In Overland Stage Raiders, the “Three Mesquiteers” fight bad guys in the modern-day west. The “stages” being raided are buses bearing gold shipments to the east. Airborne hijackers steal the gold, but the Mesquiteers defeat the crooks and then parachute to safety. The film stars John Wayne, on the brink of stardom. Louise Brooks plays his love interest.
For Brooks, Overland Stage Raiders was little more than a $300.00 paycheck. For columnists and critics, Brooks’ supporting role in this lowly B-western was yet another attempt at a comeback for a once famous star. Louella Parsons wrote “Louise Brooks, who used to get glamour girl publicity about her famous legs, is starting all over again as a leading lady in a Western with John Wayne.”
In the Fox West Coast Bulletin, the East Coast Preview Committee noted “The production is well acted and directed and presents several novel touches, as well as excellent photography.” Film Daily thought the “Fast-moving cowboy and bandit story will entertain the western fans. . . . George Sherman directed the picture, and gets a maximum of action and speed from the story.”
Variety went further, “This series improves with each new adventure. Starting out as typical cow country stories, Republic has seemingly upped the budget as successive chapters caught on. Raiders is as modern as today, yet contains plenty of cross-country hoss chases and six-shooter activity. . . . Louise Brooks is the femme appeal with nothing much to do except look glamorous in a shoulder-length straight-banged coiffure. . . . Should please juveniles and elders alike.”
Despite Brooks’ new hairstyle, and despite her appearance in this lesser film, there is little to redeem it. Brooks adored Wayne, but could not stand the humiliation of this sort of film. Overland Stage Raiders would be Louise Brooks’ last movie. She soon left Hollywood, and slid into decades-long obscurity.
As the years passed, John Wayne became of superstar, and in the 1950s his early films were re-released both in the United States and in Europe. And once gain, Overland Stage Raiders was shown in movie theaters, and even in the 1960s and 1970s, on television. The posters and lobby cards for the reissue emphasized Wayne’s name, while Brooks’ was deleted.
“Because the Oro Grande Mining Company, which ships gold on buses, is being crippled by robberies, Stony Brooke parachutes from a small plane onto the bus route and saves it from being robbed, aided by his fellow Mesquiteers, Tucson Smith and Lullaby Joslin. After the Mesquiteers get a badly needed $1,000 reward for their work, Stony convinces mining company president Frank Harmon to hire pilot Ned Hoyt to transport his gold, and puts up the reward for half-interest in the venture. Stony suggests to Ned that he buy a bigger plane to ship passengers as well as cargo, but Ned is reluctant as he once lost his pilot’s license for a year and changed his name to keep his identity a secret. Stony then suggests to the townspeople, who are “cattle poor,” that they buy into the new airline, using their cattle as collateral. Soon they hire a second pilot, Bob Whitney, who knows that Ned and his sister Beth’s real family name is Vincent, but keeps their secret out of friendship. Radio operator Joe Waddell, a former flyer who lost his nerve six years previously, wants to co-pilot with Ned, and is jealous when Ned instead chooses Bob. Mullins, who heads the bus company, then approaches Joe with an idea, and shortly thereafter a cattle train is held-up. One of the cattlemen, though wounded, rides to the airfield and tells the Mesquiteers, who ride to the train in time to save the cattle. Soon the “air express” opens to great success. One day, on the bus, Mullins overhears two men talking about Ned after seeing his name in the paper. A short time later, the same two men hold up the passengers on the plane and kill Bob. Though Joe receives the distress message, he does nothing, but when Stony and Beth see parachutes mysteriously floating in the sky, they rush to the airport. Because Ned has emptied the fuel tank, the two killers need him to land, but the plane does not come back to the airport and soon everyone in the territory knows that a $100,000 gold shipment is missing. When word breaks that Ned had once been in prison, he becomes the prime suspect in the robbery. After the two killers secretly radio Joe, Joe informs Mullins, but Mullins refuses to let Joe go to them. Meanwhile, Stony, who thinks that the robbery is an inside job, questions the passengers, who were forced to parachute from the plane, and learns that just after the robbery, Ned had called Joe on the radio. The Mesquiteers then tie Joe up and trick the killers when Lullaby disguises his voice like Joe’s on the radio and asks their location. Then, while the Mesquiteers ride to the plane, Beth finds Joe, who tells her he has been robbed. While she tries to call the sheriff, Joe cuts the telephone lines, then goes to warn Mullins. At the plane site, the Mesquiteers overpower the killers and attempt to leave, but are soon met by Mullins and his gang. Stony makes a break for their horses, and the Mesquiteers take the gold, but Ned is wounded. Soon, with the aid of smoke bombs, the Mesquiteers defeat Mullins and his gang just as the sheriff, who found Beth at the airport, comes to arrest them. Finally, with the mystery of the robberies solved, a recovered Ned flies off to merge with another airline.”
Production of the film took in Southern California beginning August 4, 1938 with location shooting done at the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth, California.
Under its American title, Overland Stage Raiders, documented screenings of the film took place the late 1930s in Canada, England, Isle of Man, Netherlands Antilles, and Sweden; contemporary showings of the film, either in theaters or on television, have also taken place in Australia, England, Ireland, and The Netherlands. On a few occasions, the film was promoted in the United States under the title The Three Mesquiteers. Elsewhere, this motion picture was known to have been shown under other-language titles including Pozemní stádioví lupici (Czechoslovakia); Storbyens sjakaler (Denmark); Gold in den Wolken (Germany); Cavalca e spara (Italy); Ringo cavalca e spara (Italy – later retitle); Gold in den Wolken (Poland); Грабители дилижансов (U.S.S.R.); Cavalca e spara (Vatican City); Ringo cavalca e spara (Vatican City – later retitle);and Cabalga y dispara (Venezuela).
The film is extant. In the past, the film has circulated on VHS and DVD. In 2012, Olive Films released it on DVD and Blu-ray. (Of note: the UCLA Film and Television Archive holds two 6 reel (ca. 6000 ft.) 35 mm. nitrate negatives.)
RELATED ARTICLES & REVIEWS:
— “Plane and Simple” by Jeffrey M. Anderson (Combustible Celluloid, 2012)