Directed by Thomas Carr
Produced by Vincent M. Fennelly
Written by Dan Ullman
Director Of Photography: Ernest Miller
Cast: Wild Bill Elliott (Marshal Sam Nelson), Virginia Grey (Stella Walker), Henry Morgan (Alf Billings), John Doucette (Ernie Walker), Lane Bradford (William Norris), Stanford Jolley (Everett)
Released in May 1954, The Forty-Niners (1954) was William Elliott’s last Western. He’d finish out his career with a cool series of detective films (which many of us around here like a lot), but cowboy-wise, this was the end of the trail. It’s the last picture in the Warner Archive set The Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection.
Elliott is Marshall Sam Nelson, tracking down the murderers of a marshall in gold-crazy California. He strikes up an alliance with Alf Billings (Harry Morgan), a card sharp who may know the names of the killers. They wind up in Cold Water, where they run afoul of Sheriff Lane Bradford and saloon owner John Doucette. Nelson develops a bit of respect for Billings, who he suspects isn’t all bad. I’m oversimplifying things to avoid spoilers.
Dan Ullman’s script offers up twists and turns that we don’t see coming, even though we’ve seen a million of these things. It gives Henry Morgan a good part (he’d already appeared with Elliott in Republic’s The Showdown in 1950), which of course he’s excellent in. Morgan might have more screen time than Elliott does. Virginia Grey plays Morgan’s old flame who’s now married to Doucette. And to top it all off, Elliott narrates the picture Dragnet-style.
By the time The Forty-Niners began shooting at the Iverson Ranch and Corriganville, Monogram was called Allied Artists and the industry standard for projection was 1.85. So, thanks to the folks at Warner Archive, we’re treated to a widescreen William Elliott picture. The previous entry in the series, Bitter Creek (1954), was also 1.85 — it’s not included in this set. These films were done very cheaply, and no transfer can ever make up for that. But it was shot by a real pro, Ernest Miller, and the widescreen framing gives it a fresh look.