Monday, March 20, 2017

BOB STEELE "SOUTH OF SANTA FE" (1932)



The last eight Bob Steele pictures had been distributed by Tiffany. Unfortunately, the quick money drummed up by the Steeles was pocket change compared to losses accumulated by that company over the years. Watching its hopes for a future sail away on a sea of red ink, Tiffany shut up shop once and for all early in ’32. But Trem Carr, resourceful independent producer of the Steele westerns, had all his ducks in a row at exactly the right time. In the latter half of  ’31 he was ready to launch his own little distribution outfit, ambitiously named Sono Art-World Wide Pictures. Several Tiffany-related projects, in various stages of production, relocated to Carr’s company. The Steele westerns, reliably proven money-makers, definitely ranked among the new company’s prime assets. Speed-bump negotiated, filming began on Bob’s first non-Tiffany talkie. The result – “South of Santa Fe” - was already on movie screens by January, 1932.
I’d like to be able to say the new round of Steele westerns started on a high note. Sadly, that’s not the case. It’s hard to say just why “South of Santa Fe” went wrong.  Were they in a bigger rush than usual to get the thing wrapped?  Nobody even bothered to remove “a Tiffany production”  from the opening credits,  though Tiffany was no longer part of the equation.  Somehow, the whole affair has a slapdash feel to it. Even Bob seems less committed than usual.  Though it’s hard to imagine any actor committing to this particular script. No one expects Eugene O’Neill.  But  the plot’s poorly set up and unnecessarily confusing.  And the dialogue’s dreary – never any spark or wit in the perfunctory exchanges between characters.  Maybe everybody involved was just burnt out at the time. Perhaps cinematographer Bert Glennon, in a rare stint as director, was simply in over his head. Although he continued on successfully as a D.P., he never directed another film after “South of Santa Fe”. I don’t want to exaggerate the badness of SOSF. I’ve certainly seen worse. But considering the high standards set by the Steeles so far, the drop in caliber here is depressing. Of the first eight Bob Steele talkies, seven were good, several of those better than good. Only “The Sunrise Trail” showed a slight dip in quality (from which the series quickly rebounded).