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Video Kart presents
Stage to Mesa City / The Hawk of Powder River (1948)

"Oh, so you got the lawyer. Let's make a corpus delecti or something out of him."
- Fuzzy Jones (Al St. John)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: January 16, 2003

Stars: Lash La Rue, Al St. John, Eddie Dean, White Cloud, Jennifer Holt, Roscoe Ates
Other Stars: George Chesebro, Brad Slaven, June Carlson, Eddie Parker, Andy Parker, The Plainsmen
Director: Ray Taylor

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 01h:44m:20s
Release Date: June 03, 2002
UPC: 824019110297
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Back when a day at the movies was all day at the movies, there were several Poverty Row studios that specialized in hour-long filler, mostly Westerns and cheap horror movies, to pack that time. Prominent (if such a word can be used for the Poverty Row studios) among them was PRC. This set of discs provides two such filler pieces generated by PRC in 1948 under the helm of Ray Taylor, featuring second-line cowboy stars and their equally second-line sidekicks.

Stage to Mesa City features one of my favorites, Lash La Rue, as Marshall Cheyenne Davis. Along with sidekick Fuzzy Jones (Al St. John, silent sidekick to Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton), Lash is trying to solve the mystery of who is attacking the stage line run by John Watson (Steve Clark). The stakes get higher after Watson is shot and his children Bob (Brad Slaven) and Margie (Jennifer Holt, sister of first-rank cowboy star Tim Holt) take over the stage line. Someone is intent on making sure that the Watsons don't get a lucrative mail contract and only Lash and Fuzzy can save the day.

La Rue gives a performance like a low-rent Bogart, but he is sufficiently entertaining and gets to use his bullwhip a couple times. St. John is still mining vaudeville and Keystone for pratfalls here, 30 years later. Holt is earnest enough, making her performance in the second feature rather surprising and an interesting contrast.

Jennifer Holt is featured as the title villain in The Hawk of Powder River. The Hawk Gang is terrorizing the area, while the Hawk in her everyday guise is Vivian Chambers. Her uncle Bill Chambers (Steve Clark again) stumbles onto her secret and is killed by her henchmen. When she receives word of the imminent arrival of her cousin Carol (Jane Carlson), who stands between Vivian and inheriting the ranch, the focus of the gang shifts to rubbing out poor Carol. But Carol is in luck, for singing deputy Eddie Dean (played by, oddly enough, Eddie Dean) and his loopy sidekick, Soapy Jones (Roscoe Ates). One wonders whether he was related to Fuzzy and whether sidekicking was the family business....

Holt really shines in this picture, being far more interesting than the ostensible stars. Despite running under an hour, time is taken out for four songs warbled by Dean, occasionally accompanied by Andy Parker and the Plainsmen, a fixture in PRC musical westerns. Dean is pretty stiff and uncharismatic, but Ates is good for an occasional chuckle in his haplessness (especially in the opening, as he ineptly tries to perform card tricks while Dean sings). There's plenty of gunplay and a barroom brawl in each picture. Each also features at least one stagecoach chase, which is quite well executed in each instance. Taylor may not have been a great director, but he was capable enough in these action sequences, though he was certainly well practiced. On average he churned out one of these horse operas every month during the 1940s. They're entertaining in a harmless way and fast-paced (well, except for the singing, which brings everything to a dead halt). Make it your own day at the movies with this set.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The black & white original full-frame picture on these films is acceptable. The picture tends to be soft and slightly dupey, but there is decently low contrast for the most part (though a few segments of Hawk are too dark to be legible). That's too bad, because the source print on Stage to Mesa City is practically pristine and one gets the feeling it could be gorgeous. Hawk is in rather rougher condition, especially at reel changes, but certainly tolerable considering little effort has probably been made to preserve these films. At times video noise is annoying, and a few dropouts were present as well. Aliasing is frequent, as is MPEG compression ringing. With a little more care, these could have looked much better.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Surprisingly, the audio here is an uncompressed PCM soundtrack. The lack of compression definitely helps, though hiss, crackle and noise are all prominent throughout. Dialogue is quite clear, however, and the music has a good fullness necessary for the properly thrilling chase sequences. Foley effects come through nicely throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. "Tuff Talk" and "Soapy Jones" film clips
Extras Review: The films are each on a separate disc, which hardly was necessary for pictures of this brevity. Oddly enough, each is split into two different titles, resulting in a lengthy and unneeded pause similar to a bad layer change in the middle of each film.

Each disc features a number of different "Tuff Talk" and "Soapy Jones" segments, consisting of thematically linked excerpts from what appear to be a variety of PRC films of the period, though most of them seem to come from The Tioga Kid (1948). Some of them are cute, but on the whole this isn't exactly an exciting feature. Two-screen bios of La Rue, Dean and Holt are provided, as is a special menu linking directly to the songs in Hawk. Chaptering is excellent, with a dozen stops for each brief picture.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Two okay oaters, in slightly dodgy transfers, with the usual quota of action. The extras are of marginal value.


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