- Directed by Mack V. Wright
- May 27, 1933
- Remake of the 1927 silent film of the same name
- Based on the 1925 novel named Somewhere South by Will Levington
A young cowhand infiltrates a dangerous gang in an effort to locate his boss’s missing son.
Somewhere in Sonora is one of numerous B Westerns that John Wayne starred in early in his career. It’s light fluff but it’s entertaining fluff. This was an adventure film meant to thrill audiences and does a good job at that.
In what we get on screen there seems to be a little bit of the more familiar John Wayne persona in his performance as the hero John Bishop. Missing is the slow purposeful walk and tough guy stare but present is that speech pattern meant to indicate his character means business. A small touch.
The villain of the story is Monte Black (J. P. McGowan-an interesting individual in his own right). Black runs an outlaw gang that nobody leaves alive. His whole recruitment process involves gobbling up anybody unfortunate enough to cross his path. Seems like a pretty poor recruitment method leaving loyalty of the bulk of his people questionable yet it is a pretty cohesive unit.
The story starts off with John Bishop being suspected of murder during a stagecoach race because people always commit random murder in front of large crowds all the time. After John’s arrest his boss Bob Leadly (Henry B. Walthall) masterminds an escape with the help of John’s pals Riley (Frank Rice) and Shorty (Billy Franey), he sets off to find Bob’s son Bart “Skeeter” Leadly (Paul Fix).
While on the lam John is cleared and all is forgiven but ya know he still needs to rescue Skeeter. Interestingly John is also able to woo rather easily Mary Burton (Shirley Palmer) who is the daughter of his new boss Mr. Kelly Burton (Ralph Lewis) even though a short bit before she was ready to hang him herself because of the whole murder issue. But that is so ten minutes ago!
Mary exists to do little more than to offer John praise and give him a reason to do heroic deeds. Then again this was meant to be a crowd pleaser and not anything deep. It’s witty enough and entertaining enough that you won’t be bored. While simplistic it knows exactly what it is and doesn’t necessarily talk down to the audience of the era but rather treats them as intelligent.
The weakest part of Somewhere in Sonora is the time devoted to the characters of Riley and Shorty. They are comic relief and not main character material yet spend a lot of time interacting on screen doing goofy or humorous stuff and just slowing up the story. They needed to make this into something movie length (or what would be considered movie length in the day) and not short subject length. This is just under an hour and without those two it probably would have been barely a half-hour or so. Was this based on a book or a pamphlet?!
While Somewhere in Sonora has no great laughs, it’s exciting enough and entertaining enough that if you find yourself coming across it you’ll enjoy it. For the general movie goer they can probably skip it but I think this is one that most John Wayne fans will enjoy.