John Wayne plays a cavalry officer sent to encourage holders of Spanish Land Grants in California to register their titles.
This was the last movie produced under a six-picture contract Wayne signed in 1932 to remake some Ken Maynard westerns. See my review of The Big Stampede for details. This picture isn’t a remake per se, but recycles footage from The Canyon of Adventure.
I struggled to make it past the opening scenes. After some recycled footage, we get reams of exposition. Don Pablo urges wealthy Don Jose not to register his lands, saying it’s a government trap. But Don Pablo is broke and wants the lands to fall into public domain so he can seize them. As a backup, he’s also positioning his son, Don Luis, played by Donald Reed, to marry Don Pablo’s daughter Delores, played by Ruth Hall. The performers deliver this info dump as though reading off cue-cards. Worse still, Reed and Hall mangle their would-be Spanish accents.
Then we cut to a cantina where Luis Alberni shines as Felipe, a mariachi. He’s the first performer speaking his lines instead of reading them. The film’s lone highlight, Alberni appears to relish his over-the-top role.
Wayne shows up and rescues Felipe from Don Luis’s wrath. As usual in these Warner westerns, Wayne’s stiff but still charismatic. Felipe joins up as Wayne’s sidekick, and the pair set out to convince Don Jose to register his lands.
Wayne rescues Delores from a runaway stage and falls for her. This convinces Don Jose to trust Wayne. But Don Luis kidnaps Don Jose en route to the registrar’s office, then forces Delores to marry him.
Despite all signs pointing to Don Luis, Wayne’s convinced a group of American pioneers might have kidnapped Don Jose, so he rides up, pulls a gun and demands they produce the prisoner. Their entire defense amounts to “We didn’t do it,” which he accepts without argument.
Next, Wayne hatches a plan to infiltrate the wedding disguised as a caballero. Felipe accompanies him dressed in drag. Don Luis and his goons spot the ruse after a few minutes and chase Wayne and company all over the house, culminating in a large sword fight that sees Wayne wincing throughout. This is the old west. Didn’t anyone think to grab a gun?