Monday, March 16, 2015

The Terror of Tiny Town - Cinema's First All Midget Western

By Steve D. Stones

Not since Tod Browning's 1932 feature Freaks has a film emphasized the talents of a midget cast. You won't see Gene Autry, Roy Rogers or Gary Cooper make a sheriff appearance in this film. No horse named Trigger, or even a horse his size, comes to help the hero save the day. But, the bad guy wears a black hat, and the good guy wears a white one.

The cast is billed as Jed Buell's Midgets in the opening credits. Buell produced the film. The hero Buck Lawson is played by Billy Curtis, and the villian Bat Haynes by Little Billy (yes, Little Billy is his screen credit name).

The North Fork Ranch is having it's cattle rustled and stolen by Haynes and his men. A range war conflict between two families - the Preston's and the Lawson's, is taking place. Haynes has the sheriff overlooking his activities in not arresting him or the men. Haynes is also playing the two families against each other. Haynes' men try to overtake a stagecoach coming to town with Tex Preston's niece in the coach.

Haynes tries to frame Buck Lawson for shooting Tex Preston in the back. Haynes begs the town sheriff to arrest Lawson for the murder. Although the sheriff suspects Haynes of shooting Preston, Lawson is put in the town jail.

Lawson is released from jail and ordered to be hung by Haynes. The sheriff tries to stop the hanging, but is shot by Haynes. Haynes flees the scene and is chased by Lawson and his men. Haynes dies in a dynamite explosion while trying to hide. Lawson rides off with Preston's niece in the end.

Comic relief is provided by a midget cook chasing a duck for dinner.  Seeing midget actors walking under the swinging doors of the saloon and stepping up to a ramp in front of the saloon for a beer provides some unintentional humor. A number of musical performances also adds to the odd flavor of the film.

Producer Jed Buell also produced cinema's first all black western - Harlem on the Range in 1937.  A sequel was slated to be called Hang 'Em Not So High, but was never made. Midget actors would once again steal the limelight a year later in The Wizard of Oz (1939). Watch the film above. Happy viewing. 

No comments: