WAGON TRAIN (1940)

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At RKO, Tim Holt played second lead in a few B-Westerns in the 1930s before the studio decided to make him the star of his own series.  They launched it with Wagon Train, a superior showcase a cut above the standard B-Western.

Holt plays a scout leading a wagon train loaded with desperately needed supplies for settlers in a remote town, navigating perilous country, threatened by Comanches on the warpath and a gang of road agents working for a rival express company.

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Production values are high, the script is taut, and Holt is at his most appealing, ably supported by a fine cast, including Martha O’Driscoll (with Holt above) as the leading lady.  Trained as a dancer, she had a middling career in Hollywood for about ten years, until she gave it up to raise a family and pursue other interests.

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She attained a certain cult celebrity for her appearance in House Of Dracula (above), but she was a very good actress, too, with a striking screen presence.  She anchors the romantic subplot in Wagon Train with her vexing, self-assured performance in a role that has more substance than usual for a female lead in a Western.

The film is really a modest A-Western and became the first of 46 Westerns Holt would star in for RKO.  They would become increasingly formulaic — enjoyably so for the most part — but a film like Wagon Train makes one wish Holt had starred in more Westerns of similar ambition and quality.

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