Wanderer of the Wasteland (1945)

Genres - Western  |   Sub-Genres - Traditional Western  |   Release Date - Sep 28, 1945 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 67 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

The third filming of Zane Grey's Wanderer Of The Wasteland, this time by RKO, changes the plot considerably from the two earlier films. And it's a very problematic movie, a B-western whose makers clearly wanted it to be something better than that. The title refers to the hero, an orphaned youth found wandering the desert after the death of his mother and the murder of his father. He promises himself avenge his father, but grows up and eventually forsakes that vow, over the love of a woman. This story is presented against an unusually wide canvas for a programmer, and one gets the sense that this could have been a better movie if the makers had been allowed to deliver something longer than 67 minutes. The opening promises a great deal, offering not only the narrative of Adam Larey's plight, struggling across the desert, but also a surrogate family with an unusual history (Irish/Mexican) and a young boy (Tommy Cook) who understands that they're all American now. And Harry McKim as the young Adam Larey is very good -- his and Tommy Cook's scenes as the two adopted brothers would have been even better if they'd had more than eight minutes' screen-time to work with. But after the flash-forward 10 years, the pacing becomes too quick, and most of the opportunity for serious character development disappears, despite the best efforts of James Warren as the adult Adam. Even so, the story carries a lot of visceral energy, and the threadbare production (not helped by the surviving prints, which apparently are all badly worn) cannot mute these elements. He's engaging enough in his first starring vehicle, and gets excellent support all around, from a cast that includes Richard Martin, Minerva Urecal (as his adopted mother), Harry D. Brown, and Audrey Long. (One must inevitably also wonder, however, why it took two credited directors to shoot a 67-minute action drama of the kind that most studios, including RKO, usually delivered without skipping a beat). Warren is fine as the hero, but one sort of wishes that Tim Holt, who returned to RKO not too long after this picture was made, could have starred in this movie, as it would have put him in the role that his father, Jack Holt, had played in the 1924 silent version of the same story.