A Big Box Of Cowboys, Aliens, Robots and Death Rays is a neat four-DVD set that includes eight B Westerns movies from the 1930s and ’40s. With an array of stars of the day that include singing cowboy hero Gene Autry, “Colonel” Tim McCoy, Ken Maynard, Ray “Crash” Corrigan, and Robert Livingston. Some of these movies even include the outfits that these cowboys rode across the silver screen with, such as The Range Busters and 3 Mesquiteers, whose ranks at one time included cowboy legend John Wayne. These classic oaters are collected to highlight the mixing and crossing of B movie genres of the time, blending horror and sci-fi with the dusty cactus-filled wild lands of the American West.
The well-produced Riders Of The Whistling Skull, which some consider to be one of the best B flicks to come out of 1930s, is the best of this set. The whole Mesquiteer series had a tendency to be a bit more polished, better acted, well choreographed and scripted, and here the landscape visuals effects and location shooting only add to this classic 3 Mesquiteers romp. This time the creepy plot has the boys, Stony, Tucson, and Lullaby, in search of an archeologist, kidnapped while hunting for the lost Indian city of Lukachukai.
Not only do the boys rescue the archeologist but they foil the kidnapping gang’s plot to loot the lost city, which is filled with gold, gems and cool-looking mummies. Not only do the sets used for the interior of Whistling Skull Mountain (a skull carved into the side of a mountain by native Indians that whistles when the wind blows causing the haunting eerie effect) look creepy good, but the visual effects of the skull mountain are really good considering that its 1937. It’s an overall good time with a good line-up Mesquiteers: Bob Livingston as Stony, “Crash” Corrigan as Tucson, and Max Turhun as Lullaby. Also, for hardcore fans of the B western (who should already know this), keep an eye out for legendary stunt coordinator and stuntman Yakima Canutt, best known for his amazing work in John Ford’s Stagecoach.
Meanwhile over at Radio Ranch the thunder riders are causing havoc as they arise from their underground world of Murania. Besides the robots and underground “city of the future” aspect the film is pretty much the average fare. A greedy, marauding gang of thieves causes trouble while Gene Autry sings songs and rides after them until he’s captured and taken to Murania where he’s presented to the underground Queen. Good effects abound alongside the standard posse and old-west settings. This film is actually the edited feature version of the serial The Phantom Empire and perhaps in the full version it makes a little more sense. The action is fast paced here but is filled with holes but that is how most of these B films of the time end up being.
The remaining six movies are pretty much standard outings, nothing too special or downright boring and most feature good location spots for shooting. Besides the death rays that bring down or control planes (Ghost Patrol and Sky Bandits), we have more phantoms, ghost riders (Tombstone Canyon), and cloaked mystery men, all riding the open range being chased by the white hats. The mixing works well for the most part, scientist and death rays, masked creeps and killers, along with haunted ghost towns and secret passages (Vanishing Riders and Saddle Mountain Roundup). A note of interest is that Gun Packer does feature one of the first African American sidekick in Barlow Borland.
Right off the spur though, the title of this set is a tad misleading. Cowboys? Oh, hells yeah. Every film packed with ’em. Robots? There are a few, yes. Death Rays (and the kooks that control them)? Check. Aliens? Hmm…tough one. Not that I can see really, no. We have robots from a futuristic city underneath the Earth with all kinds of rays to make evil scientists everywhere sneer. Ghosts, haunted places, and phantoms, but nothing that can solidly be called an “alien.” I guess if you want to feed the theory that aliens helped ancient civilizations build temples then perhaps Rider Of The Whistling Skull; one can also argue that the people of who live underground in Radio Ranch are “alien” to the outside world because they need oxygen tanks to breath above ground. Other than that, not so much of the outer-space aliens or pie-plate-flying saucers alluded to on the DVD box.
The overall quality of the production is awesome. The people at S’More Entertainment did a fine job here, from the packaging to the layout of the menu. The picture quality of the films themselves is also very good which matches the quality of these B westerns that did their best to mix and cross genres of the time. This is a good set for anyone interested in B westerns, sci-fi, and classic spooky fun from the 1930s.