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  Big Calibre Steele YourselvesBuy this film here.
Year: 1935
Director: Robert N. Bradbury
Stars: Bob Steele, Peggy Campbell, Forrest Taylor, John Elliott, Georgia O'Dell, William Quinn, Earl Dwire, Frank Ball, Si Jenks
Genre: Western
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Bob Neal (Bob Steele) has arrived at his father's house with a wad of banknotes for him from a recent sale, but warns him that he really should get the cash into the bank first thing in the morning lest something unfortunate happen, after all Neal thought he was being followed on the trail, sure he could hear hoofbeats of another horse to his own. His father scoffs at this anxiety and insists he is being overcautious, but the son is not so sure, so when he leaves for the evening he remains perturbed, though not half as perturbed as his father ends up when he is alone in his office and the window opens. Who could this be who has thrown a capsule at the desk, which bursts open and releases deadly gas, allowing the assailant to steal away with the money?

Well, that's the mystery in a Poverty Row Western that starred Bob Steele in his accustomed role as the heroic cowboy in countless B-movies of this decade. He would go on to perhaps more lasting fame as the nasty Curley from the first film of Of Mice and Men, and in his later years as one of the stars of F Troop, a comedy Western television series of the nineteen-sixties that still commands a cult following to this day, but if you can't get enough of those tiny budget oaters where goodies and baddies played out little morality tales in the Wild West, then you'll know who he was. And since there were about a million of these things churned out by Hollywood from the silent era up to the fifties, it’s unlikely you would ever run out of them to watch, and able to tell your Roy Rogers from your Gene Autry.

Or your John Wayne, for he had been given an early career boost by the team behind Big Calibre, the father and son filmmaking team of director Robert N. Bradbury and his star Steele. Audiences of the day couldn't get enough of these things either, they were unpretentious, easy to follow and crowdpleasing, though watching them now, especially the cheaper ones, requires an adjustment from what you're accustomed to from modern cinema, or even the direct to video equivalents of those Westerns (low rent action and horror, basically) from today. If it wasn't for the sequences shot in the great outdoors, then this would resemble a piece of filmed theatre, with obvious soundstages and sets, declamatory acting, and an all-round ramshackle tone; they may have been crafted by seasoned professionals, if only for the sheer numbers they made, but slick they were not.

In this case, Big Calibre has been awarded a shade more interest than many of its well-nigh identical ilk for the perceived oddness of its plot. Some have even compared it to the horrors of its time, though that's a real stretch as other than a grotesque villain, who is only grotesque because of his bizarre disguise, this was business as usual, track down the evildoer, get the girl (stage actress Peggy Campbell in this case) business of such a huge amount of its kind, something that would be translated to the production line of television come the latter half of the forties. Still, the use of deadly gas bombs, and the scene where Neal confronts the mad chemist early on at his laboratory as the guilty party escapes through a trapdoor, were unusual enough, it was just that after that it settled into the plot that you would be very familiar with even if you had not watched any of these before, such was the ability of its clichés to seep into the fabric of popular culture. All this and time for a hoedown by way of padding out the running time to an hour (Steele wasn't a singing cowboy in this one, though), with the grand finale demonstrating some recklessly breakneck stunts (not literally, one hoped).
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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