The Back Row’s Weekly Serial Review: Adventures of Red Ryder

Quick Facts
Released in 1940
Directed by William Witney and John English
Written by Franklyn Adreon, Ronald Davidson, Norman S. Hall, Barney Sarecky and Sol Shore
Starring Don “Red” Barry, Tommy Cook, Noah Beery, and Maud Pierce Allen

Basic Story Line
A group of crooked business men are trying to force ranchers off their land in order to sell it to the railway line. Red Ryder sets out to bring them to justice after they murder his father.

Adventures of Red Ryder has all the standard elements of a typical 1940s western and they’re done well.

Red Ryder started as a comic strip created by Fred Harman and Stephen Slesinger in 1938. After syndication of the comic, Red Ryder could be found on Radio, television, merchandise (including the Red Ryder BB gun), novels, comic books, and 27 movies between 1944 and 1949.

When compared to other Westerns of the period there is not a whole lot that is new in Adventures of Red Ryder. In fact Red Ryder seems like a series of clichés strung together. The railway is going through town. A gang of bad guys are harassing local cattle ranchers. One of the rustlers has an eye patch and is named, One Eye. Red’s father opposes the bad guys and is shot, putting Red Ryder on a quest for justice. There is also a runaway stage coach that goes over a cliff, the risk of losing the family ranch, bar fights, Red’s companion gets shot, and there is a quick draw shootout with One Eye near the end. However, despite being derivative, Adventures of Red Ryder, is a well done serial.

It has the same directing team and many of the same writers as Zorro Rides Again and Zorro’s Fighting Legion. The fight choreography, although not quite at the level that would be found in Zorro’s Black Whip, is still an impressive bit of furniture smashing, room wrecking, acrobatics. The stuntmen and camera operators have obviously worked on many westerns before as they perform and film horse riding stunts, seemingly with ease. One stunt has Red Ryder, with one foot in the stirrup, swings around and shoots at his pursuers, at full gallop. I have mentioned in many of my revues that a good serial needs a good villain and Red Ryder has three villains you love to hate. One Eye, guns down a man in front of his seven year old son and is about to shoot the boy before he is chased off. Above him are two smarmy businessmen trying to bleed the community dry for their own profits. Red Ryder, himself, is not above stepping into the darkness. In one scene, he torments a murderer he’s captured, by slipping a noose around the neck of a small wooden doll, and dangling it in front of his prisoner.

Little Beaver, Red’s young, Native, sidekick, is sometimes viewed as a stereotype and may even be viewed as offensive to some. His clothing, broken English, and subservient loyalty towards Red Ryder, makes him the perfect example of the “good little Indian boy” cliché. Despite this, I find him one of the more interesting characters in the serial. He is clever, skilled, and has a strong sense of honour.

Adventures of Red Ryder may be formulaic, but it works. It is the well worn storylines of the western genre that give the script its’ forward momentum and avoids many of the plot holes that plague other serials. Red Ryder is an entertaining bit of 1940s serial film making, western style.

Things to watch for
-Tractor Tire marks in the mud
-Red and his horse jump over the same canyon twice
-One “You Cheating Bastard!” cliff hanger where a chapter ends with Red Ryder on the ground and dynamite blowing up over him. The next one starts with him in the corner when the dynamite explodes.

The Back Row Weekly Serial Drinking Game
While watching a serial, anytime you or a friend point out a plot hole or inconsistency, take a drink. (Note: Little Beaver being at the right place at the right time to overhear a key piece of information may be a plot convenience but it is not a plot hole. After this happens about three or four times you can start taking drinks.)
Odds of getting sloshed: Low

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