Tuesday, October 09, 2018


Whip Wilson was one of the last, if not the last, newly developed star of his own B-Western series (Wayne Morris is said to have had the last series of B-Westerns, but he was already a star, not one groomed from scratch). He appeared in a Jimmy Wakely western in late 1948 and was soon spun off into his own starring series of WHIP WILSON westerns at Monogram, running for four years, from 1949-1952, which lasted for 22 films. He also had his own comic book during this period (I should try to find a copy and then review it here!).

With “Whip” in his stage name (his real name was Roland Meyers), it’s clear that Monogram was hoping to cash in on the popularity of Lash La Rue, then at the height of his fame in 1948/49. However, Lash with his black outfits and Bogart-style line delivery was a far cry from Whip Wilson, who harkened back to more straightforward western heroes such as Roy Rogers or Buck Jones (Whip has a Rogers-like personality and looks somewhat like Jones). One problem with many of Lash LaRue’s films is that despite Lash being in them and being supported by the great comedian Al “Fuzzy” St. John and by top quality Western supporting actors, the films often had a slapdash quality (and NOT in an endearing way!), especially the later ones which were cobbled together from earlier LaRue footage. On the other hand, while Monogram was certainly a low-budget studio, they had a crack western unit which could do a lot with a little, and the films tended to move well, offer lots of action, and have fine supporting casts. At the same time as the Wilson series, Johnny Mack Brown had a long-running series at Monogram, and those films are considered the model of late-period B-westerns, helped a lot by Brown’s personality and presence (this was a man who co-starred in the silent era with Greta Garbo twice!). A lot of the quality of the Brown series rubbed off onto the Whip Wilson series.

While it must be admitted that Wilson has a bit of the “aw shucks” quality of a Reb Russell or a Jack Hoxie (Wilson is not often mentioned among the greats of the B-western, unfortunately), it lends an authenticity to his persona, and since he is inserted into well-constructed features made by the same Monogram machine which made the Johnny Mack Brown films, for me the Whip Wilson films are very entertaining, and you can see why he lasted for 22 features.

When I say “series,” I am referring to the fact that these films were sold to exhibitors in packages of four or six or eight which would then be delivered over the next year. They might have titles associated with them to help close the sale, but often the films would not have been made yet----in a sense, they were made to order. This film is called ARIZONA TERRITORY, but honestly, that title could be applied to ten other films just as well. There’s an Indian reservation nearby where the film is set, and St. Louis is referred to as being “back East,” but beyond that, this could be called NEW MEXICO TERRITORY or >b?OKLAHOMA TERRITORY
One thing low-budget Western filmmakers understood is that beyond having a charismatic cowboy star, you needed a quality sidekick, usually a comic side-kick. Even the most threadbare PRC western with LaRue or with a Bob Steele or a Buster Crabbe would be made entertaining by the antics of Al “Fuzzy” St. John----I remember reading somewhere once that Al’s solo bits in the films were in some films not even scripted, other than the general situation....Al St. John, nephew of Roscoe Arbuckle and a first-rate silent comedy star himself, would just be let loose to do his thing, and all you needed to do was give him a piece of rope or a barrel or a gun that needed cleaning, and you’d get 3-5 minutes of side-splitting slapstick improvisation. Do that 3 or 4 times in the film, and you’ve got a quarter of its running time already filled....and filled in a manner that audiences would love.

At Monogram in this period, the great Scottish comedian ANDY CLYDE (see pic) was used in support of both Johnny Mack Brown and Whip Wilson. Clyde goes back to the silent days and worked with Mack Sennett beginning in 1921 (!!!!)----he continued on with Sennett in the early sound days, including a number of Sennett-produced shorts distributed by BTC faves EDUCATIONAL PICTURES. (EDITURD'S NOTE: after leaving Sennett he even got his own series at Educational Pictures "proper"!) He then got his own sound comedy series at Columbia, which ran from 1934-1955....only the Three Stooges lasted longer, but their line-up changed over the years. Clyde was still working regularly on TV in the mid-sixties on shows such as THE REAL McCOYS and LASSIE, and he passed away in 1967, leaving us a huge legacy, which deserves more attention than it is getting. Little if any of Andy Clyde’s Columbia work (or earlier shorts, for that matter) has ever been released legitimately in any video format, although there is a recent book out about his shorts. Over the years, Chris and I have had to rely on grey-market “collector” sources for VHS copies of his Educational and Columbia shorts, but those became much harder to find in the DVD era, probably because the dupey 16 mm sources, often a copy of a copy, were considered unworthy of DVD-quality replication. Fortunately, the Brown and Wilson Monogram westerns with Clyde have always been available from outfits specializing in B-westerns, and now many of the films are available in pristine quality from the Warner Archive.

My copy of ARIZONA TERRITORY is from a grey-market source which offered all 22 of Wilson’s Monogram westerns (he never worked for another studio as a star) on six discs, and they look to be taken from 16mm TV prints, but they are good enough to enjoy on my 27-inch TV screen. ARIZONA was Wilson’s 8th starring role (of 22 total) at Monogram, and it’s a good example of a solid B-western action-adventure that would have had the small-town bread-and-butter audiences sitting on the edge of their chairs and feeling as though they’d gotten their money’s worth. I know that I would have wanted to buy a Whip Wilson comic book when I would get my next allowance or lawn-mowing money after seeing this film.

As often happens in these kind of films, Whip wanders into a new area and observes a young lady in a wagon being shot at....the shooter escapes as Whip offers help to the lady, who is clipped in her arm and luckily not seriously hurt. It turns out she’s got a sleazy uncle who is an ex-con who is doing some counterfeiting on the side, and his equally sleazy partner is always putting the moves on her and asking her to marry him. She owns a small business that sells supplies to the locals on the reservation and also distributes pottery made by that local tribe up in the Midwest. The pottery was not very popular until a new “formula” supposedly made it better quality and it started getting snapped up in Missouri, Kansas, etc. The young lady doesn’t really know what the “formula” is----she was kept in the dark----it actually is counterfeit money which is being stuffed into the bottoms of the pottery and then distributed in the Midwest. The sleazy uncle and his business partner are the ones behind this, although the lady is technically the business owner but innocent of it all. It’s just convenient for them that she is shipping this pottery out of state.

Whip smells something fishy as he gets to know the lady better and observes the shady characters involved with the business. Andy Clyde, whose character is an old pal of Whip’s, plays a federal marshal who is posing as a broke cowhand and gets a job as stage driver for the business. Together, they smash the crooks, break the counterfeiting racket, and salvage the lady’s business...and ride away into the sunset, though Whip promises her he’ll be back.

Running a crisp 56 minutes, ARIZONA TERRITORY’s tagline states, “ FRONTIER FURY! Bullet-Studded Story Of Badmen And The Badlands”, and it certainly delivers on that ballyhoo. If you are a person who appreciates post WWII B-westerns, I would highly recommend the late 40’s/early 50’s Monogram westerns of Johnny Mack Brown and/or Whip Wilson. Not all are great, but the batting average is high, and when you consider that Monogram was also making multiple Bowery Boys films every year (and continued making Charlie Chan films until 1949), you can see why we here at BTC adore the mighty Monogram Pictures!

1 comment:

JD King said...

B-but cowboys are white supremacy, though.