This DVD set indeed qualifies as a "round-up," gathering a quartet of otherwise unrelated Westerns on two discs. Despite its seeming randomness, this set has a fine pedigree (three excellent directors are represented) and offers good value for fans of the oater.
The Texas Rangers is a 1936 Paramount picture (the other titles are Universal) from director King Vidor, working from a story of his own concoction. Two shady characters, Fred MacMurray and Jack Oakie, join the Rangers as subterfuge, but slowly find themselves cottoning to the idea of nobility. Although it’s a minor effort in the director’s career, Vidor shows his feeling for the American land (he’d just come off the salt-of-the-earth classic Our Daily Bread) and the redemptive plot is hard to resist. Lloyd Nolan, in one of his early roles, makes a very offbeat bad guy–eventually named "The Polkadot Bandit"!
The gem of the collection is Canyon Passage, a relaxed 1946 Northwestern directed by Jacques Tourneur. Dana Andrews plays an Oregon frontier entrepreneur who keeps getting dragged into romantic triangles, Indian reprisals, and bailing out his irresponsible best friend (Brian Donlevy). He’s a little like Rick in Casablanca, allegedly out for himself but thawed by the needs of his friends. Tourneur’s use of color and forest-y locations is beautiful to behold, and the movie has a wry Greek chorus in the form of Hoagy Carmichael’s mandolin-strumming shopkeeper (he sings "Ole Buttermilk Sky," among others). Susan Hayward and Patricia Roc provide the lingering looks toward Andrews, and Ward Bond makes a particularly brutal bad guy.
Kansas Raiders (1950) weds two popular Western subjects: the James gang and Quantrill’s Raiders. The film’s story tracks the arrival and disillusionment of Jesse and Frank James (and the Younger brothers) into the service of Rebel agitator William Quantrill (Brian Donlevy). The movie pretty thoroughly romanticizes Jesse James and co. (a narrator has to remind us at the end that these future bank robbers were "warped" individuals), but it’s an enjoyable enough Western outing. Audie Murphy, the Texas war hero, brings his sullen charisma to the role of Jesse, and the gang includes Tony Curtis and Richard Long.
Even more historical whitewash is applied to the legend of John Wesley Hardin in The Lawless Breed (1953), starring Rock Hudson as the notorious killer. The film bends over backwards to prove that Hardin killed in self-defense, which might be why it feels so flavorless (the usually robust director Raoul Walsh is defeated here by the blah conception of the character and Hudson’s stolid performance). Quintessential Universal babe Julia Adams is Hardin’s showgirl ladyfriend.