Feet First

“It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.” - Sir William Osler

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    Sunday, November 24, 2002
    Another day, another movie.

    I was at the gym again, watching TCM (Turner Classic Movies cable channel). At 5 am it's either that, the news, or the Andy Griffith show. As an aside, did you know that Don Knotts won five Emmys during the run of that show? Five? It's true. I mean, one Emmy I can see, but five?

    Anyway. This movie was called "The Bad Man." It involved a young, heroic Ronald Reagan and his uncle (Lionel Barrymore) on a ranch. They owe ten thousand dollars on their mortgage and are about to lose the ranch. A beautiful married woman and her dastardly husband come to the ranch - a dude ranch? who knows why they're there - and Ronnie and the young woman fall in love. A Mexican bandito, the "bad man" of the title, shows up to rob everyone but then decides to make things nice for Ronnie; apparently they're pals from way back when. I didn't get that part clear.

    Some local hick girl is in love with Our Hero, but the bandito palms her off on the ranch foreman. This other girl is the daughter of the local banker who holds the mortgage on the ranch. (Confused yet?) The bandito extracts $10,000 from the banker at gunpoint (I guess bankers just carry around $10K in spare change), gives it to Uncle Henry (Lionel Barrymore) and then orders him to give it to the banker in exchange for the mortgage. (Bandito to banker: "You got paid, didn't you?")

    So the bandito and his gang take off with the dastardly husband, who is to be killed so that Ronnie can marry the girl; but the husband escapes, sneaks back to the ranch, struggles with Ronnie while trying to kill him, and is finally shot dead by the bandito who just happens to show up at the right time. I could almost hear the plot points screaming in agony by this time.

    I forgot to mention that Uncle Henry can't walk and spends the entire movie in a wheelchair. The film ends with the bandito taking Uncle Henry for a thrill ride by tying his wheelchair to his horse and going for a gallop. (I swear this is true.)

    Lesson to be learned? The next time you put down the current crop of movies and say, "Oh, they made them so much better in the old days" - THEY DIDN'T.

    Be that as it may, I still had fun watching "The Bad Man" [1941] (UK title: "Two-Gun Cupid" (ugh)). The cast was memorable. As mentioned above it starred Ronald Reagan, who I always find fascinating to watch in films, just knowing what lay ahead of him in his career. Lionel Barrymore - what the hell was he doing in this thing? Probably paying the rent. The dastardly husband was played by Tom Conway, best known for starring in a series of B mysteries in which he played a character called "The Falcon" (a low-rent version of Leslie Charteris' character Simon Templar, "The Saint"). I'd recommend any of the "Falcon" films if you happen to run across one on late-night TV. The ranch foreman who got the hick girl was played by Chill Wills; the bandito was Wallace Beery, clearly playing a watered-down version of his famous Pancho Villa role in "Viva Villa!" (1934). The neglected wife who falls in love with Ronald Reagan was played by Laraine Day, who later turned up in the Dr. Kildare film series as the nurse love interest for Dr. Kildare.

    As I said, analyzing the cast was more interesting than the movie. I could do this stuff all day.



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