John Devlin helps Dakota wheat farmers save their land from swindling entrepeneurs who hope to make a fortune selling it to the railroad for its right-of-way.
John Wayne ... John Devlin
Vera Ralston ... Sandy Poli (Devlin) (as Vera Hruba Ralston)
Walter Brennan ... Capt. Bounce of the Riverbird
Ward Bond ... Jim Bender
Mike Mazurki ... Bigtree Collins
Ona Munson ... Jersey Thomas
Olive Blakeney ... Mrs. Stowe
Hugo Haas ... Marko Poli
Nick Stewart ... Nicodemus (Capt. Bounce\'s Bosun) (as Nicodemus Stewart)
Paul Fix ... Carp
Grant Withers ... Slagin
Robert Livingston ... Lieutenant
Olin Howland ... Devlin\'s driver (as Olin Howlin)
Pierre Watkin ... Wexton Geary (Marko Poli\'s representative)
Robert Barrat ... Anson Stowe (as Robert H. Barrat)
This is the most enjoyable \"B\" Western I\'d seen in quite awhile. It is fast-paced, mostly light-hearted yet doesn\'t stint on the serious implications of the dramatic sequences; it makes you feel and believe the human tragedies that would occur if town boss Bender (Ward Bond, marvelously effective and subtle as smooth-talking and thoughtful villain) were to be successful at bankrupting his fellow townspeople, paving the future railroad towns with the rubes\' broken dreams. John Wayne was starting to solidify the nucleus of the stock company of supporting actors he would make many movies with in the future (on hand besides Bond are Paul Fix, Walter Brennan, Grant Withers, Olin Howard, Bruce Cabot, and Mike Mazurki.
Wayne is perfectly cast as the rough-and-tumble gambler who falls for railroad heiress Vera Rhuba Ralston, much to father Hugo Haas\' chagrin who is a rather slick and powerful operator himself. The twist here is that Ralston is as cunning and devious as her Dad and new husband combined, and is continually effective in steering things in the direction she wants them to flow. Not normally a Ralston fan, I thought she played the role with flair, attractiveness, and a perfect energy level. She doesn\'t have the on-screen chemistry with Wayne that Maureen O\'Hara or Gail Russell later did, but when your husband owns the studio, you don\'t want to allow the chemistry to get too real-looking. Ona Munson as \"Jersey\" is hotter and makes both her scenes memorable. Walter Brennan is perfectly cast as a persnickety riverboat captain, and Nick Stewart provides able comic assistance as his blunt first mate(Racially stereotyped, of course, but still very funny, and not at all demeaning if you look at it objectively). Bond and Mazurki are excellent as the deceptive villains. Fix and Withers are professional and provide subtle special touches as Bond\'s hired guns.
Given the budget and the generally pedestrian record of Director Kane, this is actually a surprisingly well made. My demands/expectations of this oater were small when I tuned it in on the Encore Western channel. I was looking for a fast-paced, check-your-brains-at-the-door oater to have on in the background as I picked up around the apartment. Instead, not only is it tautly directed, fast-paced, wry, and well-acted, but it has an extremely well-crafted adapted screenplay from Carl (\"High Noon\") Foreman. The insights conveyed by the script, even including some of the background and \"throwaway\" lines, are literate and register long after the lines have passed.
Overall, this movie can be recommended on many levels. Deapite it\'s quite modest roots, it is a durable, high-spirited, well-acted, and well-directed oater that also is exceptionally well-written. Not the type of title that will impress your art-house buddies, unless they accept your challenge and actually watch it before they write it off. Those actually watch it are in for special treats.
Dakota finds John Wayne running off with Vera Hruba Ralston, daughter of railroad magnate Hugo Haas. A whim of Ralston\'s finds them on the way to Dakota Territory instead of the Duke\'s planned trip to California.
Before long Wayne finds himself mixed up with the local farmers and their running battle with town boss of Fargo, Ward Bond and his three loathsome sidekicks Mike Mazurki, Paul Fix, and Grant Withers. Mike Mazurki is a particularly nasty individual here, he probably has the best performance in the film.
Dakota was directed by Joseph Kane who directed at Republic a whole lot of Roy Rogers B westerns and he uses the same fast pace here. The running time is only 82 minutes and a Wayne film from Republic was an A product for that studio by 1945.
One big drawback in Dakota is the portrayal by Nick Stewart as Walter Brennan\'s crew on his river steamboat. It\'s a pretty bad stereotype one of the worst I\'ve ever seen on film.
Dakota also shamelessly rips off the wheat burning scene from Samuel Goldwyn\'s The Westerner. I wouldn\'t be surprised if Goldwyn let Yates use some of the footage from The Westerner for a rental fee.
However fans of John Wayne and of westerns in general will like it.
It\'s interesting to follow John Wayne\'s career progress, from the early Lone Star Western days up through the leading roles he\'s most famous for in the Sixties and Seventies. Here, in \"Dakota\", and in other films of the era, he probably appeared at his best in terms of rugged good looks and athletic skill. He cuts an impressive figure, particularly with leading lady Vera Ralston by his side to smooth out the rougher edges.
The film itself isn\'t particularly noteworthy for it\'s story line, a theme that\'s been done time and again in the genre. Evil land grabbers attempt to swindle hard working honest folks out of their wheat farms just before the railroad comes through so they can cash in for the quick kill. Ward Bond portrays the main bad guy with subtle malice as he engineers the land swindle, while pro boxer/wrestler/strong man Mike Mazurki is his top henchman. Bond\'s character Jim Bender in particular is a much smoother characterization than one is used to seeing in these types of oaters; more than one wheat farmer commented on how honest he seemed to be with his calm demeanor and dialog.
The picture gets off to a wild start as John Devlin (Wayne) elopes with Sandy Poli (Ralston), as they manage to outrun her father who disapproves of the already completed marriage. In a well crafted scene, Marko Poli (Hugo Haas) turns the tenor of the early story on a dime as he comically attempts to send off a telegram to the daughter that got away. The scene sets the stage for additional comic relief, primarily supplied by Walter Brennan in a wonderful portrayal of the \'River Bird\' Captain Bounce. Most of the time Bounce can be heard talking to himself in the colorful language he\'s known for, and it\'s a hoot to catch his antics, particularly in the grounded riverboat scene.
Nick Stewart is the captain\'s sidekick, his gimmick is a constant handkerchief wipe of face and brow that signals a nervous twitch. His black character is somewhat stereotypical in presentation, but not as racially charged as mentioned elsewhere in this forum. Probably the worst that can be said about it is that it resembles a \'Step \'n Fetchit\' type of portrayal, though it comes in handy for Wayne\'s character later in the story to signal the bad guys on the move.
There\'s a neat device near the finale when Devlin goes after Collins (Mazurki). While pushing through the door of the cabin, Devlin pulls Collins\' hat down over his face prior to bashing him. That\'s a move I hadn\'t seen before.
Probably the most unusual and in it\'s way most refreshing element of the story is the way Ralston\'s character keeps one step ahead of her new husband by pulling the strings on their future together. With his eye set on California, Devlin never makes it as the Mrs. manages to shanghai his plans every step along the way. It\'s also on that note that the movie ends, with the Captain\'s refurbished riverboat horn drowning out Devlin\'s protest against another one of her manufactured schemes.
* When Devlin is tossed out of Poli\'s house, he tumbles down the steps with his head toward the right of the porch. But on the cut to the close-up, he completes the fall with his head toward the left, a complete mismatch from the previous shot.