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John Wayne’s Adversaries and Their Contemporary Counterparts

Dark_command Today on AMC, three Westerns showcase John Wayne dispatching enemies with his usual aplomb. Period pieces all, of course, but they provide valuable lessons for ridding the world of malfeasance.

In the incongruously titled Santa Fe Stampede (which was filmed in California and involves no stampedes—no cattle at all, in fact), Wayne plays Stony Brooke, one of the Three Mesquiteers in the long-running Republic Pictures series. He’s up against Mayor Gil Byron (LeRoy Mason), a corrupt small town politician bent on appropriating Dave Carson’s (William Farnum) gold mine with the help of a shady judge. These days, the Stock Raising Homestead Act of 1916 is adversely affecting some landowners. Way back when, the federal government handed out acreage while reserving the mineral rights beneath and subsequently leased those rights to energy companies. A case involving a Montana rancher was just decided in favor of a natural gas company that wants to drill on his property. Wayne’s weapons, six guns and fists, might not be much help nowadays.

Dark Command finds John Wayne playing Bob Seton, whose rival for the job of town marshal—and for the heart of Mary McCloud (Claire Trevor)—is the smooth-talking schoolteacher William Cantrell (Walter Pidgeon). Although Wayne’s character is illiterate, he still manages to impress the citizens of Lawrence, Kansas with his plain-spoken honesty. When Cantrell ends up with neither the gig nor the girl, he begins a secret life as an outlaw, wreaking havoc on the settlers as the Civil War begins. It falls to Seton to defend himself and his constituents against a guerilla in their midst.

According to its trailer, The Comancheros is "a big story of a big land," and a timely one at that. As Texas Ranger Jake Cutter, John Wayne hunts down and then teams up with gambler Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman), intent on bringing to justice the ruthless gang of the film’s title. The term Comanchero refers to traders of Hispanic origin who did business with native peoples, primarily the Comanche. Many of them were law-abiding. But not all. "The industry of our society is crime," says one onscreen renegade. "It pays. And we prosper." Some things never change.

Santa Fe Stampede plays this morning January 12 at  5:30 a.m. | 4:30C; The Dark Command at 8:30 a.m. | 7:30C; and The Comancheros at 12:30 p.m. | 11:30C.

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