was a three-color process.  It has a nice soft look to it, but ironically, in the Trucolor photography, reds and greens are not terribly vibrant.  When you’re making a Christmas movie, red and green are useful colors to have in your palette.  The Christmas trees in this movie—obviously an important prop in this movie about Christmas trees—look sort of brown. 

But to this former little kid who snapped a tiny branch off an evergreen to bring home, that really was green and sometimes dusted white with snow, Jack Holt’s trees and Roy’s singing are good enough and a pleasant way to bring Christmas into your living room.


My thanks to your friend and mine, Laura from Laura's Miscellaneous Musings for sharing this fun movie with me.  Have a look here at Laura's take on The Trail of Robin Hood.

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"Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood



Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.


The eBook and paperback are available from Amazon and CreateSpace, which is the printer.  You can also order it from my Etsy shop. It is also available at the Broadside Bookshop, 247 Main Street, Northampton, Massachusetts.

If you wish a signed copy, then email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com and I'll get back to you with the details.


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My new syndicated column SILVER SCREEN, GOLDEN YEARS, on classic film is up at Go60  or check with your local paper.






7 comments:

grandoldmovies said...

Christmas Tree rustling? Cornering the market on them?! Gosh darn it, what won't them thievin' varmints think of next! Thanks for such a fun post on what sounds like a different, and definitely fun Christmas movie!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

GOM, them dadburn villains really get in my craw. It's a good thing Roy always saves the day - with a little help from his friends.

Caftan Woman said...

You stirred up a lot of memories with this post. Memories of this movie, of TruColor and of Christmas ornaments.

What I need now (besides candy canes) is a Roy Rogers tree ornament!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

CW, I think a Roy Rogers tree ornament is a pretty neat idea. I'd love one. I hope you come to a successful end to your Great Candy Cane Caper. If not, let me know and I'll mail you some. I'd bring them myself, but it hasn't snowed yet here and I can't ride in my one-horse open sleigh without it.

Laura said...

What a delightful post, Jacqueline! I'm so glad I could share this with you. There's something about Roy Rogers plus that Trucolor look (albeit in the wrong shades!) and Christmas tree shenanigans which makes the film seem so innocent, and just right for this time of year. Time for me to get out my copy again!

Best wishes,
Laura

Caftan Woman said...

I found some tasty looking candy canes, but they are not the size needed to hang on the tree. "They're either too big or too small" (Do I sound like Bette Davis singing?)

Not one flake of snow has hit the ground, but it is December 12 and Gavin has started wearing his boots. Calendars, not the actual weather, are his greatest influence.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks, Laura. I really enjoyed the movie, and "Get a Christmas Tree for Johnny" is still running on a loop in my mind. Now to find some time to get to SADDLE TRAMP.

CW, I'm with Gavin. My beret comes out November 1st no matter the weather -- and my favorite mittens that your sister made for me.

I saw some giant candy canes in one store, something like a foot long. Egads. Does one use them as a decoration for the front door? I can't imagine even attempting to eat them.